Twitter Finally Gets Into Curation

I’ve spoken time and again about how much I miss Google Reader Shared Items. I loved how I was able to see the items being shared by those I was connected to in what was really an under-utilized social network and share my own items of interest with them in return. That was a great way to be exposed to new posts and stories that may fall out my regular reading habits.

More recently that void has been filled to some extent by Nuzzel, the app that uses social signals such as Tweets to show you what your network is talking about. I’m getting alerts all the time that “5 friends shared: “ a particular story, which in many cases I would have otherwise missed. It allows me to see what stories are circulating widely and consider giving them some additional attention.

Now Twitter is building its own version of that idea with the introduction of Popular Articles. Available in the “Discover” section of the app, it shows you stories your network is engaging with and sharing as well as more stories from your local area.

While I’ve decried the influence social networks have exerted over news discovery and consumption, with algorithms that take the place of your own judgment, features like this and Nuzzel are different. Instead of assuming you can’t make your own choices and using unknown signals to decide what you see, these tools surface what’s best in your network.

That’s a value-add, particularly in an environment such as Twitter’s where the timeline moves so fast it’s easy to miss things if you’re not watching 24 hours a day. It enables you to get the pulse of your network, seeing what they obviously feels is important.

It’s also much better than Twitter’s “In Case You Missed It” feature, which inserts a chunk of old updates toward the top of the timeline. Those stale tweets may be what Twitter thinks are relevant, but they create a disjointed experience, introducing time-shifting where none should exist.

I’m sure there’s room enough for both Twitter’s Popular Articles and the continued success of Nuzzel, which has built up a good reputation over the last few years. Both play a valuable role in a media world that sometimes moves faster than one person can handle and can easily become an echo-chamber devoid of new or outside thinking.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Tracking Ads to the Physical World Is The Next Threshold

As part of remarks made at a recent industry conference, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told anxious advertisers the company was working to not just provide better ad tools but also on ways to tie those ads to physical sales. Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey made similar comments, promising better measurement for advertisers.

Facebook announced last year that integrated maps of physical stores into ads and then showed advertisers who acted as a result of those ads. What seems likely is that it and other companies will take this kind of tracking even further. Let’s put two facts together to see how they add up to something even more intrusive.

First, Facebook knows when you’re in a store to enough detail that it can not only show a relevant ad but show an ad that’s relevant to the *section* of the store you’re in at the moment.

Second, Facebook knows when you’ve been exposed to an ad, whether that’s on mobile or desktop.

Put those together and you have the ability to know when someone visited a store after seeing an ad and, with just a little tweaking, can likely tie that to exact purchases and revenue that can be used to…yes…target further ads. This solves the age old question of outdoor, TV and other advertising that lacked direct response, which is whether or not that billboard on I-55 actually lead to a Snickers bar purchase and when that happened.

Imagine the following: You see an ad on Thursday on Facebook (LinkedIn or Twitter or any of their associated audience networks that take ads to other sites) for a sale on jeans at Old Navy. Facebook knows you’ve seen that ad because you had to scroll past it to see your friends’ pictures from Aruba. You don’t take an action then but when you’re out on Saturday you stop into Old Navy and get not only some jeans but also a t-shirt and some socks. The location-tracking Facebook is capable of knows you were there and can report to Old Navy it took three days but you finally acted on that ad. That’s valuable enough.

Now if you provide some details that Old Navy enters into its CMS it has a list of the products you bought and the amount you spent. It wouldn’t take much to tie those details into Facebook’s database and create a comprehensive report showing you spent $67.43 on four items three days after seeing an ad and based on the items you both bought and looked at (remember, Facebook can apparently track you down to the square foot), serve you ads later on offering you more deals at Old Navy.

As ad revenue growth begins to level off at Facebook and ad volume hits the extent of audience patience, expect the ads it serves to be all that more intrusive, which means more tracking. Retargeting online shows that’s already in full swing there, now it’s likely to come to you via your real-world behavior as well.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Twitter Wants to Ease Tweetstorm Posting

According to reports based on screenshots sent to the social media editor of The Next Web, Twitter has a feature it hasn’t launched yet that could make composing Tweetstorms easier than it is now.

