snapchat

2014 – a social round-up

Author: Damola Timeyin, Social Strategist, BBH London

Each week BBH’s social team send round their ‘digital digest’ – their pick of week’s most interesting social/digital news. So to round off the year we asked them to look through their archives and highlight the most significant events of 2014 – the stories we should all keep in mind as 2015 arrives.

1. ‘Dark Social’ now 75% of all shares

Dark social relates to inbound traffic that can’t be tracked, such as links in emails, Whatsapp chats and some forums. 75% is a large chunk that can’t be accounted for and has implications for optimising digital campaigns for these kinds of user journeys. To put it in context, Facebook accounts for around 19% of all social media traffic.

2. YouTube releasing music service

Following hot on the heels of Vice and Live Nation, YouTube launched their own music streaming service, Music Key. The distinguishing feature of the new service is its advertising free stream and unlimited access to the Google Play catalogue, anytime, anywhere.

3. Merecedes lets you create own car on Instagram

Mercedes are getting a reputation for being at the forefront of digital when it comes to automotive brands. In this campaign they allow users to build their perfect car, choosing colour, wheels, grill, roof etc from separate accounts which are linked through the tagging functionality. There are 132 possible configurations and it’s well worth 5 minutes to have a play. Point your Instagram towards @GLA_Build_Your_Own

4. Facebook announces new Atlas cross platform ad network

Atlas claims to deliver ‘people-based’ marketing, helping brands to reach their audiences across multiple platforms, devices and even linking to offline sales.

In a nutshell, Atlas will follow users across the web, making a note of the ads they see, interact with and act upon and tie that information back to their Facebook profile, without the use of cookies.

Additional benefits will be in depth analytics that allow marketers to create far more complex user journeys to purchase; linking mobile ad views, desktop engagements and  a real world purchase all together. Genius but creepy.

5. Women now account for 52% of the gaming audience

The success of mobile games such as Candy Crush, challenged perceptions of who a gamer could be. The latest IAB study on gaming, provides further evidence that UK gaming habits and demographics have shifted considerably.

Based on interviews with 4,000 UK residents, the research asserts that women now account for 52% of the gaming audience, up from 49% three years ago.

This change in gaming behaviour presents a new opportunity for advertisers to reach 33m UK gamers, 61% of which, according to the study, would be receptive to in-game advertising if it allowed them to acquire the game for free.

6. Twitter launches ‘Buy Now’ button

The launch of Twitter’s ‘Buy Now’ is their biggest step into eCommerce and enables merchants to directly link tweets to sales. Twitter have teamed up with several eCommerce platforms to implement this new functionality and make the user journeys as simple and pain free as possible.

7. The Ice Bucket Challenge goes mental!

2014’s newsfeeds were dominated by more than a few videos of people dumping ice cold water on their head and nominating others to do the same to raise awareness of ALS and hopefully donate some money along the way.

Although there was criticism of the campaign, it has to date raised $22.9 million (compared to $1.9 million over the same period last year), spawned 2.4 million videos and recorded over 28 million interactions on Facebook alone. Although a simple mechanic, not everyone gets it right

8. The revolution will be televised

This year’s Ofcom Consumer Attitudes report provides further evidence of television’s dominance, however shows a clear shift in the context of TV consumption, from TV sets to computer, tablet & mobile screens, particularly amongst a millennial audience.

The increasing consumption of TV content in a digital environment presents more opportunities for brands to reach and engage audiences, but also raises challenging questions about the split of future advertising spend.

9. Is Snapchat any good for advertisers?

It’s been around for 3 years and there are now rumblings of an ad solution.With 100 million monthly users worldwide and half of all UK teenagers claiming to have used it, there is definitely potential. There is also speculation that Yahoo are investing $20 million into the app. Watch this space… See what some industry folk have to say about it here

10. Instagram bigger than Twitter

In what came as a surprise to many, this year Instagram reached a significant milestone, a milestone which places social network above Twitter in terms of monthly active users. With 300 million active users, Instagram is still far off Facebook’s mammoth 1.3 billion mark, but demonstrates its capacity to showcase the ‘live pulse of the world right now’ in the same way Twitter has become famous for.

And a bonus piece of December news…

…11. Google launches ‘Store visits’ metric to help prove online-to-offline adword impact

 The latest salvo in the Google-Facebook Ad Wars has the search incumbent tracking logged in mobile users from website visit to store visit to demonstrate that effective online advertising can drive offline traffic. Fascinating implications, not least for privacy.

On the rise of transience in social technologies

This is the second cross-post in a series we’re putting up this week from the tech column we’ve written for Marketing magazine over the course of this year. This post looks at the rise of Snapchat and the implications for marketers, it appeared in Marketing in July. Think of it as a sister post to Jason’s recent post here ‘Why the ephemeral is here to stay‘.

Image: Bert Stern for Smirnoff via rafaelroa.net

Image: Bert Stern for Smirnoff, via rafaelroa.net

Reading of the recent death of Bert Stern, the photographer most famous for his ‘last sitting’ photographs of Marilyn Monroe and, closer to home, the advertising shots he took for Smirnoff in the 1950s, you cannot help but admire how iconic the work was. A perfect cocktail glass stands on sand, reflecting an inverted Pyramid of Giza as the sun glides down behind it. Carefully crafted, pure, timeless allure.

