While Facebook is the dominant player in the social media space, it’s worth noting the major influence that Chinese social apps also have in their respective regions, which we’ve seen expand more recently via various apps – primarily TikTok – posing a level of threat to Facebook’s gold on the market.
Of course, Facebook – now Meta – is making a play to control the next stage of digital connection, in the theoretical metaverse that will provide all-new ways to facilitate interaction and engagement. If and how that comes to fruition will be a key element to watch, but it’s interesting to consider the broader social media landscape, and where things are placed in the final stages of the year.
This graphic from Visual Capitalist does exactly that, with a bubble chart of the biggest social media companies in the world, and their various properties.
Some interesting considerations – check out the full infographic below.
Meta Releases New Insights into its Evolving Efforts to Detect Coordinated Manipulation Programs
Meta has shared some new insights into its ongoing efforts to combat coordinated misinformation networks operating across its platforms, which became a major focus for the company following the 2016 US Election, and the revelations that Russian-backed teams had sought to sway the opinions of American voters.
As explained by Meta:
“Since 2017, we’ve reported on over 150 influence operations with details on each network takedown so that people know about the threats we see – whether they come from nation states, commercial firms or unattributed groups. Information sharing enabled our teams, investigative journalists, government officials and industry peers to better understand and expose internet-wide security risks, including ahead of critical elections.”
Meta publishes a monthly round-up of the networks that it’s detected and removed, via automated, user-reported, and other collaborative means, which has broadened its net in working to catch out these groups.
And some interesting trends have emerged in Meta’s enforcement data over time – first off, Meta has provided this overview of where the groups that it has detected and taken action on have originated from.
As you can see, while there have been various groups detected within Russia’s borders, there’s also been a cluster of activity originating from Iran and the surrounding regions, while more recently, Meta has taken action against several groups operating in Mexico.
But even more interesting is Meta’s data on the regions that these groups have been targeting, with a clear shift away from foreign interference, and towards domestic misinformation initiatives.
As shown in these charts, there’s been a significant move away from international pushes, with localized operations becoming more prevalent, at least in terms of what Meta’s teams have been able to detect.
Which is the other side of the research – those looking to utilize Meta’s platforms for such purpose are always evolving their tactics, in order to avoid detection, and it could be that more groups are still operating outside of Meta’s scope, so this may not be a complete view of misinformation campaign trends, as such.
But Meta has been upping its game, and it does appear to be paying off, with more coordinated misinformation pushes being caught out, and more action being taken to hold perpetrators accountable, in an effort to disincentivize similar programs in future.
But really, it’s going to keep happening. Facebook has reach to almost 3 billion people, while Instagram has over a billion users (reportedly now over 2 billion, though Meta has not confirmed this), and that’s before you consider WhatsApp, which has more than 2 billion users in its own right. At such scale, each of these platforms offers a massive opportunity for amplification of politically-motivated messaging, and while bad actors are able to tap into the amplification potential that each app provides, they will continue to seek ways to do so.
Which is a side effect of operating such popular networks, and one that Meta, for a long time, had either overlooked or refused to see. Most social networks were founded on the principle of connecting the world, and bringing people together, and that core ethos is what motivates all of their innovations and processes, with a view to a better society through increased community understanding, in global terms.
That’s an admirable goal, but the flip side of that is that social platforms also enable those with bad motivations to also connect and establish their own networks, and expand their potentially dangerous messaging throughout the same networks.
The clash of idealism and reality has often seemed to flummox social platform CEOs, who, again, would prefer to see the potential good over all else. Crypto networks are now in a similar boat, with massive potential to connect the world, and bring people together, but equally, the opportunity to facilitate money laundering, large-scale scams, tax evasion and potentially worse.
Getting the balance right is difficult, but as we now know, through experience, the impacts of failing to see these gaps can be significant.
Which is why these efforts are so important, and it’s interesting to note both the increasing push from Meta’s teams, and the evolution in tactics from bad actors.
