Facebook’s next money-maker could be this tool for connecting marketers to social media creators so they can team up on sponsored-content Facebook ad campaigns. The Branded Content Matching search engine lets advertisers select the biographical characteristics of creators’ fans they want to reach, see stats about these audiences, and contact them to hammer out deals.
Leaked screenshots of Facebook’s promotional materials for the tool were first attained and published in German by AllFacebook.de. TechCrunch has now confirmed with Facebook the existence of the test of the search engine. Facebook first vaguely noted it would build a creator-brand tool in March, but now we know what it looks like and exactly how it works.
Even though Facebook will not actually broker or initially take a cut of the deals, the tool could equip brands with much more compelling and original marketing content. That could in turn encourage them to spend more on Facebook ads to spread that content, while also making more entertaining and tolerable the ads users see so they spend longer on the social network. By getting creators paid, even if not directly by Facebook, they’ll invest more in the quality of their content and size of their following on the app instead of with competitors.
A Facebook spokesperson explained the motive behind the tool like this. Facebook wants to help businesses find creators who can reach their target audience in an authentic way, while allowing creators a path to monetizing their Facebook content and fan base. Creators opt in to participating in the test and set up a portfolio showcasing their audience size and metrics plus their best branded content. Facebook is starting the program primarily with a set of lifestyle brands and creators.
Advertisers in the test can search for creators with specific audience demographics using a wide range of targeting options. Those include both general and industry-specific parameters, like:
The search engine’s results page shows a list of creators with each’s audience match percentage to the search terms, percentage of their followers they reach, engagement rate, follower count and video views. Advertisers can save their best matches to private lists, and reach out to contact the creators, though Facebook is still figuring out if it’s best to connect them through their Facebook Page or traditional contact info. One question is how Facebook will ensure it’s only connecting businesses to brand-safe creators who won’t get them in trouble by posting racist, sexist or objectionable content the way star YouTuber PewDiePie did.
The deals for product placement or sponsored content creation and sharing are then worked out between the brand and creator without Facebook’s involvement. The platform is not taking any revenue cut during the testing phase, but longer-term will evaluate whether it should. The only thing Facebook doesn’t allow is pure re-sharing deals where influencers are paid to just post the brand’s pre-made content they didn’t help create.
Foreshadowed in the launch of its dedicated Facebook Creator app in November, this is the company’s first serious foray into influencer marketing. This emerging industry holds the potential to overhaul the way advertising content is produced. In days of old, brands couldn’t target very narrow segments of their customers because they were using broadcast mediums like TV commercials, magazine ads and billboards, or endorsements from mainstream celebrities like movie actors. They might only make a few separate styles of marketing campaigns that would appeal to wide swaths of their target audience.
With the internet and targeting data-rich social networks like Facebook, they can reach extremely specific subsets of their customers with marketing messages tuned to their identity. But reaching these niche audiences with corporate content that feels authentic rather than fake and smarmy is difficult. That’s where social media creators come in. Not only do they have a pre-existing and intimate relationship with their fans who’ll take their endorsements to heart, they’ve also already spent years figuring out exactly what type of content appeals to these specific people. When they team up with brands, the businesses get their products recontextualized and interpreted for that audience with content they could never come up with themselves.
Twitter realized this early, which is why it acquired creator-brand deal broker Niche for a reported $50 million back in 2015. [Disclosure: I got fascinated with this industry because my cousin Darren Lachtman is one of the co-founders of Niche.] But now as Facebook seeks to attract influencers and their audiences to its social network, it’s trying to find ways to get them paid. Otherwise, they’re likely to stray to YouTube’s ad revenue shares and Patreon’s subscription payments. So far Facebook has tested tipping and subscriptions from fans, as well as letting creators host ad breaks — essentially commercials — during their videos. But brands want the creators’ help designing the content, not just distributing it.
The Branded Content Matching search engine will help brands find those creators… but only on Facebook for now. The tool doesn’t pull in their audience sizes and metrics from other important platforms like Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat or Twitch. Brands don’t get a holistic view of the value and reach of a creator, who might be way more popular on another platform than Facebook.
And really, Instagram is where all these influencers spend their time and share their content. Though Facebook owns it, it says it’s not showing Instagram influencers in the tool at the moment. Adding them in, the same way advertisers can push ads to Facebook and Instagram from one interface, would make the search engine much more powerful.
