Tech news roundup

How time flies! Another week has zipped by, and it's time once again for our Friday roundup of key tech stories from the past few days.

BERT helps Google to deliver more relevant search results

Google Search processes more than 5 billion searches per day, and a fair number of those (roughly 15% according to Google themselves) use queries that the search engine has never seen before. So how does The Big G deliver an accurate answer when it's completely unfamiliar with the question?

Well, we haven't yet reached the point where computers can understand word strings in the same way humans can, but Google announced this week that they'd taken a great big step towards that goal. BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) is a neural network-based technology that helps Google Search to "process words in relation to all the other words in a sentence, rather than one by one in order".

What this means is that, in theory, Google will no longer overlook the importance of a word like 'to' in the query '2019 brazil traveller to usa need a visa'. On its own, the word 'to' may seem unimportant, but it has a big impact on the meaning of that search term as a whole. This is one example of how BERT will help Google Search to deliver more relevant answers.

This change will supposedly impact the Google results shown for 1 in 10 English-language searches. Read Google's own blog post on BERT here.

Pixel 4 has arrived

In other Google-related news, the company's latest smartphone - Pixel 4 - is now available.

Pixel 4's key selling points include:

  • Google assistant
  • Motion sense
  • Improved camera

Not to mention the very colourful advert, which you can view on Twitter.

The news - brought to you by Facebook

Finally, some US users spotted a new feature in the Facebook app this week. Facebook News will feature content from publishers like BuzzFeed News and The Wall Street Journal, some - but not all - of whom will be paid for their participation.

The shiny new Facebook News tab will be curated by human editors, and users can personalise the tab to make sure they're only seeing stories that interest them. This feature hasn't rolled out in the UK yet - it's not even widespread in America at the moment - but we could be seeing it on our phones before long.

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What Does The Facebook Newsfeed Update Mean For Marketers

Aah Facebook, from fake news to dog memes you have been keeping us on our toes.

Recently Facebook has been ruffling feathers of its advertisers, which seems strange considering the huge amounts of revenue it creates for the social media mogul. But how much will this affect the way we use Facebook to reach out to our customers? Why the sudden change?

Well, a recent Facebook announcement explains how this isn't a random change, it's their attempt to return to their roots. Mark Zuckerburg announced how:

 

"We built Facebook to help people stay connected and bring us closer together with the people that matter to us"

 

But Mr Zuckerburg explains that this is something that Facebook has lost sight of, and it's time to change that. He goes on to explain how they would like to make a positive platform where its users share 

 

"relevant content [that's] helping you have more meaningful social interactions."  

 

So what does that mean for the newsfeed?

"As we roll this out, you'll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard -- it should encourage meaningful interactions between people."

 

That's apparently enough to have marketers and advertisers shaking in their boots. Sharing useful, meaningful content that people want to see and share? That doesn't sound very us? To an extent, it's not.

Most Facebook users are used to seeing brands flogging their products and services and most users have grown accustomed to scrolling away from this newsfeed clutter. But what about the occasional conversion this can encourage? Is it really as bad as everyone seems to think?

As usual, the Facebook announcement itself is quite lengthy, but lacking specifics that many marketers are waiting for. For instance, none of the official announcements have specified if this will this affect paid ads. Presumably in some shape or form, but no one has actually mention paid advertising, so maybe those who use paid Facebook ads won't notice too much of a change.  However, for those who use Facebook to reach out to people for free, it seems like we'll have to take a different approach.

This video may clear things up a bit more for us all:

 

 

 

Okay, so Facebook plans to rank content depending on how useful and meaningful this post will be to you, with person to person posts ranking more highly above business and brand posts. Facebook has previously brushed off criticism about its influence during elections and other news scandals and have avoided accusations concerning social media's negative effect on people's mental health. However, this change seems to be an attempt to combat the negative influence Facebook can have and instead become a more positive platform

What does this mean for marketers? 


