Preview images turns Twitter into an advertiser’s dream, but also a user’s nightmare

Twitter Image PreivewRemember when Facebook and Twitter were two entirely different sites? Considering the changes both sites have made in recent times, a casual observer would be forgiven for thinking Twitter is a bite-sized version of Facebook. With the latest change bringing preview images and video clips to the news feed directly, the line separating the two blurs again. Image previews brings its own content problems, like the potential of a graphic video or image appearing on the site without warning, but that’s a topic in itself, so for now, let’s focus on the change itself.

If we’re going to be honest with ourselves, Twitter needs that association as it does have a growth problem. Taking inspiration from an incredibly popular site without compromising the core product is the best way to bring in a new audience, the biggest barriers for users joining the service is how much of a focus it places on creating your own content as well as discovering interesting accounts outside your own circle of friends, keeping your news feed fresh and interesting.

While the likes of @MagicRecs provides a possible solution for discovering content, getting new users in is a bigger problem. If they see that it’s focused on media – imagery is the most accessible medium online for a number of reasons – it will look more inclusive and will draw you in. Before now, Twitter was all text and hyperlinks, but if it can show the average person that it’s a hive of activity through imagery, that’s going to be a major hook for those sitting on the fence.

For those already signed up and using Twitter regularly, it’s another step to ensure you to stay on the main news feed at all times. All the recent changes can be attributed to this goal including threaded comments, bringing DMs to the main page on its website (but not on mobile since that would take you away from the news feed), turning @MagicRecs into a main app feature and now showing image previews in its news feed. Considering that its IPO is happening on Nov 6th, it’s a good time as ever to show potential investors that it’s making the effort to improve the experience.

It allows for a more inclusive experience, but what it also allows is for advertisers to offer more options when using promoted tweets, which I’ll be amazed if brands don’t start including images on them immediately. Just look at the first preview tweet in the main image as an example. This practically begs for companies to provide things like simple infographics to catch the eye of its target audience, but don’t be surprised when some brand accounts end up placing banner ads in its tweets.

Since Twitter is very careful with the number of ads its places in your feed (the one you will see very often is a promoted tweet located at or close to the top of your feed), your feed isn’t going to be disrupted by numerous ads. Bring video ads into the equation and Twitter is practically become an advertiser’s dream.

Users, on the other hand, mightn’t feel so enthusiastic about the change, and being bombarded with imagery is going to be a headache for many.  Having the option to switch previews off on mobile is a small relief, but the fact that it’s doesn’t allow Web users to do the same suggests that it’s so focused on mobile (if that wasn’t obvious enough already), it’s content by just keeping everyone on mobile happy since that’s where its main audience now lies.

How to stay (mostly) hidden on Facebook & keep things private

Facebook Like Sign(Image via Facebook)
If the last few months has taught us anything, it’s that users really value privacy and control. This is mostly thanks to revelations involving the NSA, but also it applies to the changes made in advertising, browsing and how we use technology in our day-to-day lives.

Now, the latest problem comes courtesy of Facebook as it posted a reminder about how its ‘Who can look up your Timeline by name?’ option is being removed, something that would have left a large number of users worried. In its defence, it had originally announced this back in December, but it’s still not a great situation for users who would prefer a degree of privacy and control.

Thankfully, there are a number of ways you can limit the amount of information revealed about you and ensure that only the right people find your account. Facebook has simplified privacy settings in recent times, but there are other important features that should be taken advantage of.

Quick edit

The easiest way to edit your privacy settings is to click the padlock icon at the top right hand corner of the screen. Through this, you can control who sees your account and timeline as well as block any unwanted friends.FB Privacy Quick Edit

While this is useful for quick adjustments, the real changes take place in your privacy settings, which can be accessed by clicking the cog located at the top-right hand corner of the page.

Limit who can see future and past posts

By default, all content posted on Facebook is made public. For most people, this won’t be good news as there are some posts we just want to share with our friends. While you can change the settings the next time you post an update (the option is right beside the ‘post’ button), you might be worried about posts from years ago.FB Who Can See Future Posts

It’s a pain to go through your entire timeline so instead, you can limit the audience by going into privacy and selecting it. However, once you do this, the only way to undo it is to go through each post individually, but that mightn’t be a bad thing.FB Limit Audience Old Posts

Disappear from search engines

Probably the most important change you can make as let’s face it, it’s more likely that people will find you. Turning this feature off prevents your Facebook profile from appearing on Google, Bing, Yahoo! and any other search engines. It won’t happen immediately, but within a day, your Facebook profile will no longer appear.FB Link Search Engines

Turn off follower option

Facebook has been pushing the subscriber function for quite a while now, trying to turn it from a site just for friends and family into the central hub for the Web. This meant that anyone can follow you, without having to become friends with you. By going into options and clicking on ‘followers’ on the left-hand side, you can turn off this option, giving you more control over who sees your profile and updates.FB Switch off followers

See how people view your profile

If you really want to know how much information you’re revealing to the public, you should really look at how your profile appears in public. By going into your profile and clicking the cog at the bottom right-hand corner of your cover photo, you will find the option to ‘view as’.

