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.

If you’re familiar with the dilemma about whether art imitates life, or life art, you’ll probably agree that it’s rather a fitting analogy for the world of social media these days. With each platform becoming increasingly competitive in order to retain users and advertisers, it’s become a case of cyclical imitation that makes it hard to keep up with who thought of what first.

While imitation hasn’t always worked for Twitter, as was evident in the outrage caused by the announcement of a non-chronological feed and possible character change earlier this year, the company is still persevering with ways to tackle its main competitor: Facebook. 

We’ve heard countless stories over the course of the year, about how Twitter is failing to retain its user base due to a lack of identity, features, and failure to sufficiently deal with the levels of harassment and hate speech being spread across the platform. We’ve also heard about their struggle to compete with the increasing dominance of Facebook (and Instagram), in the paid advertising market, which has seen Twitter’s own performance screech to a grinding halt. Combine this with the repeated loss of top-level employees, and it’s safe to say that this year has been anything but stable.

While the platform’s main competitor has seen its fair share of problems this year, between the controversy surrounding fake news and the revelations regarding miscalculated metrics, there has been one key area in which Facebook has managed to thrive during 2016: Live Video. Since launching the capability for users to share real-time updates from their phone cameras, the feature has proven to be a hit with audiences and content-creators alike, taking the platform’s capabilities beyond that of a simple status update or image share. 

For the average user, this provides the ability to share important moments with your friends and family as and when they happen, in a more instantaneous and impactful way than it is possible to achieve with traditional methods of posting. For brands, Facebook Live has provided a platform which combines, ‘behind the scenes’ exclusivity with the appeal of video content, to create an experience which has value for the viewer, as well as the ability to generate engagement and instant feedback for the creator.

This feature, of course, is far from being an original idea, which is something of a theme when it comes to the company’s developments. Facebook-owned platform Instagram almost directly copied Snapchat’s famous ‘story’ feature this year, integrating it into their app for an enhanced range of capabilities. Let’s not also forget Facebook’s move to integrate ‘trends' back in 2014, which until then had been a distinct characteristic of Twitter as a social sharing platform. 

Regardless of who thought of what first, the importance of these developments is not their level of originality, but the move towards a one-stop, all-encompassing social sharing platform. This is exactly what Twitter seems to be aiming for by integrating Periscope into the existing Twitter app, making it easy for users to share live videos from a single platform.  We’ve heard about the impact of video content endlessly throughout 2016, and it’s no secret that Twitter has been lagging behind its social counterparts when it comes to delivering these capabilities for users. While it may have been a case of too little too late when it comes to Vine (which will now exist as Vine Camera), the move may manage to bolster Twitter’s ability to engage users in 2017. 

To what extent this will help Twitter compete with the likes of Facebook isn’t exactly clear, particularly as the latter’s own live video service remains in the very early stages itself. What is clear, however, is that Twitter has to create a more inclusive experience for users and marketers if it wants to put itself on a level playing field with other social sharing apps. While Twitter’s biggest struggle has always been the dilemma between adding new features, and retaining its loyal users who were attracted to Twitter for the very reason that it wasn’t like other platforms, there’s no doubt that the platform has to diversify if it wants to keep up with the growing prominence of video content throughout social media.

Twitter’s choice to integrate video may not be the answer to all their problems, but it certainly couldn’t hurt to throw their name into the list of platforms offering this service. For those who already use Twitter, be it for recreational or commercial purposes, they now have one less reason to go elsewhere if they want to experiment with this feature. If Twitter could manage to grow its user base and brand appeal, that would be a huge achievement for the platform, but if it can manage to retain and engage its current users at the very least, that would certainly be a step in the right direction.

If you're an Instagram user, unless you've been hiding under a rock all weekend, you're likely to have noticed some unusual goings-on in your feed over the Easter break. In place of the usual selection of posts, you will no doubt have been bombarded with a repeated message from many of the accounts you follow, urging their audiences to 'turn on post notifications' in order to continue seeing their content. The reason for all of this panic and uproar? Instagram's latest algorithm changes. 

Sparked by the same issue that launched the #RIPTwitter tag only a few months ago, the outpouring of complaints from users came after the image-led platform announced that it would be abandoning the traditional reverse-chronological feed in favour of a system which will order posts by 'relevance'. Following in the footsteps of Facebook and Twitter, Instagram's changes mean that you will no longer see the newest post from your followed accounts on your feed first; instead, you'll see those which have been selected by the algorithm. 

While the idea of having curated content specifically targeted to your previous likes and interests may seem like a move towards user-friendliness, the alterations have come under considerable scrutiny since their announcement. One of the reasons for this is the fact that the new system is said to include 'post-engagement' as a factor in its ranking process, which for many is seen as a move towards social media elitism. This is due to the fact that those with the greatest number of followers are likely to appear first, due to the large number of 'likes' which their posts regularly attract. Until now, Instagram has been the go-to platform for many self-made businesspeople and demi-celebrities (outside of YouTube, of course!) Everyday users have been able to build up large and loyal followings based on the quality of their content and their post timing/tag intelligence alone, but this pathway could be derailed for future users thanks to these changes.

