Meta has provided an end-of-year update on its Bulletin newsletter platform, which it first launched back in April as part of a push to facilitate more connection between creators and subscribers by using the company’s massive reach to scale newsletter growth.
And while it hasn’t become a key competitor for Substack and other newsletter providers as yet, Meta has been making steady progress, and it could yet become a key consideration for writers in various niches.
As explained by Meta:
“When we launched Bulletin, we began with a small group of voices to learn how to best support their work. Six months later, we have more than 115 publications on Bulletin, and we’re energized by all the ways this first group has made meaningful connections with their audiences. This is the start of our overall effort to connect people in a more significant way to content from a broader set of sources and experts.”
In terms of growth specifics, Meta says that more than half of the creators on Bulletin now have over 1,000 free email subscribers, ‘with many having more than 5,000 or 10,000’. Which is reasonably solid – but then again, for a platform that connects almost 3 billion people, you would think that the growth rates would have significant potential for far higher reach than this. That’s essentially the promise of the option, and by comparison, these numbers would also suggest that around half of Bulletin writers have fewer that 1k subscribers. Which is not amazing, but is still early days for the option.
One of the most interesting use cases for the Bulletin platform is facilitating local news, and providing an outlet for local news providers, many of whom have been shut down or otherwise significantly impacted by the COVID downturn. If Bulletin can provide a more equitable pathway for local journalists and updates, that could make it an essential tool for many users, and Meta does highlight the ways in which local news providers are utilizing its suite of engagement tools to maximize connection.
“Experimentation with engagement tools across Facebook and Instagram have led to subscriber growth and deepened reader connections, particularly in places where appetite for relevant coverage is high. The Kerr County Lead, a local news publication in Kerr County, Texas, hosts Facebook Live videos every weekday to engage its local community of readers.”
Meta added 25 local news journalists to its stable of Bulletin writers back in August, whom it’s funding through the initial period of their establishment. And again, with so many local newsrooms being forced to shut down in recent years, there could be major opportunity for the platform to become a key hub for such, if it can provide a viable pathway for local news writers to make money from their coverage, while also highlighting relevant news content to Facebook users in feeds.
Which seems like the most viable pathway for Bulletin’s growth. Other newsletter platforms offer similar revenue and connection capacity, but no other platform has the reach that Facebook does, especially when you consider the usage of The Social Network for local community groups and local news discussion.
Bulletin could essentially become the replacement for your local news publication – though it does still seem a way off from this being a significant, viable element.
So what’s next for the platform? Meta says that, over the coming year, it will ‘thoughtfully increase’ the number of creators on Bulletin as it improves the experience ahead of future expansion.
“This will include a number of different topics and types of content, from video-first and audio-focused creators to long- and short-form writers, and more.”
Meta’s also adding in new tools and third-party integrations to enable more creative and research options (including a partnership with LexisNexis for data insights), while it’s also providing free educational opportunities for Bulletin creators to help them build their own newsletter businesses.
Tying your opportunities to Meta does come with a level of risk, with Meta changing the rules on creators and businesses in the past to limit their post reach, and shift their incentives based on its own engagement focus at any given time. But it could still be a viable pathway to building a newsletter business, with the reach and connection afforded by Meta’s networks opening up significant opportunity – if it can get the Bulletin offering right.
You can read Bulletin’s end of year review here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
For Instagram, there are also general security tips, along with notes on its comment moderation tools.
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.
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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