Juxtapose that with the news that Snapchat, the free app that let’s you share video and photos that self-destruct in a matter of seconds, has been valued at a cool $800m during its latest round of funding. Unsurprising, perhaps, given its meteoric usage growth curve (200m images shared daily in June, up from 60m in February, according to Snapchat figures) and yet still somehow staggering. As the Financial Times pointed out, this is more than Instagram’s final sale price ($700m) after Facebook stock slumped. And this in the same week Instagram introduced 15 second video to compete with Vine’s even more microvideo service, not to mention Facebook’s own Poke, questionably – but deliberately – identical to Snapchat, launched at the end of last year.

So is this super-light touch, technological transience nothing more than a superficial bubble, or a signifier of something deeper that marketers should pay attention to?

Time will tell, of course. But, as any user of Snapchat will tell you (13-24 yr olds are the app’s current centre of gravity in age terms), it does offer a solution to a very modern problem. Evan Spiegel, Snapchat’s founder, says the service was designed deliberately to offer an alternative to the pressure social media can bring to bear on users to present an idealised version of themselves. Against a backdrop of carefully curated streams of perfect holiday pictures, users want to share the real, the immediate, the silly side to their lives without the photographic evidence remaining on Facebook to haunt them forever. And, yes, no doubt there’s sexting too but, as Spiegel is at pains to point out, the app is most often used to share what’s happening now; the extreme transience of the service “doesn’t actually make sense” in a sexting context.

Brands seeking to reach a younger demographic are experimenting in the space, although inevitably the activity is largely promotions-based on what is still a nascent platform. Snapchat themselves are reported to be considering in-app transactions and native advertising as a route to monetisation in the medium term.

Certainly the fleeting immediacy here may feel like an anathema to traditional marketing ideas that so often value carefully planned permanence over pertinence, but I can’t help but think that it’s healthy for us to explore technology that help brands get closer to the naturally transitory nature of users’ real lives.

Perhaps what we are witnessing is a second wave in social media, where we recognise that users don’t want their every move and word captured and held in static perpetuity. If Snapchat doesn’t fit your brand’s value set, then witness the altogether more grown-up Tumblr.

In his speech at Cannes this year, Tumblr’s CEO David Karp made a point of distinguishing the platform from the likes of Facebook or Twitter. In short, Tumblr values great content over constant social interaction “You can keep it small and do it in a campaign-orientated way”, versus the 24/7 newsroom approach brands feel they need to adopt on other platforms. Karp stressed the fact there are few publicly visible metrics on Tumblr, versus the follower/friend count on Facebook and Twitter: it’s a place brands can house content they can share with audiences, without feeling like they’re under constant scrutiny or trying to meet unrealistic expectations. Suddenly, brands seem remarkably like their users.

Why the ephemeral is here to stay

Snapchat's mascot Ghostface Chillah. He's a ghost.

The many faces of Snapchat’s mascot Ghostface Chillah. He’s a ghost.

It was a great man, Ferris Bueller to be precise, who once uttered the immortal words “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” So wise and so relevant it seemed to me, as I reflected upon the phenomenon that is Snapchat. Last month, less than 2 years after launch, Snapchat raised $60m in funding on the basis of a $800m valuation from prominent VC’s. Dennis Phelps of Institutional Venture Partners gushed emphatically “The funding round was “one of the most competitive financings we have been a part of in years”. Despite the fact that they are yet to make a single dollar from advertising or charging users.

In many ways Snapchat embodies the very essence of the ephemeral but I couldn’t help wondering if it might be a signifier of a broader trend unfolding, something more fundamental and profound. As a generation of “digital natives” grow up and look to their future, and the whole world considers the repercussions of Edward Snowden’s revelations, it appears that we are collectively reappraising our engagement with the digital world. We grow increasingly aware of our ever deepening reliance on networked technologies, the blurring of public and private space, and the changing nature of our relationships with others, and we are beginning to explore new strategies to respond.

The Snapchat story

The genesis of Snapchat is shrouded in claim, counter-claim and litigation, and comes complete with its own Winklevoss Twin (singular sadly). In 2011 Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy took their Stamford University classmate Reggie Brown’s idea for a self-destructing messaging service and launched the app in September 2011 that year. Since launch the user base has grown at a staggering pace despite many detractors trying to write it off as a novelty app for creative sexters. Take one look at the numbers its obvious that there’s more to it than that. Snapchat users, particularly teenagers and college kids, now share over 150 million pictures every single day, more than four times Instagram’s daily shares.