Honestly? We can't be 100% sure. As with most announcements concerning the digital marketing world, there a rush of panic before we receive all the information. Until these changes roll out at some point this year we won't know the full effect. However, we can prepare in a few ways:

  • Quality over quantity seems to be key. - Posting lots won't matter if it’s useless spam. Facebook will value posts that will encourage meaningful interactions, with other people and the post itself. Start creating content that not only shows off your brand but really helps or interests the reader. It something we should all be doing already, but now it's time to really put your back into it. 
  • No more clickbait - It just won't work, it won't show up on a newsfeed so there's really no use in it. Besides, titling your blog "You'll NEVER believe this!" to reveal something mundane and misleading is just going to bother readers and do your brand more harm than good. Time to stop with the "Share/like/comment for your chance to win!" posts too, Facebook will just outsmart this transparent tactic.  
  • Use the "Prioritise Friend" feature - you'll have to encourage followers to use this tool, we imagine it will take some convincing but if you can it means you'll still show up first in all your most valuable customers feeds.

Although this may complicate how easy it is to get your brand out there on social media, it may result in more meaningful responses for marketers too. Long has it been difficult to prove that social media leads to conversions, so perhaps better quality content will help you connect with those with a genuine interest in your business.

In theory, this change will value genuine interactions between people, so that when a happy customer of yours recommends you it will actually count for more.

As we've said, the other online marketing experts and ourselves can only make educated guesses as what is to come, you'll have to watch this space to see the real impact. As always, when we know, you'll know.


If you need any help with your online marketing strategy we are more than happy to help. Call our team of friendly experts for advice on your website design or digital marketing. Please get in contact with us today by clicking here

Facebook 2016
 

Whether you keep up to date with social media developments or not, you're likely to have seen Facebook making headlines quite regularly last year, and often for the wrong reasons! From developments on the parent platform (which still has the biggest user share in social media), to increasing Instagram shake-ups since 2012's take-over, Facebook did a lot to get people talking in 2016. They also managed to find themselves right at the centre of the year's post-truth' climate, as the growing prevalence of 'fake news' on the platform was criticised throughout mainstream news, particularly in relation to the year's biggest political developments.

 
Despite all the negative attention received, Facebook did manage to make headlines for the right reasons on several occasions during 2016, although it's fair to say that many of these achievements were lost in the swathe of bad press towards the end of the year. To get a more balanced view of the platform's accomplishments and blunders, we put together a list of the company's top hits and misses of 2016:

Miss: Organic Reach Falls 

facebook organic reach chart
(data via edgerankchecker.com, now property of socialbakers.com
 
Throughout 2016, we heard a lot about the increasing problem of competing organically amidst the growth of paid advertising, which was a particularly sore issue for content creators on Facebook over the course of 2016. Throughout the year, we heard increasingly dismal reports about the depths to which organic reach capabilities were sinking, and back in August, Marketing Land reported that capabilities had fallen by a whopping 52%. 
 
Using data provided by social publishing tool Social Flow, the news site reported how reach for brands and content publishers had hit a new low, as Facebook's algorithm became increasingly stringent about the posts that were able to make it into people's feeds. In fact, the only area that seemed to be demonstrating growth for content creators was video, which had it's fair share of positive and negative attention this year, as will be discussed below. 

Hit: Reaction Buttons

facebook reactions
(Image via Wikimedia Commons)
 
During 2016, our social interaction habits became increasingly 'emojicentric', which is why the introduction of reaction buttons can be seen as one of the platform's more successful moves of the year, for users and content creators alike. While this expansion of the 'like' feature may have gained it's fair share of negative press, with suggestions that it was a further invasion of user privacy, it has certainly increased the 'social' aspect of the platform overall. It has also acted as a creative tool for encouraging interaction from users, as companies and publishers have taken to asking audiences to select reactions, in order to run makeshift Facebook polls. 
 
