All posts in “Social”

Group Nine Media says it got 114M social engagements last month


With last fall’s formation of Group Nine Media, four digital media organizations (Thrillist, NowThis, The Dodo and Discovery’s Seeker) came together under a single corporate umbrella. Now the company says it’s seeing real success connecting with readers and viewers, with 114 million social media engagements in May — up from 70 million in January.

As Group Nine CEO Ben Lerer (pictured above) put it, “We smoked it.”

But how meaningful is that number, especially since it includes everything from likes to comments to shares?

“Every engagement isn’t created equal,” Lerer admitted. Still, he argued that “more engagement is better than less.” And he said the numbers show that “people aren’t just sitting on their phones and aimlessly scanning” on social media: “People are stopping and paying attention and taking an action at an enormous scale.”

This also ties into one of frequently repeated mantras in online publishing — the need to focus on engagement rather than pageviews.

In this case, Lerer said he isn’t trying to make the argument that “We’re not big, but we’re good.” In fact, the company points to data from video analytics company Tubular showing that it’s one of the top 10 media and entertainment properties online, with more than 3 billion views on Facebook alone in April. (And while Group Nine ranks eighth out of 10 when it comes views, it has the highest engagement rate among the properties in that top tier.)

“Instead of just saying, ‘Hey, look, we’re big,’ we’re unpacking: Well, why are we big?” Lerer said.

He added that the focus is less on having a few big viral hits, and more on “raising the floor” so that none of the publications are spending time on content that doesn’t get significant engagement.

“We’ve always talked about the idea of not having virality be a strategy, but having it be an outcome of good strategy,” he said.

And just as all engagement isn’t created equal, the same is true of the various properties that make up Group Nine. Different publications do better on different platforms — for example, Seeker performs better on YouTube while NowThis is stronger on Facebook.

Lerer said that while he wants to ensure that “the editorial soul of each brand lives entirely at that brand,” the company is also working to “create a center of excellence to take those learnings and transfer them to the other brands so all the brands get smarter.”

This leads to another big question: Is it dangerous for a media company to rely too heavily on other platforms for distribution? Lerer said publishing on social media is important for reaching users where they are, rather than trying to “swim upstream” — but he also said there’s opportunity for real ad revenue, both in the present (“We happen to be focused on making large amounts of money on these platforms”) and in the future.

“I don’t think that the advertising solutions that exist on these platforms and the sort of profit sharing and partnerships that exists between distribution platforms and content creators … are the ones that are going to exist in the future,” Lerer said. “I think there will be more value coming downstream to content creators as time goes on.”

Facebook requests input on hard questions about censorship


How should Facebook decide what’s allowed on its social network, and how to balance safety and truth with diverse opinions and cultural norms? Facebook wants your feedback on the toughest issues it’s grappling with, so today it published a list of seven “hard questions” and an email address — hardquestions@fb.com — where you can send feedback and suggestions for more questions it should address.

Facebook’s plan is to publish blog posts examining its logic around each of these questions, starting later today with one about responding to the spread of terrorism online, and how Facebook is attacking the problem.

“Even when you’re skeptical of our choices, we hope these posts give a better sense of how we approach them — and how seriously we take them” Facebook’s VP of public policy Elliot Schrage writes. “And we believe that by becoming more open and accountable, we should be able to make fewer mistakes, and correct them faster.”

Here’s the list of hard questions with some context from TechCrunch about each:

  • How should platforms approach keeping terrorists from spreading propaganda online?

Facebook has worked in the past to shut down Pages and accounts that blatantly spread terrorist rhetoric. But the tougher decisions come in the grey area fringe, and where to draw the line between outspoken discourse and propaganda

  • After a person dies, what should happen to their online identity?

Facebook currently makes people’s accounts into memorial pages that can be moderated by a loved one that they designate as their “legacy contact” before they pass away, but it’s messy to give that control to someone, even a family member, if the deceased didn’t make the choice.

  • How aggressively should social media companies monitor and remove controversial posts and images from their platforms? Who gets to decide what’s controversial, especially in a global community with a multitude of cultural norms?

Facebook has to walk a thin line between making its app safe for a wide range of ages as well as advertisers, and avoiding censorship of hotly debated topics. Facebook has recently gotten into hot water over temporarily taking down videos of the aftermath of police violence, and of a child nudity in a newsworthy historical photo pointing out the horrors of war. Mark Zuckerberg says he wants Facebook to allow people to be able to set the severity of its filter, and use the average regional setting from their community as the default, but that still involves making a lot of tough calls when local norms conflict with global ones.

