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Instagram Adds Reels Replies, Providing Another Way to Tap into Short-Form Video

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It’s been in testing for a while, but today, Instagram has officially announced that users can now reply to post comments with Reels, providing another way to integrate Reels into the Instagram process.

Instagram Reels replies

As you can see in this example, now, when you reply to a comment on a post, you’ll also have the option to tap on the blue Reels button to create a video reply, which will then appear as a sticker that you can send to the commentor.

Here’s another look at the process in action (via @TheBKH):

It’s another way to help Instagram boost engagement, while also leaning into the short-form video trend. It’s also, unsurprisingly, almost identical to the same feature that TikTok added in June last year.

Instagram’s added some new color options to the sticker, but essentially it’s the same thing. Which, given Instagram’s more recent history, is pretty much par for the course – though you will be able to reply to comments on regular posts and videos with Reels too, which expands the function a little.

On one hand, as with all of Instagram’s copycat functions, it feels a little cheap, a little stale maybe to see it simply re-create what TikTok already does.

On the other hand, it’s working – Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted in the company’s most recent earnings announcement that Reels is now “the primary driver of engagement growth” on the platform, with millions of users now interacting with Reels clips every day. If Meta can keep a few more short video fans on its apps, instead of seeing them drift off to TikTok, that’s a win, and that, in itself, is likely enough to justify its continued copying of TikTok’s features.

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But I maintain that if Meta really wants to win back younger users, it needs to come out with new, unique features, and lead the way with the latest trends. A side-effect of replication is that you are inherently following someone else, and if you’re not seen as the leader in the latest shifts, you’re unlikely to be the cool app, and the place where younger users are primarily interacting.

Meta, of course, knows this. In fact, it’s a key part of Facebook’s growth story – once Facebook overtook MySpace as the primary social app of choice among mong users back in 2005, MySpace tried to copy Facebook’s key tools, in a last-ditch effort to stem the user migration.

That clearly didn’t work, and Facebook eventually became the place to be, which then propelled the company to bigger and better things.

TikTok is on a similar trajectory, and while Meta’s family of apps is far bigger than MySpace ever was, it’s not unfeasible to imagine TikTok becoming the top social app at some stage in the near future.

Meta has already said that it’s making young users a focus, and as part of that, it really needs to re-establish itself as the leader, not the follower of the latest trends.

Socialmediatoday.com

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TikTok Looks to Expand Content Horizons with New, Integrated ‘Stories’ Test

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TikTok Looks to Expand Content Horizons with New, Integrated 'Stories' Test


As TikTok continues its rapid ascent, with the app now on track to reach 1.5 billion users in 2022, it’s also seeking to expand its content horizons, with a view to increased monetization of that collective attention, and providing more capacity for creators to generate revenue from their clips.

Which is where this latest test comes in. As highlighted by social media expert Matt Navarra (via Kev Adriano), TikTok is making a change to its still experimental Stories feature, which would integrate TikTok Stories into the main ‘For You’ and ‘Following’ feeds in the app, as opposed to keeping its Stories element in its own separate space.

As you can see in this image, TikTok’s looking to integrate Stories creation into the main feed, which would essentially make Stories another content option, enabling users to create multi-frame sequences of clips and still images that users would then be able to view in-stream, just like any other clip.

Which is a big shift from how TikTok Stories were initially presented in August last year, with Stories added to a new left of screen sidebar, giving them a dedicated space, but also shifting users out of the main feed experience.

TikTok Stories

This updated format essentially merges Stories presentation into the focal stream, which seems like a much better way to go, as it doesn’t obscure the main screen with an intrusive side bar, while it would also expand Stories viewing, as they’d be included in your regular display, instead of an alternate element.

Users will also be able to view Stories from their connections and users that they don’t follow, adding a new content consideration in the app.

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You can see in the below example how the new Stories format looks in-stream, with a blue ‘Story’ marker on the first frame, and an indicator at the bottom of the screen as to how many total frames are in the Story.

Users would then tap on the video to move to the next frame, which could take a moment for TikTok users to re-adjust to, with a new UI merged into the experience. But it could be a good way to maximize user engagement, while as noted, it would also add another way to build on TikTok’s content opportunities, with a view to expanded monetization potential in the app.

Stories would also be marked as such on user profiles, with a counter as to the total frames in each.

TikTok Stories

It still seems a little clunky, with the presentation looking more like a placeholder in some respects, but the feature is still in early testing, as TikTok works on integrating these new options with a view to an expanded launch some time in future.

If it makes it that far. It’s hard to say whether the format will work within the TikTok experience, or whether it will just annoy users with an alternative process for viewing content. Which is no doubt what TikTok is working to determine right now, and while it does seem like it could take a moment of adjustment, it may well be a good addition, which, as noted, could help TikTok broaden its content offerings in order to provide more opportunities for creators in the app.

TikTok has also expanded the maximum length for TikTok clips several times, while it’s also developing its live-stream commerce tools, providing more ways to reach its growing audience, and keep them engaged beyond the short clips that dominate the main feed. Which is one of the platform’s key focal points – while short clips are clearly the trend of the moment, if TikTok wants to capitalize on its opportunities, it needs to become more than just Vine 2.0.

