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Facebook announced a wave of new features this week for online advertisers and retailers heading into the holiday season. 

At the same time it revealed new product tags, new ways to target ads, and an experimental way to share online discounts, the social media giant also announced it was launching promotional tools and support for Black-owned businesses.

Let’s explore the array of new features for brands on Facebook and Instagram:

Product Tags For Instagram Ads

After more than a year of testing, Instagram is officially launching the ability to tag products in ads. Even better, the company has streamlined the process.Originally, advertisers had to make an organic post, tag your products, then promote that post. Now, you can create ads with product tags directly within the Ads Manager. 

When seen, product tags appear as white dots which can expand to reveal a range of details including the name of the product,and its price. 

Shopping Engagement Custom Audiences

Facebook announced a new type of audience targeting aimed at helping brands “reach people who’ve already shown interest in their product or brand by doing things like saving a product, viewing a shop, or initiating a purchase.”

Shopping Lookalike Audiences

Another new way to target audiences was announced, which allows you to reach shoppers with similar interests as your existing customers on Facebook and Instagram. 

Shopping Ad Discounts

Facebook is testing a new way to promote your sales and discounts directly in the Promotions tab within the Commerce Manager.

For example, you can highlight a discount on a specific set of products by grouping them together in product sets. 

At the moment, Facebook only allows you to run a few types of discounts – price reductions, minimum purchase requirement, and discounts using an offer code. 

#BuyBlack Friday

While the Covid pandemic has affected just about every business in America, black-owned businesses have been hit particularly hard. According to Facebook, more than 40% of black-owned businesses in America.

This is why Facebook is launching a new event every Friday through November 27. Every week, Facebook will be promoting #BuyBlackFriday across all its platforms, including publishing a gift guide and business directory of black-owned businesses. 

With many shoppers wary of facing crowded shopping malls and stores, most experts believe online shopping will shatter previous records this winter. Facebook is doing everything it can to make itself one of the premier choices for marketing, advertising, and ultimately selling your products.

Twitter will soon let users crop their own image previews following criticism over apparent bias in the site’s algorithmic cropping systems. 

Currently, Twitter crops any image to 600×335 pixels, regardless of its original dimensions. However, it is up to Twitter’s algorithm to select what gets cropped out and what gets shown in the image preview.

In the near future, this is going to change. Twitter will be giving control over what is shown in tweet previews:

“We are prioritizing work to decrease our reliance on ML-based image cropping by giving people more visibility and control over what their images will look like in a Tweet.

Going forward, we are committed to following the “what you see is what you get” principles of design, meaning quite simply: the photo you see in the Tweet composer is what it will look like in the Tweet.”

Twitter Image Cropping Racial Bias

While the feature has long been requested by users, it became a priority for Twitter in recent weeks as users noticed the site’s bias defaulted to showing white faces rather than black people or other individuals of color. 

This seemed to occur no matter how the original image was formatted, and users found examples using stock photos:

Cartoons:

Well known politicians:

And even images of animals:

While Twitter denies any purposeful bias built into its algorithm, the company admits its current system has the potential for problematic results:

“While our analyses to date haven’t shown racial or gender bias, we recognize that the way we automatically crop photos means there is a potential for harm. We should’ve done a better job of anticipating this possibility when we were first designing and building this product.”

As such, the company is making changes to prevent these types of problems in the future:

“We’re aware of our responsibility, and want to work towards making it easier for everyone to understand how our systems work. While no system can be completely free of bias, we’ll continue to minimize bias through deliberate and thorough analysis, and share updates as we progress in this space.”

When Is It Coming?

The exact timeline for the changes is not known currently, as Twitter says it is still in the process of developing a solution. 

“There’s lots of work to do,” says the company.

This week, Pinterest released its latest report on the most popular search trends and topics across the popular social network. 

Specifically, the search trends report shows which topics are currently seeing a significant spike in interest compared to last year, as well as trends that are expected to be popular this fall. 

The overall theme for this season, according to Pinterest, is “back to life” because autumn is like a ‘second new year.’

