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.

Facebook announces full-screen photo viewer

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Today Facebook announced that they have made improvements to their photo viewer so that users will see the best photos possible.

Changes such as high-resolution photos and full screen viewing will means that high quality photos could be viewed up to 4 times bigger than previously.

Facebook photo viewer

In order to view photos full screen, users simply have to click on the arrows in the top right-hand corner of the photo to expand it to the maximum size, so photos which are large enough could fill the entire screen.

Facebook photos full screen

Obviously, this is big news for brands, who can now share really high quality images which could fill their fans’ screens, removing any other distractions. Brands with lots of visual content such as our client Park Bench are sure to enjoy these changes.

The changes also mean that Facebook will likely allow applications to upload larger images and potentially update the image presets offered by the Graph API.

Interestingly Facebook’s introduction of a full-screen photo viewer is also another indicator of its move away from side bar advertising. When images are viewed full-screen, they block out the adverts which usually appear on the right hand side.

This suggests that Facebook may be intending to take an approach more in line with Twitter’s sponsored stories.

Instagram and the growing power of photography in social media

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Into the valley of Death

Into the valley of Death

The Crimean War of the 1850s was a revolution in communication. For the first time reports from the battlefield were returned in what felt like near-real-time thanks to the electric telegraph transmitting messages in just hours rather than them having to be sent by horse across Europe. Many people complained about the impact of this real-time news, and the harm that it did reporting on the events tragedies of the war as they happened.

Perhaps more contentious, however, than this written word reporting was the use, for the first time, of war photography with photographs from Roger Fenton showing the real detail of what was happening. Whereas once newspapers had to rely on words, etchings and drawings to report what was happening, they could now show actual photos of war, of people and of suffering. Photos proved to be more powerful than even the real-time written word back in the 1850s.

If 2011 was the year Twitter and citizen journalism came of age, 2012 is set to be the year that social photography comes of age. And it could be even more powerful.

Whilst we have been used to Facebook focusing on photography for some time, that platform is more often about sharing photos with a (relatively) close group of friends. Family events, babies, parties, special holidays. These kind of events are very personal and reflect the nature of Facebook - where you (broadly speaking) network with people that you know or that you have chosen to share personal connections with. The growth of photography in more public social networks and online communities is more nascent, but is one of the most interesting and powerful areas where social is developing.

Photography is different. It allows you to share a moment and allows you to give people a real insider view of what you are doing or what is happening. It also travels across linguistic boundaries with ease. For individuals, photography is a simple way of sharing what you are doing, capturing the essence of your life at a particular moment and sharing that with others. It often has more social currency than the written word (especially than the written Tweet) - imagine trying to describe what is happening in any photograph in a single tweet and you will see it conveys so much more ‘information-per-instance’. It can also be appreciated on a number of different levels - the content of the photograph, the moment it is capturing, the framing, the use of colour - increasing its value and shareability to different people and different communities.

Brands and celebrities can also benefit from photographs. There is still a huge amount of social currency in going ‘behind the scenes’ - allowing people to see things that they cannot normally see. Because of the high rate of ‘information-per-instance’, a photograph can often give people much more than endless status updates or Tweets. For celebrities, it is a way of letting people into your lives (and controlling this) - imagine the power of you sharing your own holiday photos or photos of your weekend. People will consume this content avidly as it provides what feels like real access to their lives (just look at Justin Bieber or Barack Obama on Instagram). Brands can also benefit from using photographs in the same way to show behind the scenes and to control the access people get into events, decisions and the brand itself from Starbucks sharing photos from stores worldwide, to Tiffany & Co showing people what happens behind the scenes to their jewellery and diamonds.

Photography offers real power to individuals, celebrities and brands to capture and share much more information that can easily be shared in a written Tweet. It allows you a window into what they are doing and seeing right now and can be shared easily between communities and across borders. 2011 saw the rise of camera phones and more importantly of social photo sharing apps - notably Instagram - which lower the barriers to social photography. As these continue to rise in popularity and usage in 2012, we should expect to see more photography shared by more people.

Whereas 2011 saw people getting used to messages from Twitter being used in traditional media (from newspapers and TV reports) we should expect 2012 to be the year of social photography. Bringing insights into events around the world through photographs and showing, as Roger Fenton did in the Crimean war, the power of photography alongside the written word.

What we can learn from how the victims in Haiti are using social media

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Helicopter Releases First Aid Kits for Haiti Q...
Image by United Nations Photo via Flickr

Social media and social networks allow people to connect either because of a shared experience, a shared interest, concern, question or problem. Social networks, on one hand, are about connections - they allow people to connect and organise themselves and to keep in touch with people. Online communities, on the other hand, help connect people who share a similar experience, problem or situation.

