Facebook buys Instagram for $1bn. Images are becoming more important in social media

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Facebook has reportedly acquired Instagram for $1 billion in a mix of cash and shares. The photo-sharing service was launched in October 2010 and recently launched its Android app having been exclusively on iPhone before that. According to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook will be “keeping and building on Instagram’s strengths and features rather than just trying to integrate everything”, but it is certain that we will now see a new level of integration between these two services.

That Facebook has made this acquisition will not come as too much of a surprise to many. Indeed their had been rumours that they would announce a tool similar to Instagram alongside the changes to Timeline and apps at the F8 conference late in 2011. Also there should be no surprise that it would be interested in a service with more than 30 million users sharing over a billion photos (and all this when it was restricted to just iPhones).

But perhaps more notably, the rise of Instagram, and its acquisition by Facebook, reflects the growing importance of images in the social media mix.

There is, of course, nothing new about us sharing messages through images. We know that we’ve been doing it for over 32,000 years. That’s a lot longer than we’ve been sharing things with the written word. But until relatively recently sharing images online was not as easy. It has been facilitated by the rise of mobile devices with cameras (to take the images) and mobile and wireless data connections (to allow us to share them online). Services like Instagram then help us to make these photos look beautiful.

With this increasing ability to take and share photos online we are seeing a shift from the written word being the main means of communication in social media. Facebook has slowly integrated photos into all actions (from events to status updates); with its most recent implementation of Timeline we have seen photos take primacy in the way that the “Matt is…” status updates used to. Twitter has also made it easier to share and view photos, buying photo-sharing services and then changing their web and other services so you can see images inline with written updates. Finally, we only have to look at the role of Pinterest and Tumblr to see how images can lead in social media.

For brands this requires a real shift in the way that many have been using social media. Many have focused on engaging people through words - status updates, questions, discussions, Q&A. For others social media has been closely aligned to their SEO strategies - creating written content in blogs and forums, and sharing links back to their site. The job of a search engine is to find good written content, and social media has provided brands with a way of creating such content. Win-win. Of course, with images search is less of a benefit, and less useful (as anybody trying to search for a particular image they have in their mind will know.

But the rise of images in social media should help brands to focus on using social media as a tool for truly engaging with your audience. The success of Instagram shows that people like creating and sharing images, they engage round images from friends but also round images in topics of interest. They are easy to reshare and provoke just as many discussions as the written word.

Brands that are truly engaging their audiences in social media will find that the rise of images supports and promotest their tactics. It will give them another way to engage their audiences in terms that they understand and care about. Those brands who are just promoting their content or using social media as just another channel for the same messages will find this changing landscape more challenging.

Social media influence and other data Twitter doesn’t share

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Image by Marcin Wichary via Flickr

Twitter knows the influence of all of its users. But it isn’t yet telling us. This was what we discovered this week at the Web 2.0 summit in San Francisco. When asked a question about how Twitter is able to recommend users so accurately, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams said that they derive the suggestions from a reputation score they calculate for every user. A reputation score Twitter isn’t disclosing yet, but that could be a great tool for finding social media influencers.

This kind of tool would be valuable to everybody who is trying to analyse, understand and work with people on Twitter that they perceive to be more influential than others. From brands who want to know how influential somebody is through to people wanting to work out who to follow and why. Getting real data and statistics direct from Twitter would be very useful - real data on mentions and discussions that go back further than the current search and third-party tools; real data on links and click-thrus and real data on how users use the service.

This is data that Twitter has, it logs everything that everybody does. And data that third-party providers are currently trying to access or just to model and estimate to provide services from Klout (which claims to measure influence) to the search and social media monitoring tools that track mentions and conversations. As Twitter grows and develops they should release more applications and tools that use this - providing us with official views on influence and on the other analysis people are looking for from Twitter. The response from Williams this week suggests that they are using such data internally, and that they could develop external tools to expose this data as a service to others. Although he admits that any such tools would “need to evolve quite a bit more”.

There is a real need for more data from Twitter. As a tool it is changing the way we interact with content, and with others, and often existing analytics and measurement tools just don’t do the job. Take a simple measure such as page views or clicks through from links in Tweets. Many of us grappling with data such as this are uncertain as to whether links, or for that matter photos, that are viewed in a Twitter App (such as Twitter for iPhone), or indeed on the new Twitter website, are recorded in a consistent way along side views of that link through a browser on the original site. The data is not clear and the discussions are confusing.