“Each year, the start of September and the beginning of autumn is seen by many people around the world as a ‘second new year’.

It’s a time when making small improvements, resetting goals and habits, and starting a fresh drive to create healthy routines feels more achievable and more personal than New Year’s resolutions.”

This has perhaps never been more true than in 2020 as we all gradually return to normal following the COVID-related shutdowns around the world. This may be why one of the biggest trends is a 64% increase in searches for “positivity.”

Pinterest Positivity Search Trends

Similarly, Pinterest says users are increasingly looking for activities and inspiration for around the house, rather than outside.

With this in mind, lets explore some of the finer details in the report.

2020 Pinterest Search Demographics

While Pinterest’s user base includes a wide range of people, this report simply broke users down into two categories:

  • Gen Z: Users between 18-24
  • Millennials: Users between 25-44

Gen Z Search Trends

Gen Z users are continuing to focus on self-love and creating positive spaces at home this season, as Pinterest says:

“With so much uncertainty in areas like school and work shifts, Gen Z Pinners are seeking ways to stay positive and healthy…”

This overall attitude has led to a number of increasing search trends, including these keywords:

  • Mental health check-in (up 5x)
  • Mindful eating (up 44%)
  • Photoshoot ideas (up 56x)
  • Zen bedroom ideas (up 5x)
  • Calming bedroom (up 3x)
  • Feng shui bedroom layout (up 2.5x)
  • Indie room (up 151x)
  • Hippie bedroom decor (up 19x)

Millennial Search Trends

While Gen Z is using Pinterest to improve their home spaces and spruce up their decor, Millennials are looking for ways to keep their family engaged and active.

“For the past six months, home has replaced work, school and the gym, and outdoor spaces have become one of the safest places to practise social distancing.

Millennial parents continue to prioritise keeping their families healthy and happy, while addressing their children’s mental health and self-care practices…”

This has driven an increase in these keywords:

  • Mental health activities for children (up 3.5x)
  • Occupational therapy for children (up 2x)
  • Conscious parenting (up 2x)
  • Schedule for children at home (up 20x)
  • Daily routine schedule for children (up 10x)
  • Children’s workout routine (up 88%)
  • Animal yoga poses for children (up 56%)
  • Indoor swings for children (up 3x)
  • Carnival games for children (up 3x)
  • Lava lamp experiments for children (21x)

Male Search Trends

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the report is a sizable increase in the number of men using Pinterest. Overall, the number of male users has climbed nearly 50% since this time last year. 

This is particularly interesting because Pinterest’s user base has historically leaned strongly female.

As for why men are suddenly showing an interest in the site, Pinterest says:

“The number of male Pinners has jumped nearly 50% since last year, with men searching for homeschool inspiration, as well as improvement projects and projects that also bring younger family members in on improvements around the home.”

As such, the site has seen increases in the following topics among male users:

  • Home improvement projects (up 78%)
  • DIY projector screen (up 41%)
  • Woodworking projects for children (up 2x)
  • Art therapy activities (up 65%)
  • Workout routine for men (up 3.5X)
  • Mental strength quotes (up 2.5x)

Stories may have originated on Snapchat, but these days they are a staple feature of just about every social network out there. Now, they are officially coming somewhere few would have expected – LinkedIn.

The company has played with the idea of introducing the feature for months, with Stories appearing in elusive tests across the platform. Beginning today, though, the feature is officially rolling out to everyone within the US and Canada.

The feature is largely what you would expect, allowing users to take a photo or video, add decorations or text, and upload it to the site. After 24 hours, the post will vanish to never be seen again (unless you reupload it.)

The company is aware that users might not expect or even want Stories like you might find on Facebook or Instagram. Instead, LinkedIn’s senior director of product says early tests showed users were interested in Stories for different reasons or uses.

“Members in the past have found sharing on LinkedIn to be intimidating,” Li told Engadget. “We’re hoping it’ll spark more conversations from people who just don’t really share content on LinkedIn.”

Indeed, the company still intends for Stories to largely be professional. To help keep things focused on this, LinkedIn Stories will also feature a question of the day to steer conversation.