Tweetstorms, if you’re not familiar, are those long, drawn-out threads of updates from a single user on a single topic. The term was coined by NYU professor Jay Rosen as more and more people were posting strings of updates ranging from five to up to 30 posts in a row at a time. The functionality around them has evolved as well, as people discovered that if you kept replying to your previous post then the updates were indeed threaded into a single narrative.

Twitter obviously feels there’s some value to encouraging this sort of behavior. It keeps people engaged on the site as they keep posting and these threads often draw the attention of others. They’re also widely derided. The form factor is not great, either from a publishing or reading perspective. “Clunky” is somewhat of an understatement.

A Middle Ground

This is Twitter finding a middle-ground solution between the 140-character limit it’s known for and the long-form content people still want to post and which it’s reportedly tested several times over the years.

There are still problems, though. Twitter’s issues with how it handles links – as separate items, not embedded within text – as well as the appearance of uploaded images/video become all the more apparent within Tweetstorms. Links really do interrupt the reading experience and sometimes images will appear smaller than normal in one of the replies that makes up the thread. Whether or not those issues are addressed in this feature remain to be seen.

One additional problem is that if the feature works as reported, allowing someone to write out the whole thread and then post it as a series of updates, it doesn’t take into account the spontaneity that often inspires these spurts of activity. While these strings are usually somewhat annoying, only rewarding reading and exploration well after they’re done, news organizations also use them regularly to update live from where a story is breaking. That’s much more interesting, but it’s also not something that can be planned out in advance.

Encouraging Activity

When you think about it, Tweetstorms are to Twitter what Stories are to Instagram, Snapchat and other platforms: Collections of multiple updates around a single topic. Twitter’s Moments feature also fits this bill, but with the added ability to curate updates from other people. It’s another instance where Twitter basically does what other networks do (e.g. messaging) but in a clunkier manner and all within a single app.

Twitter wants to keep people on its network. In this case it’s not competing against Facebook, it’s trying to keep people from investigating WordPress or Tumblr for their long-form thoughts. I’ve yet to read a single Tweetstorm that wouldn’t be improved by being posted to a blog platform and with supporting links embedded in the text. But it’s what people are doing and Twitter isn’t in a position to look a gifthorse in the mouth when it comes to user activity and engagement.

