Facebook has signed up the biggest private company in the world – Walmart – as a customer for its Workplace enterprise product, something of a coup as it competes against other products which have been in the market for far longer. Of course, many of Walmart’s employees work in stores and not at desks and so likely will never need accounts on the corporate social network, so though its overall size is dazzling, the size of the deployment is likely to be rather smaller. But it appears that Facebook has been quietly making good progress signing up other businesses of different sizes including some big names like Telenor (Norway’s incumbent telecoms operator) and Starbucks. All of this is indicative of Facebook’s enormous power to leverage its dominance in consumer social networking into other fields, whether messaging, photo sharing, or even crossing over into the enterprise, based on its familiar brand, interfaces, and tools. That’s never been a guarantee of success in any market for Facebook, as its repeated failures to compete organically with Snapchat demonstrate, but it has given it a leg up in many areas over companies starting from scratch and continues to make it a formidable competitor for any company going up against it directly.
Kids’ Anonymous Feedback App TBH Hits #1 on App Store (Sep 25, 2017)
The hottest new app on the iOS App Store isn’t an augmented reality game enabled by iOS 11, but a new social app aimed at older school kids called TBH (styled tbh). What sets the app apart from pretty much every other social app aimed at kids is its limits, which prevent it from being used for bullying or other nastiness and instead focuses it on positive anonymous messages. In a world where pretty much every new platform eventually gets used for bullying and trolling, this one is admirable for its focus on positivity, something that shines through pretty clearly in the reviews on the App Store. At the same time, it clearly taps into every tween and teen’s desire to talk about friends with other friends in quasi-anonymous ways. The full article from TechCrunch which I’ve linked to below is worth a read fro the other details, but if nothing else the app’s success is admirable for its focus on trying to be a force for good in a world where so little else is. But it’s also notable for being yet another example of an app that’s launched on iOS first (with Android supposedly in the works), that’s thrived on limitations, and which has – like Facebook – taken a slow and steady approach to rolling out (I downloaded the app to try it out but it’s only available in certain states and mine isn’t one of them). The next big challenge, of course, is monetization – something that might be tough among the 12-18 crowd this seems firmly aimed at.
Analyst firm eMarketer has revised its usage forecasts for Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat for the coming year, and although there’s lots of data there, the point the media has latched onto is that it’s predicting use of the core Facebook app among US teens will fall this year. Though I have to imagine eMarketer is basing all this on some kind of survey of teens (notoriously difficult to do), there’s no mention of any such survey in the article from eMarketer, so I’m curious to know precisely what the foundation is, especially given that falling Facebook use by teens has been talked about for years but never seems to have materialized in a discernible way in Facebook’s reporting. None of this, though, is all that surprising, given that Snapchat and Instagram between them seem to have a lock on teens’ social media use, both driven by the increasingly raw and personal sharing these platforms enable in contrast to the broadcast nature of most Facebook sharing. While Facebook has steadily embraced its identity as a time sink filled with content loosely connected to people you know, these other platforms continue to major on true social interactions and therefore are more appealing to those at a stage of life where that’s the most important aspect of social media. Without Instagram, Facebook would potentially be staring a massive liability in the face at this point given that all its organic efforts to compete with Snapchat have crashed and burned, but with it, the company has managed to participate in rather than merely suffer from this trend among teens. And it’s now seeing the upside at least as much as the downside, with several times the user base of Snapchat overall and nearly equally high engagement. As such, I’m not sure any of these needs to be a worry for Facebook even if it’s true, as long as the trend doesn’t spread to older age groups and lead to broader disengagement from Facebook, and as long as Instagram is able to continue to capture its share of teen social media use.
A study from Oxford University suggests that people who read news articles they find through search engines or social media have much poorer recall of the names of the publications than those who visit those sites directly. Those finding articles through search recalled the names correctly 37% of the time two days later, while those going through social channels recalled 47% correctly, compared with 81% for direct visitors. That’s entirely what I would expect anecdotally, but it’s still stark, and a good indicator of why news organizations seem so unhappy with the role of companies like Google and Facebook even though they seem little pacified by those companies’ efforts to better meet their needs. At root, this isn’t just a monetization or traffic problem but a fundamental disintermediation of the relationship between these publications and their audiences, which causes much lower brand recall and loyalty and removes much of the power to drive traffic from the publications themselves. That’s pretty much impossible to fix, and that’s a challenge both for news publishers and for the platforms, which would like to smooth things over with them but are relatively powerless to do so without big changes in the way they operate. However, the details of the study are well worth reading too – the differences aren’t consistent across publications, suggesting that at least some have broken through the challenges of aggregation and established distinctive enough brands for themselves to achieve recall anyway, so there is at least some hope. The whole article here is well worth a read.