Despite an initial slump, a study by Quintly published back in September reported a 22.4% rise in the use of reaction buttons from May to June 2016, with video content picking up the largest amount of Facebook Reactions. It also inspired sets of 'Reaction Packs' to be developed as an alternative to the standard emoji-like icons, as well as limited-edition reactions from Facebook themselves during Halloween.

Miss: Instagram's Algorithm Changes

instagram algorithm
 
If people weren't already angry enough with Facebook's algorithm tweaking, this frustration extended to the company's acquired photo-sharing platform at the beginning of the year, as it was announced that Instagram would be rolling out an interaction-based system for deciding which content users would like to see. This sparked an outpouring of complaints from users, particularly from those who were concerned about their ability to sustain and expand their audience, when competing with accounts that have a considerably high follower count, and therefore likes.
 
Despite the negativity earned by the move, Instagram continued to witness growth in 2016, particularly from advertisers. According to Mashable,  it is likely that the platform will overtake Twitter as the go-to sharing service for paid marketing efforts in 2017, a prediction that was based on market research from Emarketer, who also predicted that Twitter's prospects would continue to stagnate. With advertising on Instagram having doubled since last year, it's hard to count their collective changes to the platform as a 'miss', however, the negative backlash from such a high volume of users is impossible to ignore. Perhaps the best way to describe this point is as a 'miss' in terms of public opinion, while it may be described as a 'hit' from the perspective of business development.

Hit: Live Video

live video on facebook
(Image via Wikimedia Commons)
 
The most substantial achievement for Facebook in 2016 had to be the introduction of Live Video, which has even prompted Twitter to launch it's own version of this feature, in a bid to use their acquisition of Periscope as a competitive advantage. The secret to success for search and social media platforms alike, is the ability to keep users in one place, and to offer a range of features that will encourage users to interact with the platform on an increasingly frequent basis. Taking ques from a combination of user behaviour and other social platforms, Facebook devised a way to take users beyond the capabilities of a simple status update or photo share, by granting them the ability to interact with their audience in real time.
 
In 2016, there was a mass outpouring of articles championing the efficiency of video content, which made this development just as appealing to brands and content creators as it was to the average user. 

Miss: Miscalculated Metrics 

miscalculated metrics
 
Talk about bad press! Above is an example of what shows up when you type 'miscalculated metrics' into Google, which goes to show how much of a slip up this was for the company last year. Perhaps the worst part, is the fact that this happened not only once, but three times in the space of just a few months, as was noted by Search Engine Watch
 
The first example came in 2016, as Facebook announced that a miscalculation in video metrics meant that it had been vastly overestimating the average viewing time. The second case came in November, which revealed even more issues within Facebook Analytics, including a miscalculation of weekly and monthly summaries on Page Insights, among other issues. Finally, in December, Facebook announced a range of miscalculations and fixes that would impact areas such as estimated reach and reactions to live videos.
 
As expected, marketers and content publishers were angry and concerned about these revelations, which cast doubt on their previous goals and achievements using Facebook to generate engagement, using both paid and organic methods.

Hit: Facebook Grows in India 

facebook india
(image via Wikimedia Commons)
 
2016 was a good year for Facebook in terms of global growth, as the site achieved more than 166 million Monthly Active Users in India. This meant that the country accounted for a huge chunk of Facebook's overall growth last year, at a rate of 22% year on year, which was higher than the global average of 17%. It was also revealed that at least 159 million of these users were accessing the site via mobile devices, which counts for over 90% of Facebook's overall traffic.
 
Despite the eventual success witnessed by Facebook by the end of the year, this did not come without its struggles. In fact, back in February, India's Telecom Regulatory Authority blocked Facebook's plans to install the 'Free Basics' internet service, which was intended to offer a limited number of online services to users, without an added cost.