Content Marketing Updates for 8/25/17

  • Snapchat has introduced Crowd Surf, a new system that uses artificial intelligence to find when many people are sharing video from a concert and assemble also those clips into a single video.
  • Facebook has redesigned its “trending news” section for mobile reading, making it easier to sort through updates and including related stories from a variety of outlets.
  • A redesign of the mobile News Feed in general is designed to emphasize visibility into who’s engaging with a post, where a link might take you and more to make the whole process, presumably, a bit more transparent. It also updated a number of features in the Camera app.
  • A new green dot will show you when someone has been active on Tumblr recently, letting you know who might be available to chat.
  • Instagram has added comment threading to help keep conversations going more naturally.
  • LinkedIn has introduced a new native video creation tool for the mobile app that will be rolling out to all users over time.
  • I’m not going to be switching over to Ghost anytime soon, but it’s great to not only see someone innovating in the blog platform space but also doing so in an open-source manner.
  • Twitter’s Explore tab will begin showing people topics they may be interested in sorted in a way that’s based on their usage of the platform. That’s an attempt to make valuable, relevant information more prevalent, especially to new users.
  • Interesting statistics here on why young adult shoppers prefer the experience on a brand’s own website as opposed to that of a retailer.
  • Could be bad news for Snapchat as influencers identify it as the one they are or are most likely to drop in favor of Instagram and others.
  • Facebook is selling in-stream spots separate from bundled News Feed buys, something that was apparently high up on the list of requests from agencies.
  • The photo you’re responding to on Instagram will now appear as a sticker in the photo you take as the response. Sure, why not.
  • Facebook’s latest target in the News Feed: Video clickbait. Specifically, it’s taking aim at some of the slimy tactics disreputable publishers engage in to trick people into playing their videos.
  • Apparently we’re more prone to make rash, impulsive shopping decisions on our phones than we are in person or on our desktop computers.
  • After bringing GIF-like previews to YouTube, Google is now introducing six-second previews of videos directly in search results to, it says, help inform people as to what they’re about to click on.
  • YouTube is curating a “Breaking news” section across platforms to help people stay connected and/or know what level of panic and despair to maintain.
  • Digital video advertising is growing ever bigger in absolute dollars, but as a percentage of overall digital ad budgets it’s remaining pretty flat.
  • Chat bots are something marketers need to educate themselves on ASAP.
  • Facebook’s new tool lets brands directly boost posts from influencers they’ve engaged in branded content campaigns, keeping the original person’s branding on the post. Ad execs, though, worry that this will lead to influencer posts being suppressed in the feed, diminishing reach unless dollars are spent.
  • Snapchat is the latest platform company to announce it will be moving into providing a home for exclusive scripted video content.
  • Some early success stories coming out of Facebook Watch, though I have to wonder how much of that comes from these videos being given preferential treatment in the News Feed.
  • You can now take 360-degree photos and video from within the Facebook app itself.
  • Publishers in the Medium Partner Program will have the option of making stories available only to members and then be paid based on engagement and reach. That also includes a metered paywall limiting non-members to a set number of “free” posts they can read per month.
  • As part of its effort to help restore trust in what news is shared on its platform, Facebook will display media brand logos next to stories from that site.
  • New updates to the Musical.ly app include a section of recommendations based on what you’ve watched and enhanced user profiles.
  • Email management software is the most common tool used by content marketers, followed by content management systems.
  • Snapchat will let advertisers control whether their ads appear alongside all content or just that produced by the company itself and its media partners.
  • You can now edit Anchor’s new videos and share snippets.

There’s So Much Happening Online That We Never See

There’s a lot of interesting points made in this story about how an author of a young adult book was dragged and trolled before her book was even published. But one point particularly jumped out at me:

Among the book-buying public, though, that parade may be mostly passing unnoticed. The scandals that loom so large on Twitter don’t necessarily interest consumers; instead, the tempest of these controversies remains confined to a handful of internet teapots where a few angry voices can seem thunderously loud. Still, some publishing professionals imagine that the outrage will eventually become powerful enough to rattle the industry.

I had zero idea there was some earth-shattering controversy over an upcoming book. But that’s because it was happening in a portion of Twitter that apparently has little to no overlapping territory with my own.

It’s a reminder that the internet is a vast place, much bigger than the tiny slice any of us experience on a regular basis. Social networks are self-selecting, as are RSS feeds. Sites like Digg and reddit are great for opening yourself up to new sources and perspectives, as are curated email newsletters. Even then, though, you can’t see everything and stories like this will come out of the blue because attention and time are finite resources.

This is just the kind of thing that keeps marketing professionals, particularly those who are responsible for social media programs, awake at night. There are plenty of times in my career where I’ve done everything I can think of to set up monitoring inputs that will let me know as soon as possible if a crisis should break out, only to find that the fire breaks out in a completely unexpected quarter.

These self-selected networks can seem especially insular during times of crisis. I follow a lot of people who are part of what can generally be called “Media Twitter” and so see lots of conversations about not just the news of the day but also the meta-media analysis of that news. So it’s not just that a CNN commentator was let go for sharing a Nazi salute on Twitter but also the ethics of employing someone who could do such a thing and what it means for the rest of CNN’s lineup of talking heads. And it’s about the reaction of others to that move.

But that conversation is completely invisible to, I’ll wager, most of Twitter’s user base. It’s the most important thing in the world to a few hundred people and the rest are completely unaware it’s going on.