My view? Localized groups, after learning how Russian groups sought to influence the US election, have sought to utilize the same tactics on a local level, meaning that past enforcement has also inadvertently highlighted how Meta’s platforms can be used for such purpose.
That’s likely to continue to be the case moving forward, and hopefully, Meta’s evolving actions will ensure better detection and removal of these initiatives before they can take effect.
You can read Meta’s Coordinated Misinformation Report for December 2021 here.
Meta Plans to Establish an NFT Marketplace, Expanding Beyond Profile Pictures
If it’s happening on social media, Meta wants to own it, so it comes as no surprise that the company is currently working on ways to tap into the popularity of NFTs. But Meta actually envisions a bigger future for digital goods, beyond cartoonish profile pictures, which will eventually expand the core functionality of the NFT transaction process to facilitate the transfer of various kinds of digital goods within its planned metaverse.
Sorry, I should say the metaverse, as Meta is keen to underline that it won’t own it, as such (antitrust lawyers take note).
As reported by The Financial Times:
“Teams at Facebook and Instagram are readying a feature that will allow users to display their NFTs on their social media profiles, as well as working on a prototype to help users create – or mint – the collectible tokens, according to several people familiar with the matter. Two of the people said that Meta has also discussed launching a marketplace for users to buy and sell NFTs.”
The first element noted here is already in progress – last June, we reported on Instagram’s initial test of a new ‘Collectibles’ option which would facilitate the display of NFTs in the app (as discovered by app researcher Alessandro Paluzzi).
That test also pointed to facilitating the sale of NFTs in the app, with a process for bidding and buying NFT images.
The latest element in this process includes attaching a digital wallet to your account, much like you would on OpenSea or other NFT transaction platforms, so the experiment seems fairly well advanced in this respect.
That likely points to Instagram making a move on this soon, and where Instagram goes, Facebook tends to follow, so that part is no real revelation versus what we already know.
But what is interesting is how this process could be built into Meta’s broader metaverse plans, and the sale of digital goods, beyond just profile pictures (PFPs). Because really, that’s just the starting point, and there’ll likely be far more value in buying other digital products and services in the next stage of connection.
Which is where much of the confusion about the current state of NFTs lies. Yes, there is major potential in the purchase and ownership of digital goods, as we’ve seen in various game worlds, where users can buy add-on features like skins, weapons, abilities, etc. For many young consumers, this is already second nature – but while much of the value in these items is aesthetic, providing an opportunity to ‘flex’ your latest purchase in each app, there is also a practical value and usage, which is different to PFP projects, the main focal point for current Web3 early adopters and those keen to be at the forefront of the next digital shift.
Overall, PFPs don’t provide much value, and likely won’t remain a key focus for digital ownership. Many of these projects hilariously claim to be ‘metaverse ready’, which is not possible, because not even the metaverse is metaverse ready at this stage, with the schemas and parameters yet to be established that would enable cross-platform transfers and usage of digital goods in the broader space.
Some PFP projects are working to build out broader community benefits and usage options for owners, which will extend the value beyond their images alone. But really, the true value of NFTs will come in other digital goods and items, which looks to be the true focus of Meta’s NFT push.
Indeed, back in October, Meta’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted that NFTs could eventually be used to support a new market for digital goods in the metaverse, not just profile images, while Meta’s Head of Metaverse Products Vishal Shah has also noted that the underlying NFT transaction process will eventually make it easier to sell digital products in its apps.
In this sense, PFPs are only the beginning of what could be possible with digital items more broadly, and with Meta also continuing to work on its own cryptocurrency , it does seem likely that, eventually, it will be able to facilitate broader digital transactions through the NFT process.
But those NFTs won’t be limited to PFP images, which is the main criticism of the current NFT market. Why would you pay to own an image that you can view for free? Why would you pay to only own the receipt of a digital image, and not the full copyright and commercial re-use rights (for most projects)?