Spotify Puts Collaborative Playlists in Facebook Messenger (Jun 21, 2017)
Spotify has launched collaborative playlist creation in Facebook Messenger by way of an “extension” (Facebook Messenger’s apps with its app). This will allow multiple friends to work together to populate a playlist even if some of them don’t have Spotify accounts of their own. That in turn turns Spotify into something of a music layer within Facebook rather than merely a proprietary service, and once again raises the question of whether Facebook would ever want to buy Spotify outright and integrate it more tightly into the Facebook experience. Facebook has so far entirely sat out the music market, doing the odd partnership here or there but never becoming a serious player, even though social features are often touted as one of Spotify’s strengths and an important feature for music services overall (though I have to add that a survey I ran a couple of years ago suggested social features are actually well down the list of the most important features users look for). At any rate, this looks like a neat addition to Spotify’s feature set, as well as a useful integration for Facebook Messenger, and a good showcase of what’s possible in Messenger now that the original bots vision has been replaced by something a bit more realistic and focused, with all the user interface elements needed to power something like this.
Facebook Reportedly Working on Messaging App for Kids (Jun 1, 2017)
Skype is one of those odd products – a fairly sizable communications property owned by a major tech company, and yet one which doesn’t make much money, isn’t growing much, and hasn’t really been focused on either messaging or social communication. It’s been clear, though, for some time that Microsoft would very much like Skype to be a big part of its consumer push and become more of a messaging- centric app, and the makeover it announced today seems like a big step in that direction. The new design, rolling out first on Android and later on other platforms, puts social sharing and messaging much more prominently in the app, but that’s no guarantee that people will actually use those features more or even see Skype as a natural place to do that kind of sharing. I only ever use Skype for work phone calls at this point, and others I’ve spoken to who use its messaging features use those almost exclusively for work communication too, so I’d be very curious to hear more from Microsoft about who is using messaging on Skype and what they’re using it for. My guess is that, for all the changes Microsoft is making here, it won’t be that much more successful than in the past in making Skype a mainstream consumer service or app for social communication and messaging. It doesn’t have the brand or the user base to make that objective work. It’s also adding in more bots, an effort that began with a bang at Build last year but has been quiet since, but again those will only be relevant inasmuch as people are spending a lot of time in Skype already and want and expect to find those interactions with brands and companies there. In the end, I don’t see anything here that makes me think Skype is going to become a radically different animal, even if it might look quite different after these changes. And that’s emblematic of Microsoft’s broader consumer challenges: it simply doesn’t have a broad-based consumer play at this point beyond productivity.
Snapchat Introduces More Flexible Stories Feature (May 23, 2017)
I’ve changed the headline here to get at what I see as the key takeaway from this data, which is that social media is absorbing other forms of media consumption on phones. As standalone categories, multimedia, news, IM, and so on show up further down the list, but of course social media – by which I suspect we mostly mean Facebook and to a lesser extent Snapchat, Instagram and so on – increasingly includes those things. That’s where that consumption now increasingly happens, rather than in dedicated apps for consuming news, video, and so on. I’ve argued for a while now that Facebook is these days as much a content hub that happens to rely heavily on friends for the content rather than merely a social network, and to me this data confirms that.
In my last post about Twitch just over a week ago I described Amazon’s acquisition of the site as one of the most interesting it’s made, and talked about the two separate tracks it’s pursued with Twitch: deepening the gamer focus on the one hand, and using it as a jumping off point for other things on the other. This news is yet another example of the latter strategy, in which Twitch is being used as a platform for creating a Twitter- or Facebook-like feed of content from brands and creators. For now, that’s not going to have mainstream appeal beyond the core Twitch audience, but as Twitter also continues to evolve into something more like YouTube, that could actually become very interesting. In reality, of course, what’s missing for now is the social side – it sounds like this is mostly a one-way feed from creators to followers. But there’s no reason it couldn’t evolve into a more social or two-way following relationship between regular users as well, even if they’re not regularly posting gaming videos. Between Twitch and Echo, it’s starting to feel like Amazon has the beginnings of some really interesting and potentially powerful extensions to its ecosystem well beyond its current focus areas.
Great summary of the history of the Facebook Copying Snapchat narrative over the past few months. The interesting evolution during that time has been a shift in focus from trying to recreate new apps to mimic Snapchat in part or entirely to mostly using Instagram to borrow features.