In Haiti, both these types of social media have been helping victims. From giving them a voice and letting victims tell and share their stories, to providing tools to help find the missing, social media is a valuable tool in dealing with the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake. There is much we can learn from this, many great inventions develop from crisis situations and looking at how people in Haiti are using social media.

Three examples of how Haitians are using social media stand out as great examples that we can learn from.

1. Providing a voice for victims

Too often, people object that social media and, specifically, tools like Twitter are full of people updating with seemingly meaningless statuses. This is not true. Twitter, specifically, allows people to share what they are doing or thinking at a particular time. These updates are not intended to be read by all or appreciated by all. But they are and they will be by some.

Twitter has proven to be a particularly important tool getting messages out in a crisis. Allowing those on the ground to inform those elsewhere about what is really happening. We saw this in Iran in the summer of 2009 and have posted before about the benefits (and challenges) of user-generated news.

For the victims of Haiti, social media has enabled them to share their story with the outside world. It makes them feel less isolated by providing them with a way to share what they are experiencing. And it provides us all with a real connection to people on the ground in an earthquake zone. Social media is a great way for people to share information and it really allows people to start to see and experience an event through the experiences of people who are there.

The kind of stories being shared include:

“Just experienced a MAJOR earthquake here in Port au Prince - walls were falling down. - we are ALL fine - pray for those in the slums” troylivesay

“The St Gerard Church has a school behind it that collapsed.I heard someone speaking from the rubble, feet were trapped he couldn’t get out” RAMhaiti

People in the streets are chanting as the night settles.” fredodupoux

2. Informing rescue attempts

Within hours of the earthquake hitting Haiti, victims and their families and friends started to organise themselves using social media tools. A huge task for aid agencies in crises like this is to compile and keep up-to-date a list of people who are missing. Tracking who is missing, who has been found and what their status is.

Social media has been helping with this task in two ways:

  1. Building user-generated lists of the missing. Groups on Facebook has grown to list the missing - with hundreds of thousands of names gathered by people who are missing friends or family. Users update the information they know and together they crowd-source an up-to-date list of the missing
  2. Co-ordinating rescue attempts. Twitter has provided a way for people who are missing to publicise where they are - sharing locations where they are trapped or from where they need rescuing. Using a common hashtag, the missing were able to attract rescuers to come and help them.

Social media is an especially useful tool when a large number of people each know a small piece of information, which when put together build the bigger picture. By getting users to tell us about the information they know and to keep this up-to-date, we can build a larger picture of what is really happening. This can be done with much less effort than trying to build a central picture from scratch.

3. Providing eyewitness content

The first images to emerge from Haiti on Tuesday this week, whilst most news agencies were still waiting for their correspondents to arrive in the country, came from mobile phones and were shared online. In a crisis situation like this, imagery and stories are critical to securing the donations needed to support rescue and relief attempts. And for both of these, time is of the essence. The sooner people donate money, the quicker support can be on the ground. Social media allowed imagery and videos to be shared and distributed more quickly and before some traditional news outlets were on location. It is these images that we have seen on social networks and across the news output and it is these that have prompted many people to donate and support the attempts to bring relief to the country.

Real eyewitness content does not replace balanced and informed reporting by traditional news organisations. But it does have a real role in communicating what is happening and letting people see what those on the ground are seeing. Social media allows these images and eyewitness stories to be spread more quickly than ever before. In a situation where time is critical, this is very important.

How Flickr grew their online community

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Photo-sharing site Flickr has a large and successful online community. People upload content, share and exchange stories and ideas and interact through their site. But building this large community has meant a dedicated and long-term strategy. George Oates from Flickr explains how the community was grown in a new post here.

The key, as George describes, is to accept that “People don’t like being told what to do. We like to explore, change things around, and make a place our own.”

You should read the post for more details, but Flickr’s community growth strategy can be summarised in eight points:

  1. Create a space where people want to play
  2. A community needs to be nurtured. Prepare for slow and steady growth if it is to succeed, don’t expect it to happen all at once
  3. Let the personal voice shine through. The design of the community should be simple; it’s all about the interaction and honesty
  4. Help people to explore the community. Make it simple for them to find their way around and point them in the right direction
  5. Identity is crucial. A community will grow more successfully if members aren’t anonymous
  6. You need guidelines (not necessarily rules) - people need to know what they should and shouldn’t do. What’s expected of them and others in the community
  7. Create a rich environment. Breadth of experience is important and will help attract people to and then keep them at the community
  8. Be open. Participate yourself and be truthful and honest about who you are. If people trust you they’ll take part.