Legally, there are still some issues to be worked out in this respect, but if you view NFTs as a gateway, of sorts, to broader transactions of all kinds of digital goods, from avatar clothing to skins, to in-game weapons, items, spells, etc. When you consider that NFTs don’t have to just be images of smiling monkeys and cats, you can start to see the broader potential of NFTs as real value items, especially as we increasingly spend more and more time in these digital environments.
Essentially, early NFT adopters are indeed early, and many are putting far too much stock in PFPs, and getting ripped off as a result. But the broader view is that these digital items will have more use and expanded application in the next stage.
Which is why Meta is looking to move in, and build more tools to capitalize on this initial interest. So while you may view those NFT bros as being a little overzealous, and overexcited about buying JPGs, consider that there will be more to the scope of NFTs in future.
That doesn’t mean that you should care about what image you use for your profile picture, or that you should be looking to buy up a ‘VeeFriends’ NFT drawing (please don’t). But those images are just the start of a new online marketplace.
Instagram Expands Video Remix Option to All Videos, Not Just Reels Clips
Instagram is expanding on its TikTok-like toolset by adding the capacity to remix all videos that people post in the app, not just Reels, increasing your options for creative response and engagement.
As you can see here, now, when you’re viewing any video on Instagram, you’ll be able to tap on the ‘Remix this video’ option to create your own take on it, facilitating more participatory consumption of video content in the app.
Users can also choose to switch off remixes in their video settings.
As explained by Instagram:
“Remix gives you ways to respond to and reinvent the creative videos shared on Instagram every day, collaborate with others and get discovered by new audiences. We’re excited about how our community has embraced Remix on Reels and we hope this new feature gives people new ways to collaborate, showcase their creativity and find inspiration in the vibrant diversity of videos shared to Instagram every day.”
Instagram added its Reels remix option last March, and this new functionality will greatly expand on the amount of video content that people can use to build upon with their own responses and creative takes, which, again, leans into the core use case of TikTok.
One of the biggest elements of success for TikTok has been participatory content, and essentially letting users contribute to memes, as opposed to merely consuming them.
Memes have become a key communication tool for the younger generation, providing a simple, engaging way to give their take on the various issues of the day. But till TikTok came around, meme usage was limited, as you couldn’t easily remix or re-share a meme for different purpose.
But TikTok changed that dynamic, essentially making memes participatory, enabling all users to not only consume, but to also iterate each based on the trend. It’s the logical extension of meme culture, though no platform has been able to tap into it the way that TikTok has.
Which is why Instagram’s looking to get into the same. And while providing TikTok-like options is likely helping Instagram to retain some of its audience, and stop them migrating to TikTok instead, it’s still not the best way for the platform to regain its leadership in the space, and re-connect with younger audiences, as per Meta’s stated ambition moving forward.
Because copying features invariably means that you’re a step behind – you can’t copy something unless another platform is already doing it, and if another platform is already doing it, then you’re already missing the trend.
Young users will gravitate to the platforms that lead the latest trends. Snapchat, for example, lead the way on ephemeral content, Instagram was once the place to be for the latest visual tools and displays. TikTok is now the leader on short-form, interactive clips, and if Meta truly wants to win them over once again, it will need to get more original with its additions, providing new, must-see, and must-use ways to interact and engage.
Much of that focus likely comes back to its coming metaverse push, but I’d still prefer to see Instagram zigging when other platforms are zagging, and introducing at least some new tools and options that haven’t been ripped off from another trending app.
But as noted, it must be working, at least to some degree, because it keeps doing it, with TikTok basically the product development department for Instagram right now.
Maybe its coming NFT display options will change this, or maybe IG has something else in the works for video content. Till then, we have more replicant functions, which may help improve overall engagement, but likely don’t give it much of a boost in terms of credibility and leadership.
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