Miss: Fake News

hilary clinton
(image by Gage Skidmore) 
 
This was without a doubt, the biggest headline to impact Facebook last year, and sadly for them, it wasn't a positive one. Highlighted primarily by events such as the US election, 2016 was the year that Facebook came under harsh scrutiny for the levels of completely fabricated news being spread across the platform. One of the most severe cases highlighted in the press, was a popularly shared story that linked presidential candidate Hilary Clinton with a fabricated paedophile ring, all elements of which were a complete invention.
 
To make matters worse, Mark Zuckerberg initially dismissed the impact and scale of this issue, insisting on Facebook's position as a neutral, non-media company. Naturally, as a company with such a huge influence on the daily lives and information consumption of its active users, this statement went down like a lead balloon with many, which meant that Zuckerberg was forced to address the issue again in November. This post consisted of a list which outlined 7 ways in which Facebook could tackle its fake news problem, and shortly after this, news outlets began reporting that users had spotted some of these methods being tested.
 
While Facebook's efforts to address the problem are a step in the right direction, for many, these changes are a case of too little too late, particularly with regards to the possible implications on important political developments.

Hit: Instagram Comment Disable

instagram logo
 
While Facebook itself may have missed the mark when it comes to filtering out damaging information, Instagram granted it's users with the enhanced ability to filter out trolls towards the end of 2016. This appeared in the form of a comment disable switch, which provided users with the ability to turn off comments on individual posts.
 
Social media platforms have been collectively criticised for their failure to deal with online abuse for some time, which made this feature a welcome addition to the photo sharing app. While this ability had previously been available to only a select few accounts, it was later rolled out for all Instagram users, granting individuals with the ability to flexibly alter their comment preferences when posting and editing their images.
 
In addition to the ON/OFF comment switch, Instagram also introduced abuse filters to account settings, allowing users to active a general abuse filter, as well as adding their own set of keywords, to prevent these from appearing in the comments of their post. Taylor Swift became one of the first users to test this feature, after her account was spammed with a swathe of snake emojis, in the aftermath of her feud with Kim Kardashian West.

Miss/Hit: 'Stories' on Instagram

instagram and snapchat
This is the last Instagram related news story to make it onto our list, and it's something of a combination when it comes to how it was received by users and the media. Back in the summer of 2016, Instagram announced its brand new 'Stories' feature, which was a clear copy of Snapchat's photo sharing format. Unsurprisingly, this led to a lot of backlash from users across social media, who were quick to make jokes, express their confusion, and criticise the changes to the platform. 
 
This certainly isn't the first or last time that social networks have 'taken inspiration' from one another's features, and soon enough, it became clear that the company's move had paid off. Instagram had not only managed to add a new, interactive feature, without making existing capabilities more complicated, but had also succeeded in improving the confusing and non-user-friendly elements of Snapchat's interface. For Instagram, this was a way to offer the missing element of spontaneity to their users, providing another incentive to remain active on the app, while succeeding in preserving the already successful elements of their model.

Hit: Best Tech Company to Work For

facebook hq
(Image via Wikimedia Commons)
 
While users and commentators may have experienced many issues with Facebook as a company in 2016, this was not the case for their U.S employees. After months of dealing with negative press relating to fake news and metric mess-ups, Facebook needed a positive news story, which came in December, as they were named 'Best Company to Work for in the U.S' ahead of 2017. Assessing ratings from employees, job hunting website Glassdoor publishes the list ahead of each new year, with Facebook coming out on top in its most recent set of yearly rankings. 
 
While Facebook had featured on the list 7 times previously, on this occasion it managed to rise up and claim the top spot for 2017, after many of the company's employees praised the positivity and flexibility of their workplace, as well as their opportunities to thrive and progress.

