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The Quarterly Social Media Cheat Sheet: A Guide to Q2’s Platform Updates

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As users and brands turn more to social networks to drive their communication and businesses, we’ve seen the social ecosystem continue to update and improve to exceed the needs of users and businesses. From small updates like tweaking the Facebook News Feed algorithm to platform-changing features like Instagram Stories, we saw three key trends emerge in Q2 — broader platform capabilities, streamlined shopping and more personalized platform experiences.

Platform Capability Sharing

For years, platforms have owned specific social capabilities (e.g. Snapchat = ephemeral content, Instagram = image sharing and Twitter = real-time news). Knowing that imitation is the best form of flattery and the uncertainty of social’s next big break, individual platforms are borrowing concepts from each other in an effort to increase platform usage and slow competitor growth.

Disappearing Content: Inspired by Snapchat’s disappearing content concept, Instagram rolled out “Instagram Stories.” Instagram Stories are swipe-able slideshows that feature real-time updates from the accounts any given user follows and last up to 24 hours.

Image Sharing: Learning from user behavior on the platform and Instagram’s image-sharing success, Snapchat rolled out “Memories.” Snapchat Memories allow users to upload images shared on their Camera Roll as well as save their favorite Snaps to create a personal and searchable collection.

Image Editing: Inserting emojis into real life scenarios is a popular content creation technique on Snapchat. Snapchat content of this nature is constantly repurposed on other platforms. Inspired by this behavior, Twitter rolled out “#Stickers.” #Stickers are emojis and other images that can be placed on Twitter image cards. Each sticker is clickable like a hashtag, making this feature unique to the Twitter platform. Facebook Live videos and Instagram Stories have also mimicked the drawing feature of Snapchat.

Video: People are saving 60% more videos than they did a year ago and video has proven to be one of the most effective creative formats on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  In an effort to further streamline the consumer journey and expedite conversion, Pinterest is catching up to competitor platforms and launching promoted video on the platform.

Influencer whitelisting: Due to Reddit community resistance to brands on the platform, the platform has rolled out “Promoted User Posts.” Similar to Twitter’s Influencer Whitelisting, brands can now have an authentic platform that is aligned with the platform’s user experience by promoting brand advocates rather than overly promotional messages from a brand’s account.

Streamlined Shopping

Social platforms are an integral part of a brand’s marketing strategy and now platforms are working with advertisers to ensure that their conversion objectives can be met using their products. Dynamic ad units, conversion tracking and streamlined buying via social gives brands the opportunity to initiate buying, target a niche audience of their choosing and guide the consumer from consideration to conversion. As a result of these updates, advertisers now have more control over the consumer journey than they’ve ever had.

Dynamic Ad Units: After Facebook advertisers saw 34% increase in click-through-rates (CTR) and 38% reduction in cost-per-purchase (CPP) using Dynamic Product Ads, the ad-unit was rolled out to Instagram, another Facebook owned platform. This update allows advertisers to set both Facebook and Instagram as possible ad placements and allow the ad to optimize towards the most efficient audience. Additionally, Facebook made dynamic product ads possible for Travel brands, so advertisers can market specific destinations and dates for hotel rooms.

Conversion Tracking: Platforms are also looking to demonstrate how they can bring additional value online and offline. Facebook began testing additional features in their Local Awareness Ads  product to measure in-store lift based on ad exposure. Namely, Facebook built polygons, used Beacon technology and launched an Offline Conversion API for brick and mortar stores to send POS data directly to Facebook in real-time.

Streamlined Buying: As a platform that hosts the majority of the consumer journey, Pinterest is prioritizing the most measurable phase—conversion. In elevating the “Buyable Pin” ad unit by making it available on desktop and adding the “Shopping Bag” feature, which aggregates all selections on the platform and streamlines purchase in one payment, Pinterest is ensuring that the awareness and consideration phases that occur on the platform have one measurable outcome.

More Relevant and Effective Content

Now that all social platforms have numerous content types and robust paid media capabilities, the individual platforms are focusing on how content and ads contribute to the user experience and impact the consumer journey. Knowing this, platforms are giving brands more content and publishing tools to stand out in the competitor landscape.

Storytelling opportunities: As social beings to replace businesses’ web presences, the platforms are giving brands the opportunity to tell more linear and immersive stories in the feed. This quarter, Facebook rolled out 360-degree photos, which allow users to navigate and explore a static image, providing a way for brands to optimize towards engagement but still tell an in depth story. Similarly, Twitter rolled out Moment Maker, which allows users and brands to aggregate branded and user-generated content to bring one cohesive story to live within the Timeline.

Making the most of content: Advertisers can now publish image content that exceeds 20% text on Facebook, but ad distribution will be affected based on how much text exceeds 20% of the total image to ensure ad quality is not sacrificed. Similarly, Twitter has eased their 140-character limit, to exclude @names in replies, media attachments, disabling the “.@” convention when publicly tweeting and allowing users to “Retweet” themselves to tell more linear stories on the platform.

More relevant content: Last quarter Twitter and Instagram updated their sequential Timeline’s with algorithmic News Feed, but Facebook continues to be the platform that serves the most relevant content. Based on platform data, Facebook found that “personally informative” content usually comes from friends and family, is not disruptive in the News Feed, and usually aligns with personal interests. To achieve this, the News Feed will now prioritize content published by people you interact with most, de-prioritize misleading clickbait content, and utilize the Feed Quality Program to pinpoint the most informative stories.

Why these platform updates matter

User experience has always been the top priority for social platforms. However, this quarter we saw more marketer-focused updates rather than users-focused ones. In Facebook’s Q2 earnings call they mentioned that 80% of new advertisers in Q2 used simplified products (like boosted posts), indicating that the more platforms streamline their advertising capabilities the more they will see growth. Small to medium-sized businesses are already leveraging social as their main web presence as its extensive reach, discoverability, and responsiveness to mobile is providing a stronger return on investment for marketers with limited budgets. As we continue to see the social platforms become more customizable for brands, we anticipate that more businesses will transition to this social-first model. Evident by this quarter’s direct response updates, marketers can also expect to see a stronger emphasis on conversion for the remainder of 2016. The use of dynamic ad units, niche targeting and precise tracking has already streamlined the path to purchase and has made social a measurable and effective advertising tactic.  Throughout the remainder of the year, platforms are expected to continue to hone in on their conversion driving benefits to further strengthen the bottom line for brands.

 

Co-Authors: Danielle Johnsen Karr, Associate Director of Social Marketing, Amy Donnelly, Senior Social Marketing Manager, Shalini Agrawal, Associate Media Director and Marie Goldstein, Social Marketing Manager at 360i