This change has also come under considerable scrutiny by businesses established outside of Instagram, who until now have made use of the platform's growth and popularity to get their posts noticed by existing and potential customers. This is largely due to Instagram's affiliation with Facebook, and the perceived similarities between the former's latest update and the latter's own new algorithm change haven't helped. The current panic and outrage from businesses is somewhat justified, based on the negative impact documented in the wake of Facebook's own non-chronological feed change. After the changes were brought in, businesses reported all-time-lows from their organic post reach, a move which many viewed as a method of forcing companies into resorting to paid Facebook ads.

And here lies the core problem with content filter changes on social media platforms and search engines: the issue of profits over people. In the eyes of many users, life is being made increasingly difficult for average users and small businesses, as the ability to reach your desired audience without the boost of a large existing following or financial investment becomes increasingly elusive. The prospect of an organic, indiscriminate form of online networking seems to be a dim and distant dream for many, but are the objections to this latest set of algorithm changes justified?

One factor which could go against the presumption that the new change is bad for business is the fact that Instagram does not currently discriminate between business and personal accounts. This means that unlike Facebook, posts from 'real people' are not unfairly prioritised over those posted as part of a business's brand awareness and marketing strategy. While this may not completely solve the question for smaller accounts and those just getting started with Instagram, it does force users to be smarter with their use of trends, analytics, and overall post quality. Popular post times, trending hashtags and calls-to-action should all factor in to the post-algorithm Instagram strategy, which could even mean that those who strive to cater to their intended audience will be rewarded over those who simply take for granted that their posts will be seen. Lazy, repetitive content leads to a decrease in engagement, likes, and eventually followers; this means that, while the new algorithm may give those with an established follower-base a head start, it will still force all users to maintain post quality.

It is also worth noting that urging followers to 'turn on notifications', is probably one of the worst steps that an Instagram user can take in the wake of these changes, particularly those running business accounts. For the network's average users, it was puzzling and slightly laughable to see Instagrammers with hundreds of thousands of followers posting these messages, as one would naturally presume that these accounts will have a better chance of being prioritised under the new system. For followers who weren't already irritated by the barrage of notification posts, it is highly likely that the deluge of notifications facing those who did decide to 'switch on' will strike a decisive blow. As any good social media marketer knows, spam is never a positive or fruitful way to target users, so your main priority regardless of these changes should be the production of relevant, high-quality content.

While it may be easy to attack the faults and motives of Instagram's latest update, it is worth remembering that, unlike previous alterations to the online experience, these changes should not pose an instant impact for users. Instagram themselves have explained that the roll-out will be gradual, and will involve an extensive testing process, suggesting that they are interested in maintaining Instagram's user-friendliness. Though it is important to question the business motivations of companies like Instagram, it is also important for users to see the bigger picture in order to adapt and account for changes beyond their control. 

If you're looking to improve your business presence and brand image on social media, click here to find out how we can help.
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.

Late last year, Twitter announced that it would be experimenting with changes to the order in which tweets appear, sorting them by ‘relevance’ as opposed to the traditional reverse chronological order. It also made changes to the much used ‘favourite’ button, replacing it with a heart symbol to represent ‘likes’. Both of these changes sparked huge debate amongst Twitter users, but nothing seems to have caused as much controversy as the social network’s latest announcement regarding changes to the defining 140 character limit.

As part of these changes, users would be able to post tweets of up to 10,000 characters, potentially transforming the Twitter experience as we know it. Known for short, snappy thoughts and insights, many people fear that expanding the limit by such an extraordinary amount could completely alter the core principal of a tweet, eradicating the defining feature which sets it apart from other platforms. With fears regarding loss of individuality and spam posts, many have been quick to criticize the reported plans, however, it is far too early to gauge what kind of impact (if any) this change will have.

While it’s only natural for social media to react with a ‘the sky is falling’ mentality upon hearing what, at first, sounds like a complete overhaul of the traditional Twitter format,  on closer inspection, the changes seem far less drastic than sensationalized headlines make them sound. Fears regarding spam and ‘clogged’ feeds for example, are apparently misplaced, due to the fact these longer tweets would appear in an unexpanded format, prompting readers to ‘click for more’. In fact, it is possible that this new, longer format could even do something to ease twitter spam, by removing the need for Tweetstorms in ‘rant’ situations. As opposed to being forced to scroll through endless snippets of an individual’s 1 of 7 Twitter rant, it would instead, give you the choice as to whether or not you would like to continue reading.

Overall, the process doesn’t seem like a move intended to completely alter Twitter in its current form, although it does seem like another step towards making Twitter a more inclusive experience. It would likely remove the need for third party tools such as ‘TwitLonger’, and would give you less need to click out to other sites in order to view additional content. In the same way as Twitter Cards allow you to view images, play audio/video and sign up for mailing lists etc. from within Twitter, it is possible this new format would allow you to blog/share views directly to the social network, removing the need to link from another blogging platform or article. 

While those who have managed to perfect their impactful yet concise tweeting method will see this as an alteration which somehow devalues the purpose of the platform, it is likely from the sound of early plans that the social network, at least visually, will appear in the same format that it always has. Although the way in which people use Twitter may alter over time in response to these changes, most would agree that a 10,000  character limit won’t mean essays of emojis and life-stories pervading your feed. Whether people will stick to the ‘standard’ tweet or not is impossible to tell, but it will be interesting to monitor how this development will impact the way in which digital marketing experts and casual users approach the platform.