  • Who gets to define what’s false news — and what’s simply controversial political speech?

Facebook has been racked with criticism since the 2016 US presidential election over claims that it didn’t do enough to prevent the spread of fake news, including right-wing conspiracy theories and exaggerations that may have given Donald Trump an advantage. If Facebook becomes the truth police and makes polarizing decisions, it could alienate the conservative side of its user base and further fracture online communities, but if it stands idle, it may grossly interfere with the need for an informed electorate.

  • Is social media good for democracy?

On a similar front, Facebook is dealing with how peer-to-peer distribution of “news” omits the professional editors who typically protect readers from inaccuracy and misinformation. That problem is exacerbated when sensationalist or deceitful content is often the most engaging, and that’s what the News Feed that highlights. Facebook has changed its algorithm to downrank fake news and works with outside fact checkers, but more subtle filter bubbles threaten to isolate us from opposing perspectives.

  • How can we use data for everyone’s benefit, without undermining people’s trust?

Facebook is a data mining machine, for better or worse. This data powers helpful personalization of content, but also enables highly targeted advertising, and gives Facebook massive influence over a wide range of industries as well as our privacy.

  • How should young internet users be introduced to new ways to express themselves in a safe environment?

What’s important news or lighthearted entertainment for adults can be shocking or disturbing for kids. Meanwhile, Facebook must balance giving younger users the ability to connect with each other and form support networks with keeping them safe from predators. Facebook has restricted the ability of adults to search for kids and offers many resources for parents, but does allow minors to post publicly which could expose them to interactions with strangers.

Transparency Doesn’t Alleviate Urgency

The subtext behind all these questions is that Facebook has to figure out how to exist as “not a traditional media company” as Zuckerberg referred to it. The social network is simultaneously an open technology platform that’s just a skeleton fleshed out by what users volunteer, but also an editorialized publisher that makes value judgements about what’s informative or entertaining, and what’s misleading or distracting.

It’s wise of Facebook to pose these questions publicly rather than letting them fester in the dark. Perhaps the transparency will give people the peace of mind that Facebook is at least thinking hard about these issues. The question is whether this transparency gives Facebook leeway to act cautiously when the problems are urgent yet it’s earning billions in profit per quarter. It’s not enough just to crowdsource feedback and solutions. Facebook must enact them even if they hamper its business.

Twitter tweaks its design again in an attempt to woo newcomers


In an effort to better cater to newcomers, Twitter once again is redesigning its app across mobile, desktop and the web. The revamp isn’t a radical departure from its prior look-and-feel or user experience – unlike when it introduced its own stories-like feature called Moments, for example, or when began reordering the tweets in your timeline. Instead, the update involves a series of smaller tweaks to things like where your settings are located, the typography used, the shape of its icons, and more.

However, for iOS power users, there will still be a bit of muscle memory loss that’s likely to follow this update – just as there was when it relocated the revamped “Explore” section to sit where your “Notifications” tab used to be.

The same will now hold true for Settings on iOS.

Instead of tapping over to your profile, then to the gear icon, everything Settings-related has been moved over to a new left-side navigation menu. That means there’s also no longer a “profile” button at the bottom of the app, which Twitter says reduces clutter. You’ll now swipe right on the homescreen to reveal the new menu, where you’ll find your profile, additional accounts, and other privacy options.

Android users received this change last summer, and, because of their positive response, it’s today making its way to iOS.

Other parts of the Twitter app have also seen some changes. Profile icons across Twitter are now round instead of square – as seen in recent testing. Plus, typography is more consistent, while headlines – like “In Case You Missed It” or “Trending Now” – are bolder to better separate them from the content.

More noticeably, Twitter has changed its Reply icon.

The icon before was a fairly standard and recognizable symbol – at least for anyone who’s ever used an email account, and understands how to respond to a message. But in an effort to appeal to the lowest common denominator of “newbie” web user, the arrow has now been swapped out in favor of a conversation bubble. (Because when in doubt, copy Facebook?)

Though not earth shattering, the change further distances Twitter from its roots. Twitter originally was an SMS-based messaging service – hence its 140 character limit, for instance. Later it became more like being able to have a group chat on the web. Turning it into a place where you can more generally post text updates, photos, videos, and now, “comment” on them makes it ever more Facebook-like, and therefore less differentiated, and less special.