Twitter has a lot of data as every action we do is recorded. Using data like this can be comlicated but the signs are that they are developing tools that help them internally. It would be great to see these developed and then used externally so we can all be confident that we are getting the most accurate, and the most insightful, analytics we can.

Three ways location-based services can add value to consumers and marketers

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This week’s New Media Age contains a feature on location-based marketing looking at some case studies of where it has been used well and the opportunities for it as part of the marketing mix. We’ve written before about opportunities that location-based services offer to marketing. From using Foursquare as a small business to the many ways to use Facebook Places, location-based services offer many potentials for experimentation and new ways of communicating with and marketing too consumers.

As I comment in the NMA article, there is “a temptation to think that location-based marketing is the next big thing”. A temptation for marketers to put their efforts into location-based-marketing because it is new and because case studies are emerging of it being used in a way that really adds value to the business. But really we are entering a period of experimentation with these tools. Marketers should be using them strategically and trying them as part of their marketing or broader social mix.

Marketers need to be sensible in their use of location-based marketing. It’s important to think strategically and assess whether or not it can add value or have an impact. In the next year there’ll be more experimentation and more campaigns, some that work and some that fail.

This is an exciting time, there are many ways in which location-based marketing can be used but three clear ways where we should see experimentation are all areas where the services actually add real value to consumers.

1. Help me to filter information

This evening I was looking for a restaurant for dinner with a friend. One of the most important criteria was that the restaurant was near where we were when we decided to go and eat. Location was a significant variable in our choice. Or rather ‘near me right now’ was the filter we wanted to apply. Location-based-services allow consumers to apply a simple but effective filter to information they are searching for - especially when that information is reviews or advice. And it allows them to apply it instantly.

This is very powerful. It helps a consumer get straight to the information that is relevant, and provides a real use for reviews and advice not just as a planning tool but also to influence consumer behaviour in real-time. I like to think of it as there being reviews dropped on streets across the world that my phone lets me read. Secret messages that location-based-services unlock when I am near them and when they are relevant to me.

2. Help me to find people like me

Location-based-services not only know where I am, but also where other people are. Putting these together means that I can easily find people or other groups. And the power comes when you use this to help people connect if they have similar interests or concerns. Online communities are successful where they connect people with similar problems, questions, interests, issues or concerns. And they can be particularly valuable at getting people who don’t know each other to share and discuss - from people who want to talk about a broadband provider to those with a particular medical condition who want to talk to fellow sufferers even if they don’t know any personally.

Location-based-services can take this experience of connecting affinity groups and make it happen offline too. You can find if people with similar interests to you are nearby. Maybe you enjoy softball and want to find out where others are playing one Sunday morning, or maybe you just want to find other people like you. A highly successful iPhone app has done that for a niche market (the gay dating app Grindr) and similar behaviours can benefit many other groups.

3. Help me to organise events, parties and rallies

What’s the simplest way of knowing how many people are at a protest? You could count them all, or you could ask them all to register. But how about getting them all to check-in. This not only gives you a count of how many people have joined your event at a particular location but will give you access to lots more information about them and, perhaps critically, a route to contact them again after the event. Location-based-services, and particular the notion of checking-in, allows a number of existing processes to be both simplified and enhanced.

Could we use location-based-services to let a restaurant know we’ve arrived and are waiting in the bar for our table? Could we use them to gain access to parties, or can we use them as a way to organise and direct political protests or rallies. Location-based-services provide a number of potential organisational uses that need to be explored and experimented with.

Japanese social networking - it’s all mobile

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A view of Shibuya crossing, an example of Toky...
Image via Wikipedia

Three-quarters of Japanese social network users access the sites only from their mobile phones.

This observation comes from a survey conducted last year with almost 4,000 social network users in Japan by Mobile Marketing Data Labo. They found that 75.4% of respondents only accessed social networking sites from their mobile phone (and not from their PC). The number only accessing it from their PC (and not their mobile phone) was very low at just 2%.

This is a reflection on the mobile nature of the internet in Japan where 3G penetration stands at 95% of the market and 85% of customers have a data plan added to their contract. This is a much more developed mobile market than we see in Europe or North America and their use of mobile online services is world-leading.

These an other insights into the Japanese mobile social networking market is found in the great presentation below from Alexei Poliakov.