Unquestionably authoritative graph from Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends 2013

Unquestionably authoritative graph from Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends 2013

Building the Ephemeranet

What’s particularly interesting is that Snapchat’s unique appeal comes from restricting, rather than enabling the intrinsic connectivity of the web. It lets people share experiences with friends, but it does so in a way that is time-bound and impermanent. Nothing you send is stored, and none is searchable. A generation of users who’ve grown up immersed in the social web are beginning to realise that their intimate experiences are not only available to their friends. They are also open to would-be employers, their parents, even that girl they may want to marry someday.  According to Evan Spiegel the increasing pressure on them to manage their idealized online identity has “taken all of the fun out of communicating”. In glorious contrast, the transient and ephemeral nature of Snapchat provides a more spontaneous, less controlled or contrived way of communicating. By simplifying a security process enough to the point that anybody can use it Snapchat has created a market for privacy protecting ephemeral communication, an opportunity investment money will help them exploit further.

Potluck vs Performance anxiety

In July Josh Miller and the team behind Branch launched their new platform Potluck. Potluck, though very different to Snapchat, bears comparison because it also provides users with an interesting alternative to the performance anxiety of mass social interaction.

Potluck, not another social network, honest

Potluck, not another social network, honest

Potluck is essentially a link-sharing network built on top of a users’ social connections from Twitter, Facebook and Gmail. But unlike many of today’s social networks the focus is not on having users craft an online persona, but rather on the content being shared. Links shared on Potluck aren’t accompanied by people’s names or avatars, only the topic or name of the link, and the number of your friends who are talking about it. Instead of worrying about how popular your posts are, or how interesting you look because of what you share, you can focus on more genuine conversations around the subjects that really matter to you. The performance anxiety is gone, making it more accessible for everyone. As Miller explains “The whole reason we took the time to even focus on Potluck, is because we really do want to empower the people who are not having conversations to have conversations.”

Free to browse anonymously

If Edward Snowden and his revelations about the NSA’s PRISM programme have taught us anything (other than to beware of transit in Moscow airport) it is that our digital click-stream is an open book ready to be read by anyone with the computing power and inclination to sift through the meta-data.

Psychedelic and highly informative Project Prism visual

Psychedelic and highly informative Project Prism visual

The involvement of Microsoft, Yahoo and Google in the US spying programme has given an unexpected boost to lesser know search rival DuckDuckGo whose search requests have almost doubled to over 3million a day in the last month alone. DuckDuckGo provides ‘private’ internet searches which means that it does not track users in the same way that the big listed above do. It does serve Google-like ads, but without the customisation.

Paranoia proves good for business

Paranoia proves good for business

As founder Gabriel Weinberg explained, DuckDuckGo chose not to store search data because it reveals so much about us. Search data, he says, “is arguably the most personal data people are entering into anything. You’re typing in your problems, your desires. It’s not the same as things you post publicly on a social network.” Having decided that searching is intimately personal, he deduced, rather presciently that governments would want to get hold of search data. “I looked at the search fiascos such as the 2006 AOL data release, and decided that government requests were real and would be inevitable, and that search engines and content companies would be handing over that data [to government] in increasing amounts.”

Whilst DuckDuckGo’s numbers are hardly going to keep Googlers up at night this trend is illustrative of the growing recognition of the need to take control of the public availability of our browsing histories. Whilst DuckDuckGo’s entire premise is predicated on anonymity, “Incognito browsing” is of course a standard feature in Chrome, and similar features have since been adopted by Firefox and IE. Providing anonymous browsing may seem like a counterintuitive move for Google given their business model, but by giving users control over their anonymity on the most sensitive sites these features are more likely to reduce cookie deletion rates, thereby increasing the ability to target ads, thereby increasing revenues.

Military grade encryption from the App store

For those wanting the next level of privacy look no further than Wickr, created by Nico Sell, security expert and long-time organiser of Hacker convention Defcon. Wickr is a serious security-focused app that uses “military-grade” encryption to send text, video, voice, and document files that can self-destruct after a given period of time.

And why exactly do you need military grade encryption?

And why exactly do you need military grade encryption?

Hospitals and law enforcement have expressed interest in a similarly functioning Android app, Gryphn.  Encryption legend Phil Zimmerman, inventor of Pretty Good Privacy or PGP, an encryption system so powerful that its distribution was once classified as arms dealing by the US government, is also developing an exciting and powerful suite of communication apps through his company Silent Circle. They are not for “average” users, but they will provide massive improvements in security for business and serious individuals who are looking for it.

So what does it all mean?

“Life is once, forever and new all the time” Henri Cartier-Bresson

The Web 2.0 evangelists proselytised the benefits of a new era where we are all publishers. The Social Web enabled us to harness not just the wisdom of the crowd but the wisdom of our friends. Every moment, every memory of our lives effortlessly shared through our ‘feeds’ creating a permanent, public, searchable and socially verified record of our lives. And why? Because we could. But sometimes “Because we could” isn’t reason enough. Without serendipity we grow stale and predictable. Without spontaneity we deny the authenticity of our human response. Without our privacy where is there space for intimacy or dissent?

Once opened this Pandora’s box cannot simply be closed, nor would we want it to be. But there is an alternative.  Snapchat’s self-destructing pictures are fun, but they are more than that. They are fleeting glimpse of what we crave, the means to put us back in control. Providing us with a most important ability in this networked age, the means to disconnect.