“You’re not meant to share the same things that you would on other networks,” Li says. “That doesn’t mean you can’t share a picture of your dog … but the goal is to keep it keep the conversations in the same vein that you would have right in your workplace.”

Li also says Stories are part of a broader initiative to help connect coworkers who might feel isolated while working from home or remotely.

Other New LinkedIn Features

In addition to the official launch of LinkedIn Stories, the professional social network has introduced a number of new partnerships which bring integration for Zoom, BlueJeans, and Microsoft Teams to the network. 

This means you can start a video call using your preferred tool directly from LinkedIn’s chat tools, without having to open a separate app.

To help make LinkedIn’s chat more useful for users, the site is also launching the ability to recall, delete, and even edit messages, use emojis in chat, and flag harassing or inappropriate messages.

These tools are expected to roll out to users sometime in October.

Google is testing the waters of short-form videos with a new platform similar to the popular but controversial TikTok.

The company announced it is be launching a new service called YouTube Shorts which will focus on short, catchy videos like those found on TikTok or Instagram Reels. 

The announcement describes the new service as:

“Shorts is a new short-form video experience for creators and artists who want to shoot short, catchy videos using nothing but their mobile phones.“

For now, YouTube Shorts is limited to India as Google tests its features and public reception. 

Though features will be limited at launch, Google says YouTube Shorts will eventually include a variety of features, including:

  • Create and upload videos of 15-seconds or less.
  • Edit videos with a number of creative tools.
  • Stitch shorter clips together with a multi-segment camera.
  • Add music to videos from YouTube’s library.
  • Speed up or slow down videos.
  • Timers and countdowns.

Early Version

The version launching to users in India this week is reportedly a very limited version of the tool including only a portion of the features that will be implemented in the final release. 

The purpose of the early test is to get feedback from early users so the company can better prioritize their efforts before releasing the service to a wider audience. 

Of course, this is likely not the only reason the company decided to test the service in India. 

India banned TikTok from operating within its country on June 29 of this year, similar to the actions taken by President Trump to eventually force the company out of the U.S. 

With this in mind, there is a clear opportunity to those who launch their own take on the tool in the country sooner rather than later. Still, YouTube has already confirmed it will be bringing YouTube Shorts to more countries in the near future.

LinkedIn is expanding its features to help business owners and employees feel more connected even though they may be working from home. 

In the announcement, LinkedIn says people everywhere – especially in the professional world – are feeling less connected to each other during the ongoing pandemic. 

The company cites a recent survey from Glint which finds:

  • 31% of employees are feeling less connected to business leadership.
  • 37% of employees are feeling less connected to teammates.
  • 40% of employees feel less connected to their friends. 

Combined, these statistics show a startling need for better tools to virtually connect employees, leadership, and even friends during these socially distanced times.

As LinkedIn says:

“With a growing number of organizations announcing that their employees are required to work remotely until 2021, it’s more important than ever for organizations to take action and ensure their teams will thrive in a virtual work environment.”

To assist with this, the social network is adding three new features for LinkedIn pages to better facilitate connections between businesses, their employees, and their communities. 

Here are some quick details about the three latest LinkedIn features:

Find Out More About Your Followers

Companies have been oddly unable to see all of their LinkedIn page followers. Instead, the social network has only given businesses an aggregate total of their followers and some broad demographics about these users.

Now, business pages will have access to all publicly available information about their followers. You can even sort and filter these users by their location, industry, and current company.

“This provides the transparency needed to better understand audiences, so organizations can more easily share the right content and build their LinkedIn community around the conversations that matter most.”

Connect With Team Members In The “My Company” Tab

A new “My Company” tab is being launched to facilitate discussion and connection for employees working remotely. 

The “My Company” tab includes a range of content and features, including:

  • Highlighting employee milestones (promotions, anniversaries, etc.)
  • Trending content from coworkers
  • Recommendations to connect with coworkers you may not know yet

LinkedIn also says more features will be coming in the future. 

However, not everyone will have access to this tab. To be eligible, business pages must have more than 201 employees.