There’s already a whole industry of independent creator search engines and databases for marketers like Hypr, Whalar, Fohr Card, Tap Influence and Creator IQ. If Facebook built one with first-party data from across its properties, or even pulled stats from competing platforms, it might squash these startups. Alternatively, it might buy one to ramp up its efforts here like how Twitter bought Niche.
Facebook is running out of ad inventory in the News Feed. It needs to make each ad better and more watchable so it can grow revenue by charging more per ads rather than selling more ads. Meanwhile, yesterday it started testing ads in Facebook Stories, where brands will need help navigating the more personal, vertical video format. Awesome content made by creators could be the answer. And Facebook could finally start helping more of these artists, comedians and storytellers turn their passion into a profession.
After 14 months of silence since launching, Facebook Stories has finally announced a 150 million daily active user count for its Snapchat Stories clone. And now it’s time to earn some money off it. Facebook Stories will start testing its first ads today in the U.S., Mexico and Brazil.
They’re 5- to 15-second video ads users can skip, and while there’s no click-through or call to action now, Facebook plans to add that in the coming months. Advertisers can easily extend their Instagram Stories ads to this new surface, or have Facebook automatically reformat their News Feed ads with color-matched borders and text at the bottom. Facebook also plans to give businesses more metrics on their Stories performance to convince them the feature is worth their ad dollars.
Facebook has to nail Stories ads to preserve its business, as CPO Chris Cox said this month that Stories sometime next year will surpass feed posts as the top way to share. CEO Mark Zuckerberg warned that Facebook must ensure “that ads are as good in Stories as they are in feeds. If we don’t do this well, then as more sharing shifts to Stories, that could hurt our business.” Despite criticism that the feature is obtrusive and redundant with Instagram Stories, Facebook is proving there’s no retreating from the ephemeral slideshow format. And Snapchat could see ad spend slip over to Facebook, especially since the big blue social network has so much targeting data on us.
My first question was how Facebook is defining a daily user for Stories. It’s anyone who watches a Story on Facebook’s app or site. That’s useful, because it means it’s not counting users who simply cross-post their Stories from Instagram or Messenger to Facebook, which would inflate the number. It’s a testament to the coercive power of the top-of-feed Stories design that Instagram pioneered and Facebook brought over, and it’s already testing bigger Stories preview tiles.
For context, here’s a breakdown of Stories daily user counts and total monthly user counts across the top players, ranked by size:
Instagram Stories also started showing ads when it hit 150 million users, though that was just five months after launch, while it’s taken Facebook Stories 14 months to get there.
The real opportunity for Facebook’s future engagement growth is bringing the Stories format to the international market that Snapchat has largely neglected for four years and only recently got serious about by re-engineering its Android app. WhatsApp capitalized on Snap’s focus on U.S. teens by surging to become the top Stories product thanks to youth across the globe. And now Facebook is specifically building Stories features for countries like India, such as the new audio posts to help users with non-native language keyboards, and cloud storage so you can privately save photos and videos to Facebook for those without room on their phones.
Since testing in January 2017 and then launching in March 2017, Facebook has been rapidly iterating on its version of Stories in hopes of making it more unique and apt to its audience. That includes adding cross-posting from its other apps and a desktop interface, advanced shutter formats like Boomerang and new augmented reality features like 3D doodling and real-world QR and image triggers that anchor AR to a location.
Oh, and there’s one bonus unannounced feature we’ve spotted. Facebook Stories can now shoot 360 photos without a 360 camera. It uses a cool interface that shows you where to “paint” your camera over your surroundings, so unlike a panorama where you only get one shot, you can go back and fill in missed spots.
All of Facebook’s efforts seem to be paying off. Snapchat sunk to its slowest daily user growth rate ever, a paltry 2.13 percent last quarter, while the much more saturated Facebook grew a strong 3.42 percent. Snapchat actually shrank in user count during March.
That might have been the signal Facebook needed to start putting ads in its Stories. It’s effectively beaten Snapchat into submission. Without as strong of a competitor, Facebook has more leeway to pollute the Stories user experience with ads. And that comes just as Snapchat is desperate to ramp up ad sales after missing revenue estimates in Q1 and mounting losses of $385 million.
“Ads in stories have added a lot of value for businesses on Instagram, and we believe we can do the same on Facebook,” Facebook product manager Zoheb Hajiyani tells me. “Ensuring that this is a good experience for people using the product will be our top priority.” Facebook has lined up a number of ad test partners it’s not disclosing, but also will be running its own ads for Oculus inside Stories.