Miss: Facebook's 'Year in Review'

facebook tweet
 
While there may have been many positive notes for Facebook thought the year, it wasn't surprising that the company managed to anger their users one more time before the year was out. This came in the form of Facebook's 'Year in Review' for 2016, which included personalised memories for each of its users, as well as a round up of the most popular trending topics for the year. While Facebook have included similar features in past years, a combination of existing distaste for Facebook's selective algorithm, anger over the Fake News scandal, and general distaste for 2016 in general, meant that the reception for this year's feature was particularly frosty. 
 
When it came to people's 'personalised' videos, it seemed that Facebook still managed to miss the mark when it came to showing users their most memorable moments of the year, something it had promised to improve on in previous years. Many users complained about the feature being depressing, inaccurate and unnecessary, while others also complained about their publication of the trending topics list, which to many was a bitter reminder of the many negative events that had occurred throughout the year.
Facebook Ad Images

Earlier this week, Facebook changed their guidelines regarding ad images. The images that accompany Facebook ads were previously allowed up to 20% text coverage, meaning that up to one-fifth of your promotional image could consist of written text; however, Facebook's Guide for using text in ad images now states that their "preferred image style" contains "little to no text". Advertisers must now strip most if not all text out of their ad images if they wish to continue reaching the largest possible audience.

This change came into effect on Tuesday the 22nd of March, but you'd be forgiven for missing the memo - there seems to have been no official announcement from Facebook, and the alteration appears to have gone unnoticed by mostof the online publications who would usually cover this sort of thing. Even the people paying to advertise on Facebook were not notified of this change, meaning that many people will have seen their ad reach plummet over the last day or two.

If you're concerned that this change may have affected your company's ads, here's a quick primer on the updated guidelines and how to comply with them:

OK, Low, Medium or High?

As of Tuesday, text coverage is now defined by four different categories. The category into which your Facebook ad falls will determine a) how many people you'll be able to reach, and b) how much the ad will cost to run.
  • OK: These ad images contain little or no text. A photograph overlaid with your company logo will probably fall into this category as long as there's no other text present.

  • Low: These ad images contain some text. Ad images with one or two lines of text will fall into this category; while these ads will probably reach fewer people than ads in the OK category, you may decide that the image text is so important that you're willing to sacrifice a portion of your impressions in order to deliver your full message.

  • Medium: These ad images contain a lot of text. Placing text in several different parts of your ad image will probably land your ad in this category. Facebook will still show these ads, but they are likely to reach a very small number of people under the new guidelines.

  • High: These ad images contain too much text. Facebook will not show an ad like this (unless the ad image is covered by the list of Exceptions - more on that in a moment).
Here's the infographic that Facebook have released to help advertisers understand the new guidelines.

Facebook Ad Image Guidelines
Image from facebook.com

Exceptions to the new rules

Facebook have stated that certain types of image will be exempt from these stricter image saturation guidelines. If any of the following apply to your ad, you can probably disregard everything we've said so far:
  • Book or album covers
  • Posters promoting concerts, music festivals, comedy shows, sporting events and films
  • Text-based businesses (e.g. calligraphers)
  • Screenshots of apps and games
  • Legal text
  • Infographics
  • Pictures of products (where the entire product is visible - no zooming in on a specific area)
Unfortunately, this list of exceptions does not cover logos, watermarks, or numbers - all of these things count towards the total amount of text in your image.

What should I do now?

If you're already running any adverts on Facebook, we strongly recommend that you log into your account and check the images that you've used alongside those ads. Pay close attention to the number of impressions your ad has achieved over the last few days - if that number has dropped since Tuesday, there's a good chance that your ad images no longer comply with Facebook's preferred style. Even if your impressions have remained stable, it's probably a good idea to swap any text-heavy images for images containing little or no text, just to be on the safe side.

Going forward, you will need to make sure that any new Facebook ads you create place are accompanied by images containing as little text as possible. You can still use text in the ad itself - just try to keep it out of the image or your campaign may not reach the audience you're targeting.

If you would like our social media experts to assist with your company's Facebook ads, please contact Designer Websites today - we can help you to create a compelling advert that reaches the largest possible audience.