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Essentially, TikTok needs to become a fully-fledged social network, catering to a range of users, with a range of content options. That will ensure that can expand its appeal even further, while also increasing its ad surfaces.

Stories is just the latest experiment, but you can bet that TikTok is also testing a range of other content formats and options as it eyes the next phase of its global expansion.

Worth noting – the Chinese version of TikTok, ‘Douyin’, recently began testing ‘paid short dramas, allowing users to pay for individual episodes of longer, in-stream shows, as part of its own content expansion plans.

Maybe that’ll be TikTok’s next step.





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Meta’s Developing and ‘Ethical Framework’ for the Use of Virtual Influencers

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Meta's Developing and 'Ethical Framework' for the Use of Virtual Influencers


With the rise of digital avatars, and indeed, fully digital characters that have evolved into genuine social media influencers in their own right, online platforms now have an obligation to establish clear markers as to what’s real and what’s not, and how such creations can be used in their apps.

The coming metaverse shift will further complicate this, with the rise of virtual depictions blurring the lines of what will be allowed, in terms of representation. But with many virtual influencers already operating, Meta is now working to establish ethical boundaries on their application.

As explained by Meta:

From synthesized versions of real people to wholly invented “virtual influencers” (VIs), synthetic media is a rising phenomenon. Meta platforms are home to more than 200 VIs, with 30 verified VI accounts hosted on Instagram. These VIs boast huge follower counts, collaborate with some of the world’s biggest brands, fundraise for organizations like the WHO, and champion social causes like Black Lives Matter.”

Some of the more well-known examples on this front are Shudu, who has more than 200k followers on Instagram, and Lil’ Miquela, who has an audience of over 3 million in the app.

At first glance, you wouldn’t necessarily realize that this is not an actual person, which makes such characters a great vehicle for brand and product promotions, as they can be utilized 24/7, and can be placed into any environment. But that also leads to concerns about body image perception, deepfakes, and other forms of misuse through false or unclear representation.

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Deepfakes, in particular, may be problematic, with Meta citing this campaign, with English football star David Beckham, as an example of how new technologies are evolving to expand the use of language, as one element, for varying purpose.

The well-known ‘DeepTomCruise’ account on TikTok is another example of just how far these technologies have come, and it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where they could be used to, say, show a politician saying or doing something that he or she actually didn’t, which could have significant real world impacts.

Which is why Meta is working with developers and experts to establish clearer boundaries on such use – because while there is potential for harm, there are also beneficial uses for such depictions.

Imagine personalized video messages that address individual followers by name. Or celebrity brand ambassadors appearing as salespeople at local car dealerships. A famous athlete would make a great tutor for a kid who loves sports but hates algebra.

Such use cases will increasingly become the norm as VR and AR technologies are developed, with these platforms placing digital characters front and center, and establishing new norms for digital connection.

It would be better to know what’s real and what’s not, and as such, Meta needs clear regulations to remove dishonest depictions, and enforce transparency over VI use.

But then again, much of what you see on Instagram these days is not real, with filters and editing tools altering people’s appearance well beyond what’s normal, or realistic. That can also have damaging consequences, and while Meta’s looking to implement rules on VI use, there’s arguably a case for similar transparency in editing tools applied to posted videos and images as well.

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That’s a more complex element, particularly as such tools also enable people to feel more comfortable in posting, which no doubt increases their in-app activity. Would Meta be willing to put more focus on this element if it could risk impacting user engagement? The data on the impact of Instagram on people’s mental health are pretty clear, with comparison being a key concern.

Should that also come under the same umbrella of increased digital transparency?

It’s seemingly not included in the initial framework as yet, but at some stage, this is another element that should be examined, especially given the harmful effects that social media usage can have on young women.

But however you look at it, this is no doubt a rising element of concern, and it’s important for Meta to build guardrails and rules around the use of virtual influencers in their apps.

You can read more about Meta’s approach to virtual influencers here.





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Meta Publishes New Guide to the Various Security and Control Options in its Apps

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Meta Publishes New Guide to the Various Security and Control Options in its Apps


Meta has published a new set of safety tips for journalists to help them protect themselves in the evolving online connection space, which, for the most part, also apply to all users more broadly, providing a comprehensive overview of the various tools and processes that it has in place to help people avoid unwanted attention online.

The 32-page guide is available in 21 different languages, and provides detailed overviews of Meta’s systems and profile options for protection and security, with specific sections covering Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

The guide begins with the basics, including password protections and enabling two-factor authentication.

It also outlines tips for Page managers in securing their business profiles, while there are also notes on what to do if you’ve been hacked, advice for protection on Messenger and guidance on bullying and harassment.

Meta security guide

For Instagram, there are also general security tips, along with notes on its comment moderation tools.

Meta security guide

While for WhatsApp, there are explainers on how to delete messages, how to remove messages from group chats, and details on platform-specific data options.

Meta security guide

There are also links to various additional resource guides and tools for more context, providing in-depth breakdowns of when and how to action the various options.

It’s a handy guide, and while there are some journalist-specific elements included, most of the tips do apply to any user, so it could well be a valuable resource for anyone looking to get a better handle on your various privacy tools and options.

Definitely worth knowing either way – you can download the full guide here.

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