With existing Facebook and Instagram advertisers able to easily port their ads over to Facebook Stories, and much greater total reach, they might not go to the trouble of advertising on Snap unless they seek young teens. Stories could in fact be the answer to Facebook’s issue with running out of ad space in the News Feed while it shuts down its sidebar units. Stories could generate the ad inventory needed to keep pushing more marketing into the social network.
Stories were inevitable. First launched by Snapchat in October 2013, it took almost three years for Facebook to wake up to the format as an existential threat to the company. But with the quick success of Instagram’s clone, Facebook has wisely swallowed its pride and pivoted its apps toward this style of visual communication. It was another moment, like the shift to mobile, where Facebook could have faltered. But willingness to admit its mistakes and ruthlessly compete may have won another epoch of social dominance.
For more on Stories, check out our feature piece:
No, it’s not a “regram” option. Sorry! But today, Instagram is officially launching a new feature that will allow users to re-share someone’s Instagram post with their friends via Instagram Stories – something it confirmed was in testing earlier this year. The idea with the new re-sharing option is to give users a way to add their own commentary or react to a post, without repurposing it as their own – the way a regram (reposting to feed) feature would have permitted.
For example, you can now re-share something you saw posted by a brand or influencer on Instagram that you like, or add your own comments on top of a funny meme, or even tag a friend on a post you want them to see.
In fact, tagging friends through Instagram comments had become so common on the social network over the years, that it rolled out a way to send posts via Direct Messaging as an alternative. The new re-sharing option now gives users a third way to get their friends’ attention.
Re-sharing can only be done from public Instagram accounts, Instagram says. If you want to run a public account, but don’t want people re-sharing your posts, you can opt to turn off the new feature in the app’s settings.
To share an Instagram feed post to your Story, you first tap the paper airplane icon – the same as you tap today to send a post through direct messaging. However, you’ll now see a new option to create a Story as well. Tap this to see the feed post appear as a sticker of sorts with a customized background, reading for re-sharing.
You can also rotate, scale or move the sticker around, and tap on it to explore other styles. Of course, you can add your own commentary, scribbles and other decorations on top of this “sticker,” as you can today when sharing a photo to an Instagram Story.
When posted, the Story will display the original poster’s username, which others can tap on to head back to the original post.
That potential source of traffic may encourage some Instagram users to create posts specifically designed for this new sharing format, given it could increase their account’s exposure to a wider audience.
The company may not be done rolling out new features for Stories yet – continual improvement of this popular product is one way Instagram (and parent Facebook) is able to challenge Snapchat, which first popularized the Story format.
As Twitter users Jane Manchun Wong spotted, Instagram is also testing a floating Story Tray that will minimize when you scroll. That would give Stories more prominence on the network – though not everyone is thrilled with their takeover.
Instagram says the feature is live today on Android and will roll out to iOS in the coming week.
* Yes, I’m confused about this example image Instagram sent, too.
Facebook’s work around accessibility took center stage in 2016 when it launched something called automatic alt-text (AAT) for people using screen readers to identify what’s displayed. AAT uses object recognition technology to generate descriptions of photos on Facebook. But what Facebook deployed in 2016 represented the mere beginning of its efforts, Facebook Accessibility Specialist Matt King told me ahead of Global Accessibility Awareness Day.
“It was about as simple as you could get and still be valuable,” King said about version one of AAT, which initially launched for News Feed, profiles and groups. It later became available in 28 other languages before adding 17 different activities to the descriptions, like walking, running and so on.
“So we’re getting closer to being able to do a sentence, which is a long-run goal, instead of just having, you know, a list of words or concepts that describe a photo,” he said.
Then, last December, Facebook started taking advantage of facial recognition capabilities. That ensured that, even if a friend wasn’t tagged, someone using a screen reader would be able to know if their friend was in the photo.
“So, it’s bit by bit getting richer and of course there’s a lot of potential on the horizon,” King said.
Today, however, the product is still in its infancy — a toddler, at most, he said.
“It has a long way to go to even become like an adolescent-level product, but I think that’s going to happen in the next couple of years,” King said.
As a grown-up, this product would be more integrated with the photo viewer — the enlarged, full-screen version of the photo that lets you see photo tags and whatnot. With that integration, King envisions people being able to move their fingers around the photo and then be told about specific objects in the photo.
“You would be able to possibly hold your finger there and then ask a question about that object or tap the photo,” King said.
Or, maybe the description said the photo includes three people sitting at a table in a room. Based on that description, King said, you could maybe ask about the color of the person’s hair. From there, you could even ask if there are any decorations on the wall, and if so, what’s on the poster or the decoration.