There is much that we can all learn from looking at the use of mobile internet, and the way it has influenced social networks in Japan. Whilst in other markets the growth in social networks sees a growth the likes of Twitter and Facebook, in Japan, homegrown social networks dominate. This is, in part, a result of the English-centric focus of these sites, at least initially. But also mobile social networking leads to a different type of site and different uses by consumers. In Japan, mixi and Mobage-town and Gree are incredibly successful social networks. Mixi has a reported 17 million users in Japan, compared with 1.4 million Facebook users and about half a million Japanese people on Twitter.

These social networks are very different in two main ways:

  1. They put gaming either central to or highly within the user experience. Facebook and Twitter tend to be about content exchange or organisation whereas the Japanese social networks have a strong gaming element that attracts and connects users.
  2. Premium content is often paid-for. Mixi, in particular, provides premium content and features at a fee to users and this is easily done by adding it to their mobile bill. (This trend explained the rumours that Twitter would charge for access in Japan)

Whilst it is unlikely that other markets will necessarily develop in the same way, it is interesting to see how these sites work and operate in Japan. An increasing penetration of 3G access and data-plan adoption in Europe, and the US, will see more and more people using their mobile as a major access point to the internet in 2010. And with social networking sites from Facebook to Twitter becoming more mobile friendly (such as the launch of push notifications on the iPhone from the Facebook app this week in the UK) it is likely that use of social networks from mobile devices will increase this year.

So we should learn more about what is happening in the more developed mobile markets like Japan. Whether it is simple things - such as brands allowing customers to complete a whole journey (from social networking site to purchased item) on convenient mobile platforms. Or more complex things - such as the adoption of paid-for add-ons to the mobile social networking experience. There is a lot for us to observe and a lot we should experiment with.

Japan Mobile SNS Study 2010
View more presentations from Alexei Poliakov.

TIME Magazine and Techland: A community management #fail?

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Guest post by Ben LaMothe

Key to successful community management is understanding what a community’s interests are. In media, it’s important to know where your community gets its news and information on a daily basis.  Unfortunately for TIME Magazine neither concept was paid much attention to with the launch of their new tech news site Techland.

Writing on his Twitter account earlier last week, paidContent founder Rafat Ali summed it up in 140 characters: “Time.com launches standalone tech site Techland, filing the void in the consumer tech coverage online. Just in time.”

With the launch of this web site, it leads me to wonder just how much TIME Magazine knows about the tech news community.

My initial thought was that TIME sees dollar signs. The tech community is full of early-adopters who buy up the latest and greatest in tech devices, often at higher-than-it-should-be prices. There’s a major advertising opportunity here, because it allows TIME to charge higher ad premiums than it can on TIME.com. I can’t say that with certainty; however that’s where my thought process leads to.

According to MediaBistro Techland will be led by a group of tech media icons, and senior writers at TIME.com. Here’s a breakdown of how Techland plans to serve the tech community:

Techland will feature interviews with icons of the tech culture world; breaking tech news and features; previews of products, books and shows; weekly video wrap-ups with Grossman and Ha playing new games while discussing tech news; weekly video reviews; Battlestar Galactica updates; news on comic books, science-fiction literature and films; and exclusive clips, commentary and video interviews on TV shows, DVDs and video games.

The Grossman and Ha mentioned are TIME senior writer Lev Grossman and TIME technology editor Peter Ha.

By that description, Techland has a lot to live up to. It’s clear that their aim is to hijack the tech news community with a super flashy (and, in my opinion, hideously designed) web site and the backing of a massive legacy publisher.

With so many tech news outlets already aimed at consumers, what does TIME hope to achieve with Techland?

Now-former TIME.com managing editor Josh Tyrangiel explains the rationale:

Techland understands that the same people who care about the latest Apple news also happen to like Star Trek and World of Warfare. It’s a link between technology and culture, with the resources and standards of a mainstream media outlet. We believe there’s really nothing else like it.

What this boils down to is essentially tech news for the masses, veiled as an attempt to connect with the tech community. That’s a big community management fail, in part, because it seems that a lot of assumptions are being made about the community they’re hoping to serve.

By bringing together all of these relatively-unrelated topics onto one web site, I’m sure TIME thinks it’s making it easier for users to get information about the things they’re interested in, with little effort required. But is that a problem? Are tech news readers upset that they can’t get their Battlestar Galactica news updates on the same site as the breakdown of the latest iPhone OS update?

I haven’t done the research, but I suspect it’s not keeping people up at night. From where I’m sitting, this boils down to a money-grab by a cash-strapped legacy media publisher wanting to latch onto the coattails of an increasingly influential tech news scene. The community may not stand for it.