Track Upcoming Events

Virtual events have become a major part of staying informed and connected during Covid. Unfortunately, keeping track of all these events across countless platforms isn’t always easy. 

Now, LinkedIn is adding an “Events” tab which will automatically collect your page’s past, present, and upcoming events on LinkedIn. This can include everything from a small online panel, webinar, or full-scale virtual conference. 

The tab is included in the left-hand navigation menu on LinkedIn, so you can always find the latest events you and your company are participating in. 

All these features are available worldwide for all eligible pages.

Instagram has begun showing postings for users you don’t follow when you’re all caught up on posts from those you do follow. The decision is not without controversy, however. 

Starting this week, users are seeing a new “Suggested Posts” section filled with content similar to those they already follow. The section doesn’t appear until you’ve scrolled past everything shared from people you follow and you have seen the “You’re All Caught Up” screen. 

Though brands, marketers, and publishers may be excited about Instagram introducing organic related content into users’ feeds for the first time ever, the user base has largely been critical of the decision. 

What Are Instagram Suggested Posts

Once users have scrolled to the “You’re Caught Up Screen” they are now seeing an option to “View Older Posts”. If selected or the user continues to scroll, they will be shown an infinite feed of suggested posts. 

Aside from the banner showing that you are viewing older posts, there is no indication that the content is being automatically selected based on your past browsing behavior. 

One complaint many have had is that Instagram already has a dedicated “Explore” section for finding posts and accounts you might be interested in. However, the actual content in these sections differs. 

The Difference Between Instagram Suggested Posts and Explore

Though they share some similarities, Suggested Posts are distinct from the Explore section in some key ways. 

Primarily, Instagram intends for Suggested Posts to be a curated collection of content based on your interests and activity. On the other hand, the Explore section is intended to be an extension of the search function on the platform, allowing you to explore broad topics and interests. 

As Instagram explains in a help center article, the content highlighted in the Suggested Posts section is largely defined by your own behavior:

“These suggestions are based on posts from accounts like the ones you follow and posts similar to the ones you like or save.”

You can also flag posts if they are particularly not of interest to help better refine the content shown to you in the future. To do this, just tap the three-dot icon at the top of the post and select the “Not interested” option.

Another distinction is that Suggested Posts will exclusively feature photos and videos, with no IGTV or Reels content allowed. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the explore section will also include promoted posts and other types of ads. 

Why The Decision is Controversial

Complaints about the decision have largely been focused on three issues:

  1. Users are not accustomed to seeing content they didn’t sign up for in their primary feed.
  2. Creating an infinite scrolling feed could encourage users to spend excessive amounts of time on the platform.
  3. The infinite feed makes Instagram too similar to TikTok.

The first complaint is to be expected. Any time a social network has introduced organic content from outside your friends list or follows, users have revolted – whether we are looking at Facebook’s feed or going all the way back to MySpace. 

To get an idea how users feel about the decision, just look at some tweets from users over the past few days:

Still, it is possible the feature may gain acceptance as users get accustomed to it. Only time will tell. 

As for the second complaint, director of product for Instagram, Robby Stein, attempted to address the issue upfront:

“Our goal is to make it clear when you’re all caught up so you can decide how you want to best use your time.

We see people continuing to seek out more posts they’re interested in after catching up with their feeds, so we wanted to learn from that and make it easier to go a little deeper for those who choose to do so.”

Lastly, concerns about Instagram looking a little too much like TikTok may prove to be shrewd positioning on the part of the platform. TikTok is currently facing a ban from operating in the United States unless the owning company ByteDance sells operations in the country. 

As the 45-day deadline grows closer, little progress seems to be happening which raises the distinct possibility that users may soon be looking for an alternative. 

With this and a few other recent moves, it is clear Instagram is hoping to be that replacement. 

As COVID-19 continues to be a major concern for people across the country, Facebook is introducing a new way for businesses and creators to monetize online events on the platform. 

Critically, the company says it will not collect any fees for paid events held on the platform to help businesses and individuals struggling during the pandemic. 