Not only can you find out what posts and info the public can see, but also people you’re friends with. Both are very useful in determining what kind of info and updates you want the world to see, which ties into the next point.Who Can View My Profile

Limit what appears on the About page

For Graph Search, context is everything. Although it will take a bit longer for them to find you, in theory someone could find you if they have your first name and one or two important details such as location and job.

When you’ve accessed your About page, you have the option to edit information there, but you can also limit the type of people who can see it. It’s a little time-consuming, but you can practically make all information only available to yourself.FB About Page

Why aiming for the heart is Snapchat’s best bet!

Snapchat Stories(Image via Snapchat)

Last week brought a number of developments in the social space. The majority were things that were coming for a long time like Twitter’s IPO and Instagram introducing ads, but the most exciting piece of news came from Snapchat and its introduction of Stories.

For those not familiar, Stories essentially adds a news feed to the app. While the basic premise only allows you to message one friend at a time, Stories lets you post to multiple friends, meaning that those images are available to view for 24 hours. The idea is that you’ll string together a number of photos, showing people how a day or event has unfolded and therefore adding to the fun nature of the app.

With 350 million photos posted per day on the app, it has a considerable audience to work from, and it’s pushing this through a number of trailers both through the platform and through YouTube. It’s quite clear that it’s an important part of its overall strategy and the quality of these trailers attests to this.

For one, it’s an incredibly smart idea that will drive up the number of snaps posted without compromising the ethos of the app. More snaps means more reasons to visit the app regularly. However, the real genius behind this isn’t the way it will boost numbers, but in how it will resonate with users, both old and new.

Thanks to self-destructing images and drawing tools, Snapchat has a playful side, which has won it so many users, but that’s something that will only get you so far.

If you consider the biggest social sites and apps that place a focus on imagery, they connect with people on an emotional level. Facebook allows you to stay connected with family and friends, Twitter lets you see events unfold in real-time, and Instagram captures moments and documents your life.

Snapchat doesn’t have that yet, but seeing moments that will only be witnessed by yourself and select friends adds an element of exclusivity. It’s in our nature to share, but more importantly, we want to know more than others, and witnessing moments that are for our eyes only makes us feel good as we’re included.

Of all the major players, the one that this could cause trouble for would be Instagram. Facebook and Twitter are diverse enough to continue relatively unaffected, but since Instagram only offers one real concept (let’s face it, video hasn’t really taken off on the platform as its inclusion was mostly in reaction to Vine), it’s under the most risk.

Since growth is more vital than ever to Instagram’s future, now that ads are appearing on the platform, a rival that’s both ad free and brings a fresh approach to storytelling could throw a major spanner in the works and slow down growth.

The real test for any social site isn’t just whether it can grow, but whether it can do enough to create an emotional bond between itself and its users. A good hook will bring people in, but it’s emotion that will keep them using it again and again. For Snapchat, that’s where the real fun begins.

(Update: Originally this piece said that Snapchat has 150m monthly active users. A mixup meant that it’s actually Instagram that has 150m monthly active users as Snapchat only revealed the number of photos posted per day. Thanks to Ben Cera for mentioning it.)

‘You Only Need To Do One Simple Thing To Go Viral’

Foil Arms And Hog(Image via FoilArmsAndHog/YouTube)

When starting off a new advertising campaign, one of the biggest aim for any company or brand is to create something that will go viral. Its meaning tends to differ from person to person – some would see 100,000 views as a respectable marker, while others would feel that you have to reach one million to qualify, but the objective is the same: create something that will be seen by as many people as possible for a minimal cost.

The hope is that if your video or product is good, it will create a ripple effect where people will share it and expose it to a larger audience who will then do the same thing. Working in digital marketing for any length of time will quickly teach you that as everyone (understandably) wants their content to become a hit.

Obviously, the reality is a lot more complex than that and there are numerous different strategies to help reach this point. While there are a number of factors that contribute to this, you only need to do one simple thing to go viral.

Be popular!