Though the Reply icon is gone, the Retweet, Like (heart), and DM icons have also been refreshed, along with the Home, Search, Notifications, and DB tab icons at the bottom of the screen. But none of the others have been changed to new symbols.

Meanwhile, tweaks users have demanded for years – like editing tweets or – you know – not being threatened with physical harm for stating your politics – remain generally unaddressed. If anything, trolling has become a national pastime on Twitter. Even the President participates. And Twitter is still too much in need of an ever-growing number of unique users to do something crazy like a large-scale perma-ban of online harassers…even if a reset of its community could in the long run attract a wider audience.

After all, the company grew its user base by 9 million to 328 million monthly actives in the last quarter, and that can sadly be attributed to Trump’s tweets, for the most part.

The one change that iOS users may actually cheer today is one that’s buried under the hood. With the update, Twitter will now open web links in Safari’s View Controller within the Twitter app. That means you can more easily access accounts on websites you’re signed into, notes Twitter. But it also means if you use a Safari ad-blocker, it will finally work in Twitter’s app.

You can even configure the app to always open links in Safari’s Reader view, if you choose. (Excuse me, just wiping away tears of joy here). Technically this option is an accessibility enhancement, along with another that increases color contrast, but I don’t care. I’m using it.

Other perks that come with Safari’s Viewer include support for AutoFill, fraudulent website detection, and it will respect the Do Not Track privacy setting as configured in your iOS settings.

Twitter says all the changes will roll out today to Twitter for iOS and Twitter for Android through an app update to version 7.0.

Twitter.com, TweetDeck and Twitter Lite will also see the changes starting today.

Featured Image: nevodka / iStock Editorial / Getty Images Plus

Twitter just changed almost every part of its iOS app

Twitter just got a major facelift.

The company just unveiled a series of changes, including a major overhaul of its iOS app, as well as changes to the look and feel of some of its most important features, like the reply button.

Among the most immediately noticeable changes: users’ profile photos now appear as round icons instead of squares, and the reply button has changed from an arrow to a chat bubble. (Twitter’s VP of User Research and Design Grace Kim says this was to make things less confusing for new users who often confused the reply button with a “back” or “delete” function.)

iOS users will see even more changes. The profile tab has been removed from the bottom of the app to a pull out tray on the left side, similar to Twitter’s Android app. This is the same menu where you can find account settings, lists, Moments you’ve created as well as the option to switch accounts. 

Twitter also made a small change to how links behave inside of the service. Now, instead of appearing in Twitter’s own in-app browser, outside links will launch in Safari’s in-app browser, which could make it easier for people to sign into accounts on other website directly from Twitter links.

Finally, tweets on both Twitter’s iOS and Android apps update in real-time so you can keep track of replies and retweets as they come in — without refreshing.

In a blog post, Kim said the changes were meant to bring the product in line with changes to the brand made last year (when Twitter started reminding everyone that it’s all about live) though it sounds like Twitter is still trying to improve things for new users. 

“We took a new approach to fix and make better,” Kim wrote.

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Facebook rolls out the GIF button for comments to all users


Reply threads on Facebook are about to get a lot more animated. To mark the 30th anniversary of the GIF format, all users will get the new GIF comment button that Facebook began testing three months ago. Facebook also announced that almost 13 billion GIFs were sent on Messenger over the past year, with 400 million GIFs sent just on New Year’s Day 2017.

The GIF button lets people search and post GIFs from different services, like Giphy and Tenor, directly in the comments box (on desktop browsers, the GIF button also displays trending GIFs, just like in Facebook Messenger).

Facebook added GIF support two years ago, but until now users had to enter the URL of a GIF hosted somewhere else. The GIF button makes the process a lot easier, especially on mobile. It’s currently only available for comments, but Facebook may eventually also make it available for News Feed posts because user demand for GIFs shows no signs of abating.

Facebook reportedly had support for GIFs ready for years before it was finally added, but was hesitant to deploy it because of the visual impact it would have on the News Feed. Despite the company’s initial reluctance, however, users kept finding workarounds to post GIFs. The lack of GIF support also gave other services like Imgur an advantage. Now Facebook has started embracing News Feeds with “richer” (some would say busier) media and in addition to GIFs, that includes auto-play videos and colored statuses.

For fun and to mark the anniversary of when GIFs were first introduced by CompuServe in 1987, Facebook is also running a poll asking users how GIF is pronounced, a debate that continues to rage on even though the creator of GIF, Steve Wilhite, has already declared his allegiance to the soft G.