Think back, way back, to the end of 2016. It was back then that we published an article that posited that Snapchat was going to rise up as the underdog and beat Instagram in the race for the largest pool of daily active users. We were so hopeful, so young. Then Instagram rolled out Stories and the playing field tilted forever.
Ever since the launch of Stories, Instagram now boasts 800 million active monthly users (whereas we previously reported that Instagram has over 400 million active monthly users at the end of 2016).
Facebook has also been working on a massive overhaul to their News Feed. Changes such as de-prioritizing business pages, and instead prioritizing what your friends and family like, are all in an effort to change the conversation around the social media platform. They're also all changes that are sure to make small business owners’ hair stand up on their necks.
So let’s take a look at how Instagram & Facebook intend to shift the conversation as they update their platforms in 2018.
Changes to Instagram
In 2012, Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion after their failure to acquire Snapchat. And as such, they gave Instagram the power to absolutely decimate Snapchat with its release of "Stories". Since then, the platform shows no sign of slowing down in 2018.
For both users and businesses...
In late December, a user noticed a new feature where they could type a response to a friend’s Story, just like Snapchat. This news was then picked up and published just last week by the folks at The Next Web. And although it hasn’t been officially announced, you can see the test of that new feature in this video:
Additionally, Stories will also now automatically save users’ posts to their archive for easy access. A new “highlights” feature allows both users and brands alike to save and feature their favorite stories onto their profile page, ensuring that the usual 24-hour story lasts well beyond a single day.
Not only that, but Instagram now has an “Active Now” feature for friends and brands you’ve recently messaged, where you can see when they were last active on the platform, and they can see your “last active” data as well. As we currently write this, you can turn this feature off for now by going to “Settings” and turning off the “Activity Status” toggle.
For businesses only...
What’s more, ever since May 2017, Instagram has been quietly rolling out a beta test version of a new feature which allows verified Instagram accounts with 10,000 users or more append URLs to their Stories. This comes in handy for popular businesses who can now easily throw someone from their Instagram account to their blog in one simple click.
All of these changes are aimed at helping both users and businesses alike engage their followers in simpler, more seamless ways on the platform. Ultimately, the credit is all thanks to the massive powerhouse that is Facebook, driving the platform to greater profitability.
Which brings us to...
Changes to Facebook
One of the biggest truisms about Facebook for businesses is that it’s pay-to-play. For B2C or e-Commerce brands, you could probably get some (minor) recognition on the platform if you’re only doing organic, but for many it’s not enough to make a dent in sales. So the adage for the past few years has essentially been if you’re not advertising on Facebook, your company might as well not put any time to it.
Never will this be more true in 2018 as Facebook gears up to rollout some massive updates, announced just a few weeks back.
For example, in 2017 and prior, getting a high volume of shares was a great way to measure virality. In 2018, that metric will shift to comments. According to Mashable, after studies were released that showed users coming away a little more depressed having not interacted with Facebook posts, they decided to push the priority on commenting and away from sharing in an effort to keep the serotonin flowing. After all, giving users a positive feedback loop works better than inspiring a negative one, and Facebook intends to harness that notion.
This also spells bad news for businesses and publishers who were told they needed to pay-to-play for Facebook to be an effective part of their social strategies. As it turns out, Facebook will be de-prioritizing all brands, whether they pay or not. And for those who don’t pay and felt you were already invisible on the platform, this problem is only going to get worse.
“Similarly, at Facebook's urging, publishers spent lots of money building audiences inside its platform. Then Facebook convinced them to publish content directly to its platform (remember instant articles?) and, if they so choose, to pay to promote that content to their audiences. Many publishers directed dedicated readers to follow them on their Facebook pages and some even paid to grow them further. And now Facebook is cutting their reach.”
In summary, these updates are going to be amazing for users; for brands, it’s probably going to be a nightmare. According to the New York Times, “In short, you’ll see more posts from friends that have spurred lively debates in the comments. And you’ll see fewer cooking videos from brands and publications.”
These aren’t the only major changes about to make waves either. Having just rolled out Facebook Watch in August 2017 as an ad-supported video platform, Facebook has since insisted that Watch won’t be competing with prestige TV. However, it was recently announced that Facebook has signed on production companies such as Blumhouse and has signed contracts with Bear Grylls. And while those aren’t exactly prestige names, it looks like Facebook might be pushing for Watch to be the next avenue for advertisers to monetize Facebook in the post-modern pay-to-play age. The only problem is, according to Kerry Flynn with Mashable, that this spells even further uncertainty for advertisers in the long run.
“For publishers with unfunded shows, Watch is an experiment where they must grapple with pouring resources into an effort with knowing how it will resonate on the new platform.”
At the end of the day, what ends up being credited as “meaningfulness” is ultimately in the eye of the user. But when you scare away your advertisers in the name of usability and without the promise of ROI, how do you keep your business viable? When you empower your users in the post-Fake News world, but remove the funding source, how do you keep the lights on? As the old saying goes, ‘if you don’t pay for it, you’re the product’. Only time will tell how this will affect both users and advertisers alike in the long run.