Normally when you say that, people treat it as a punchline and wait for you to give the real answer, but the size of your immediate audience is usually the defining factor. There are many other factors in play such as the quality of the idea, the execution, how much you pump into advertising and public reception – both positive and negative – but having a significant audience right in front of you will get you places. How you build that audience up is another story entirely, but some have it easier than others.

A great example of this emerged this week involving two videos, one by Irish sketch group Foil Arms and Hog (FA&H), and another by  Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake. Both did comedy sketches involving the use of hashtags and were released at different times, but the results couldn’t be any more different.

Audience & Influence

From a comedic perspective, there doesn’t appear to be any real example of plagiarism involved as the two sketches approach a broad subject in different ways. Fallon’s sketch goes for longer and more extravagant hashtags, something that everyone on Twitter can relate to. The sketch is short and snappy, and is perfect for the TV audience it was designed to please.

On the other hand, FA&H creates a narrative and frames a lot of clever jokes around it. Since this sketch has more layers, it means that you’re more likely to catch one or two new jokes the next time you watch it, the background reaction to #badediting being a perfect example.

Both are funny in their own right, it just depends on whether you go for extravagant or subtle comedy. Personally, I like Foil Arms and Hog’s sketch more as they’re an incredibly funny group live but each to their own. However, we’re not here to read an in-depth analysis on comedy, which admittedly isn’t a strength of mine. Instead, we want to know why one became hugely popular while the other is only getting recognition now. Both release new videos and content regularly, some more successful than others, but what’s the difference?

If you haven’t guessed already, the key factor is immediate audience. Jimmy Fallon hosts one of the more popular shows in the U.S. and so combine that with a large and dedicated follower base online and you’ve got a large audience who will watch your video automatically, and more importantly, will share the video to their friends, creating a large ripple effect. And that’s excluding the impact TV viewership has on it. To put this into context (and apologies to FA&H for doing this), let’s compare the fan bases between Fallon, Late Night, Timberlake and FA&H. FA&H Vs Fallon & Timberlake (Note: Jimmy Fallon doesn’t have a YouTube channel but can be subscribed to as a topic)

To put it bluntly, once two sides end up with the same idea, the bigger side will almost always outshine the other and unless it’s a blatant ripoff, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. It’s incredibly annoying when you see someone else do a similar idea and they get the credit for it, but the figures shows above that very few of the people sharing Fallon’s video would have even heard of FA&H, let alone its hashtag video.

It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know!

Fallon’s sketch would have been popular in its own right, but the reason why it exploded was because of Justin Timberlake. To put it into context, his most popular video on YouTube, Mirrors, has over 110 million views after being released six months ago. The second biggest was What Comes Around… Goes Around with 77 million and was released four years ago.

Fallon’s team knew this – which is why it featured Timberlake in a week’s worth of sketches – and when a massively popular music artist takes part in a sketch that everyone can relate to, it’s going to be popular. While Timberlake’s PR team didn’t share the sketch on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter alone was enough to propel it into the stratosphere. If you have someone influential talking about your video, it’s going to have a significant impact on the overall view count.

It’s entirely possible that something obscure (obscure in global terms, that is) can go viral given the right circumstances, but these are rare cases. If something is good, it has a decent chance of making its way to the top, but that’s never guaranteed so the more popular you are, the easier it is to achieve this aim.

That said, since FA&H’s fans became vocal about the sketch and more people were made aware of it, it’s been covered by a number of media outlets, it made the top of Reddit’s videos page and has close to 70,000 views at the time of writing. And if it leads to bigger and better things for FA&H, then maybe it’s not a bad thing that the former sketch was so popular. Sometimes, the ripple effect can benefit more than one side.

The dumb strategy behind smartwatches

Pebble Vimeo(Image via getpebble/Vimeo)

Reading the latest reviews on the Samsung Galaxy Gear, it honestly doesn’t surprise me that the general consensus has been less than favourable, despite some nice ideas. Looking at the specs and features of each smartwatch that comes out, it’s hard not to think that companies are viewing it as a smartphone on your wrist.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing and it’s the direction technology has been heading for a while now, but it feels like those manufacturing these smartwatches have been heavily influenced by the likes of Knight Rider and James Bond Jr.

There are two main problems with this approach. The first is that there’s too great a focus on versatility instead of practicality. The aim of any wearable technology is for you to put it on and forget about it until you actually need it. If you have to be thinking about whether there’s enough charge left just to tell the time, then there’s a problem.