“We might even be able to get to the point where it could potentially highlight unusual features of a photo,” King said. “So that can include something ironic or humorous that it would be able to potentially detect those kinds of circumstances and call them to your attention. So that’s what a grown-up would look like.“
As it stands today, AAT’s descriptions are more like “image may contain three people, smiling, outdoors.”[gallery ids="1301825,1301824,1301826"]
The AAT product falls into the category of what King calls the “plumbing of web accessibility,” he said. It’s not as “sexy and hot and cool as AI stuff,” he said, but it’s what makes it possible for things to actually work from an accessibility standpoint.
King helps ensure that what visually appears for sighted people gets translated well into something that’s non-visual. His work is about making all of that super friendly to screen-reader users, which is, he said, “not a technically straightforward thing to do.”
He added that his energy often goes toward making sure interactions on Facebook “are as rich and enjoyable for people with disabilities as they are for other people.”
Facebook is not the only tech company working on accessibility. In April, Pinterest made its app a lot more accessible for people with visual impairments. Meanwhile, Google, Microsoft and Adobe have teamed up with Facebook to launch a program that brings together students, teachers and industry partners to explore accessibility.
In addition to its work with other companies, Facebook is actively researching how to better support people with cognitive disabilities, such as dyslexia. The work is around figuring out how to help those with dyslexia feel more comfortable sharing on Facebook, King said, because “there’s some emotional insecurity associated with like, ‘wow, what if I mess up'”?
Facebook’s accessibility team is also looking at an alt-text tool for video that could describe what’s happening in the video for those who are visually impaired. It’s early days, but King says at some point, “we want to have the ability to describe at least certain kinds of video.”
Last year, Facebook was reportedly scouting for office space in San Francisco in order to find a space suitable to house some 100 Instagram employees. Today, the company is officially confirming its San Francisco plans with an announcement that it has leased four floors at 181 Fremont in San Francisco. It will initially house its under-200 person Creation & Communication team, which builds for Stories, Direct, Live and more, but plans to expand its San Francisco headcount in time.
TechCrunch had reported last summer that the Fremont location was being considered, among others. At the time, the 70-story tower wasn’t yet open, and no lease had been signed.
Today, Instagram confirms its lobby will be on the 7th floor of the Fremont building and will be connected to the TransBay Transit Center City Park.
Employees started moving in on May 7th, but that transition remains in progress. It’s also still putting the finishing touches on the space, but shared a few photos (see above and below) of what the space looks like today.
Instagram notes it has just under 200 employees in the Fremont office at present, but it expects that number to grow over the course of the year. It also has around 200 in New York, and 400 at its main office in Menlo Park.
Having a space in the city will likely help Instagram with its recruiting efforts – the new office may attract those who prefer to live in the city, for all its advantages, including the fact that they would no longer have to endure the hour-plus shuttle ride to Instagram’s Menlo Park headquarters, near the main Facebook campus.
“We have space to grow the team and plan to do so considerably this year,” an Instagram spokesperson said.
The company declined to share details like square footage or the cost of the lease at this time.
However, real estate data firm the CoStar Group told the San Francisco Chronicle that Facebook signed a lease for 432,000 square feet of office space in the tower, which could house around 2,000 employees. So this is clearly an investment in the future.
“This is not a pilot,” the spokesperson acknowledged, referencing the claims that it’s a way for the company to “test” out having San Francisco office space.
“Instagram is officially establishing a presence in San Francisco and growing the team on-the-ground here,” they said.
Who says privacy is dead? Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has agreed to take European parliamentarians’ questions about how his platform impacts the privacy of hundreds of millions of European citizens — but only behind closed doors. Where no one except a handful of carefully chosen MEPs will bear witness to what’s said.
The private meeting will take place on May 22 at 17.45CET in Brussels. After which the president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, will hold a press conference to furnish the media with his version of events.
It’s just a shame that journalists are being blocked from being able to report on what actually goes on in the room.
And that members of the public won’t be able to form their own opinions about how Facebook’s founder responds to pressing questions about what Zuckerberg’s platform is doing to their privacy and their fundamental rights.
Because the doors are being closed to journalists and citizens.
Even the intended contents of the meeting has been glossed over in public — with the purpose of the chat being vaguely couched as “to clarify issues related to the use of personal data” in a statement by Tajani (below).
The impact of Facebook’s platform on “electoral processes in Europe” is the only discussion point that’s specifically flagged.