“Pages can host events on Facebook Live to reach broad audiences, and we’re testing paid events with Messenger Rooms for more personal and interactive gatherings.

In testing, we’ve seen businesses use Facebook to host expert talks, trivia events, podcast recordings, boxing matches, cooking classes, intimate meet-and-greets, fitness classes, and more.”

While Facebook is far from the first to offer a way to deliver paid events that are entirely streamed to attendees, their service is unique is the all-in-one nature. Facebook can handle not just the streaming, but payment, advertising, and organic word-of-mouth. 

To put it another way, a person can see the ad for your performance in their feed, make a payment, and view your event without ever leaving Facebook. The company is also one of the only services which does not take a cut of ticket sales. However, purchases made on Apple devices or through the iOS Store are still subject to Apple’s 30% fee. 

Prohibited Content

As with all content shared on Facebook, live events must stay within the Community Standards, Partner Monetization Policies, and Content Monetization Policies.

While these guidelines include the obvious things you might expect, such as banning hate speech, inciting violence, or “sexualized content”, the social network’s content policies prohibit some areas you may not expect. 

For example, promoting health products including medical masks and hand sanitizer is currently banned on Facebook. 

Other restricted categories include:

  • Debated social issues
  • Conflict or tragedy
  • Objectionable activity
  • Sexual or suggestive activity
  • Strong language
  • Explicit content
  • Misinformation
  • Misleading medical information
  • Politics and government

In addition to restricting these types of content, monetized events cannot include these some specific media:

  • Static videos
  • Static image polls
  • Slideshows of images
  • Looping videos
  • Text montages
  • Embedded ads

In the announcement, Facebook says the paid events will be available to brands and individuals for at least one year. After that, they may introduce new fees or even remove the service.

It was only a matter of time. Following TikTok’s meteoric rise to popularity, Instagram is taking the social network on head-on with its own short videos called Instagram Reels. 

While the Facebook-owned platform has supported video content for years, Reels shares several key features that made TikTok a hit, including the ability to include licensed or original music.

Specifically Instagram Reels features:

  • Users can create and share 15-second videos.
  • Can include audio including songs from a catalog of licensed music.
  • Users can upload their own audio or grab audio from other videos to use in their own videos. 
  • Instagram will also be creating a dedicated section in the Explore tab of the app, where users can find “Featured Reels”.

How To Create Reels

Creating a Reel is similar to taking a photo or creating any video on Instagram. Just open the in-app camera and slide the menu at the bottom to “Reels”.

Once selected, you’ll find a number of tools including a few specific to Reels:

  • Audio: Find a song in the Instagram music library or record your own audio.
  • AR Effects: Include visual effects from Instagram’s gallery.
  • Align: Line up objects from your previous clip before starting your latest video.
  • Speed: Speed up the audio or video you’ve selected.

Once you’ve gotten your song selected and set up any effects you want to use, just press and hold the capture button. 

You can also combine a series of short clips into a single Reel.

Once you’ve finished recording and editing, you’ll be taken to a sharing screen. By default, Reels will be added to a dedicated tab on your profile. You can also choose to share the clip to your Feed ensuring all your friends will see it. 

Why This Matters

Over the past couple years, TikTok has gone from an up-and-coming platform for kids to be goofy on to a bonafide part of online culture. 

Still, many are hesitant to add another social network to their life by signing up for TikTok. With Instagram Reels, they can get in on some of the fun without creating a new account for another platform.

There is also the issue of TikTok’s recent place in world news. The Chinese-owned social network has been accused of gathering immense amounts of user data and sharing it with the Chinese government. 

Over the weekend, these accusations escalated when President Trump threatened to ban the platform from the U.S. unless parent company ByteDance sells TikTok’s US operation to Microsoft. In an unprecedented move, the President also demanded the U.S. government receive a cut for approving any such sale.

It is unclear how banning the platform would work and the Chinese government has strongly condemned the threats from President Trump. 

With all this in mind, though, there is plenty of reason to keep an eye on Instagram Reels as a potential successor.