It’s true that the same thing happens to smartphones as well, but there’s a level of disconnect between the person and their smartphone. Putting on a watch just to take it off again on a daily basis to keep charging it is a small inconvenience, but it’s still inconvenient, especially when the functionality encourages you to wear it constantly.

The second is that each smartwatch is working in a closed garden. Samsung and Sony’s watches only link up to their own smartphones models so you’re already limited to the type of watch you can get. The closest to a proper smartwatch has been the Pebble, both for its design and ability to connect to both iOS and Android devices. Its overall use is hampered by providing this functionality, but it’s the reason why third-party companies could have a better chance of succeeding in this market.

That isn’t the worst part, unless you have it constantly connected to your phone via Bluetooth, you’re left with an expensive paperweight. It’s understandable that you need this for more advanced options like calls and notifications, but a watch that can’t tell the time without another device is a weird problem to have.

That said, it’s by trying and creating these products that we get closer to a better product, but so far it’s only Apple, and maybe one or two dark horses if we’re lucky, who have a chance to show where everyone has gone wrong. So tech companies, focus on the simple things first and create a product that you can forget about without consequence, everything else can follow later.

Some thoughts on Facebook Graph Search

Facebook Graph Search

(Image via Facebook)

With Facebook expanding Graph Search to include comments, posts and check-ins, the company’s project to track all content on the site is beginning to take shape. Search has been a weak spot of Facebook – not to mention social in general – so the roll out of this feature is good news. Well, good news for certain groups anyway.

It’s obvious that brands will welcome this as it means tracking conversations and mentions will be a lot easier. Facebook has already been courting TV stations with its data and you knew that once it started doing that, it found a way to track the vast amounts of content created on it daily. Combine that with the emotion tags that more and more people are including in their posts and already, you have the kind of sentiment analysis data that’s invaluable to companies.

Users, on the other hand, mightn’t feel that this change has any benefit to them or even care about it in the first place since they don’t have access to it. This poses a few questions.

– How many users have access to Graph Search? Anyone who has US English selected as a language automatically has access to it, but for the rest of the world, it’s still being rolled out. Considering that a vast number of users don’t have the new layout yet (announced as far back as March) and that Facebook is relatively slow with releasing new features – due to its insistence that things are close to perfect before general release – the only ones who will be getting excited about this are marketers.

– Apart from looking for pages and your own posts, how many use Graph Search for discovery? Speaking from personal experience, my use is limited to finding a page or person. Searching for keywords rarely happens as I don’t associate Facebook as a hub for public conversation (yet), just a way to catch up on what my friends and family are doing.

This is more down to Facebook’s original purpose being a way to keeping up to date with friends and it’s still evolving from that simple goal into the cornerstone of the Web. Facebook knows that it could suffer a significant backlash if it makes sudden, jarring changes and has to keep everyone, from the average user to advertisers to shareholders, happy.

– How many regular users actually know how Graph Search works? Tying into the last point, the average person knows if they type keywords into a Google search bar, it will figure out the rest and provide them with the answers they’re looking for. Graph Search works on a different level, requiring you to think in search terms like “friends who live in Dublin”. How you search and how results are provided means that users are required to think differently and until Facebook properly shows users the benefits to such a system, the majority will only scratch the surface of what it has to offer.

Currently, the potential of Graph Search to be something truly amazing is just that, potential! It will be a little while longer before the entire userbase have it and much longer before they really get to grips with the feature. Facebook knows that people view it as placing advertisers first and users second so convincing them that Graph Search is the future isn’t just good for users, it’s good for Facebook and its attempt to place a stranglehold on all things digital.

Well, This Is Weird…

Century_House_Attic_West

(Image via Wikipedia.org)

It’s been exactly two years since I last posted something here, and to be honest, it’s a little strange looking back on it. When I wrote here last, I was just out of college and was trying to build a portfolio in the hope I’d somehow get a job, let alone one that had me writing for a living.

A lot has changed since then. Now I’m two years into writing and editing Simply Zesty and with it are a lot of experiences and moments that helped me improve. Some of them were pretty hard and sometimes embarrassing lessons, but I feel I’ve emerged from it a much better writer than the me of two years ago.

Reading through everything I wrote here is like going through old stuff in the attic. Some things I look back with fondness, while others make me wonder what I was thinking. Either way, it’s made me want to revive the blog as a side-project, and bringing it from something that was just about videogames – something I used to play quite often two years ago but rarely touch now – to something more general.

So I’m promising myself that I’m going to revive and update this blog semi-regularly. The ideal aim would be weekly, but considering my schedule, bi-weekly might be a more reasonable aim.

Will I keep it up? Who knows, but I’m going to find out either way.