Thursday, December 26, 2013

Social Media 2013: Looking Back and Looking Forward

The year 2013 on social media will be remembered for being the year visuals dominated social media … and as the year the major social networks began to mimic each other.
From left: Vine, Snapchat and hashtags were big in 2013
From the scorching growth of Instagram and Pinterest for still images to the growing popularity of Vine and Instagram for video 2013 was all about images. Let’s look back on the past year and then predict what 2014 might have in store.

2013 – a look back at three key trends

Photo-sharing: Snapchat, the micro service that allows users to share an image for a few seconds and has become a darling of teens, created lots of buzz when it first turned down a $3 billion buyout offer from Facebook and then reportedly a $4 billion offer from Google. But it could also be said that the service prompted changes on other social networks.

Instagram (a Facebook property that introduced video in June and web embeds of video in July) seemed to be trying to compete with Snapchat by launching Instagram Direct, a way for users to send photos and videos privately to up to 15 contacts.

Twitter upped its game by allowing photos to appear in a user’s feed (an idea that mimics Facebook’s news feed). The late October change applied to Vine (owned by Twitter) videos and pictures uploaded to Twitter, not to Facebook-owned competitor Instagram’s links. And, in what is likely a nod to Snapchat’s popularity, it added the ability to send photos via Direct Message, Twitter’s private message service between followers.

All of which reinforced the idea that the biggest social networks are scrambling to be the "one app that does it all."

Hashtags: Facebook launched clickable hashtags this year. Like on Twitter, hashtags help group content on similar topics. Users can click on a hashtag on Facebook and see all the content that's available on the social network for that hashtag. As part of the updates to Google+ in the past year was the addition of the "related hashtags" feature, which automatically adds hashtags related to a post. This means users can find related content via hashtags on Google+.

Other platforms that are now hashtag-friendly: Instagram, Vine, Flickr, Tumblr and Pinterest. And, again, the number of platforms using hashtags is a clear signal that the biggest social networks want more of your time.

For more on hashtags see Mashable’s The Beginner's Guide to the Hashtag or click on the graphic below to see the full infographic.
 History of Hashtags infographic

Brevity Between Vine and its 6-second looping videos and Snapchat and its shared photos that disappear in under 10 seconds, 2013 was about the briefest of social interactions.

Snapchat was likely the new app of the year and the king (or queen) of ephemeral social sharing with users now sending and receiving 400 million photo messages per day. In late December it was updated to add several improvements like "smart" filters and the ability to replay photos and videos. FYI: The update is hidden within Settings - Additional Services - Manage.

Vine, as mentioned earlier, was highly influential and grew rapidly in 2013. Users quickly rose to the challenge of creating fun, interesting and sometimes poignant 6-second videos. Late in the year Vine introduced vanity URLs for users – a first step toward being a mature social platform. For more on Vine see Mashable’s The Beginner's Guide to Vine.

2014 – predictions of what’s to come

Facebook’s decline will become obvious: The service is now too big and too crowded for many users, according to Jay Yarrow in his Entrepreneur magazine article Facebook Is a Fundamentally Broken Product That Is Collapsing Under Its Own Weight. Teens are deserting in droves and moving to other platforms such as Snapchat, WhatsApp, WeChat, Line, Twitter and Instagram (which Facebook owns). All of which are proving popular with said teens seemingly because they don’t "do everything."

"Second screen" battles: The second screen phenomenon has been developing for several years – it’s where people watching a TV show, such as The Voice or the Super Bowl, use a social network to talk about it with other fans. Twitter, the current leader in the battle, and Facebook have been looking to sign deals with TV networks and advertisers. Expect this competition to heat up.

Twitter finally goes mainstream: It’s likely Twitter will become the next billion-user platform, the questions is whether that happens in 2014 or 2015. With more than 700 million users currently and its growth increasing month over month it’s probably a matter of time before Twitter reaches the 1 billion mark. The biggest challenge: Getting more of the those 700+ million users to be on the platform more regularly. Current estimates have as few as 250 million users being active on the platform regularly. The No. 1 reason people are slow to engage? Twitter operates differently from most other social networks.

More pay-to-play for advertisers: It’s getting harder and harder for marketers and others to stand out on the biggest networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Linkedin. This means these networks will increase the ways they can help a marketer for a price. For users this will mean a steady increase in promoted posts.

So what do you think? What will be the big changes in social media in 2014?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Facebook is coming to town; Ho-Ho….No!

They know when you've been sleeping,
They know when you're awake.
They know when you've been good or bad,
So be good for goodness sake!

Is Facebook being revealed as a grinch during the holiday season?
Facebook is, in the height of holiday season, being revealed as at least as big a snoop as the Jolly Old Elf or even the NSA (National Security Agency).

In a story on Slate a few days ago it was revealed that Facebook is … analyzing thoughts that we have intentionally chosen not to share.

That’s right: When you start to write something on Facebook, but change your mind and delete it that material does not just disappear. No, Facebook has been scooping it up and analyzing it to study what two FB researchers call "self-censorship."

But what’s to stop Facebook from using all this data for other reasons? For example, to serve us even more highly targeted advertising? That would be a fairly benign result.

As the Slate story points out some people might compare this to the FBI’s ability to turn on a computer webcam without the user’s knowledge to monitor for criminal activity. The difference is that the FBI has to get a warrant for that kind of surveillance. In Facebook’s case no warrant is needed.

The Facebook researchers say that decreasing self-censorship is a goal of the social network because such censorship decreases the quantity of content (and thereby the quantity of researchable data) publicly on the platform.

But the bigger question this brings up is: Can Facebook be trusted? History would tend to suggest it cannot.

Under Facebook’s Data Use Policy, there is a section called "Information we receive and how it is used." This makes clear that the company collects information you choose to share or when you view or otherwise interact with things. But nothing suggests that it collects content you explicitly don’t share.

So what do we, as users, do about this? The likely answer is: Nothing except maybe think twice before typing in anything on Facebook.

Several studies have indicated that any concern about trust may be limited to older users of Facebook.

Data collected by MDG Advertising from the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research, Anonymizer, Harris Interactive, MSNBC and The Ponemon Institute shows that overall "2 out of 3 active online users do not trust" the social media sites they are using. These numbers are based on users of all ages.

Click on the graphic to see the full report and infographic.
Do we trust online sites we use?

On the other hand a 2012 survey conducted by YouGov in Britain (and finding similar data to older surveys in the United States and elsewhere) found that the younger users of online services such as a social media site are more likely to trust that online service.

Click on the graphic to see the full report and infographic.
Online trust changes with age

All of which underscores that these latest revelations will make older users of Facebook are more likely to be concerned about privacy and it make very little difference for younger users.

What do you think? Should a social media platform be completely transparent about what information it is looking at and how that information is being used?

Related posts:
Facebook’s next big privacy change is still coming
Social Media Scams: 11 Tips to Fight Them
At the IPO: 5 Warning Signs of Facebook’s future