It’s all about perspective. When we get caught up in the issues that seem so urgent, so crucial, so fraught with meaning to us we often forget that many people would wonder why we would ever care about such a thing. Those issues only appear world-shaking because we’ve defined our world in that way.

Social Networks Next Big Innovation: Basically Inventing TV

A couple days ago Facebook introduced Watch, a way for people to watch new, more formal shows, on the network. Shows are made up of episodes which can be recorded and published by the producers or they can be streamed live.

If that sounds a lot like how TV has worked for much of the last several decades, you’re not alone. The main value proposition Facebook is selling here is that you can see how people are commenting and reacting to the show as you’re watching it. Even that sounds familiar though, as much of the past and current entertainment experience involves sharing it with others, whether that’s live or among friends in the following days.

Facebook has copped to funding some of these shows and is likely giving incentives to others to help them build up the habit of sharing episodes there as opposed to YouTube. It’s the network’s tacit admission that the current videos being shared aren’t enough to drive growth and subsequent ad revenue. Apparently amateur productions aren’t enough of a draw but also, notably, neither are the professionally-produced news shows from media companies Facebook has previously made major overtures and appeals to. Watch signals that it needs entertainment, not just news.

Along similar lines, Buzzfeed has announced it is working with Twitter to livestream a morning talk show along the lines of “Good Morning, America” and others. The show will cover the day’s top stories as well as trending topics, what’s popular on Buzzfeed and more.

Again…it’s a morning show, the kind of thing TV networks have been doing for decades, just distributed on a social network instead of broadcast to television sets. The main innovation seems to be that it eschews the gender equality the network shows have striven for and will be hosted by two men.

If “Basically TV, but with comments” is the best, most innovative approach possible, the myth of the Silicon Valley genius is officially overblown.

What’s striking is not just that but also how readily the social networks, Facebook in particular, will sell out the traditional media companies they’ve previously worked with in favor of their own content. It’s safe to assume that Watch productions will be given priority in the News Feed, coming at the expense of the videos created by news organizations who have been told over the last two years that video was the way to Facebook’s heart.

Google Wants News To Be Mobile With Stamp

Google is reportedly working on its own mobile news format. Called Stamp, the idea is meant to compete with Snapchat Discover and make stories easier to publish in a format that’s easily digestible on mobile and in a way that’s more engaging for younger audiences. Building off the success of AMP in speeding up publisher websites that are found via search, Google now wants to introduce more of a standalone format that would present stories in new and interesting ways.

It’s an intriguing idea and the notion that media formats need to evolve isn’t wrong. But I can’t help thinking it’s just another instance of purposely fragmenting media in a way that is harmful in the long run.

First, there are just so many players right now it’s a bit overwhelming. In addition to Snapchat Discover, there’s Flipboard, Nuzzel, Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News and countless other players who are all working to gain traction with the mobile news audience. While Stamp would apparently work within Google search and other apps, it still means another place that people would need to turn to for news.

Second, it’s not clear if Snapchat is exactly the best model to be following right now. The company seems overly-susceptible to the fluctuations of the ad market. While there’s good news in the wake of WPP making a major investment in Snap’s ad products, those fortunes can easily be reversed if user acquisition continues to be flat or if the demographics of that user base change substantively.

Third, this is another innovation that smaller media brands will likely be largely locked out of. Snapchat Discover only consists of a handful of hand-picked brands deemed to be relevant to the audience and who commit to high levels of content production. Getting started on Facebook Instant Articles is a laborious process. Curating a Flipboard magazine takes significant time. Those may not be insurmountable hurdles for CNN, Vox Media, The Washington Post and other media brands who often jump in, but they lock out smaller operations who don’t have the staff to scale to yet another platform.

Finally, an argument could be made that Discover is not the kind of model that publishers are currently paying attention to. Because it’s closed arena, only letting select members past the velvet ropes, publishers have instead been adapting to the “Stories” format that’s used by Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter, the latter using “Moments” as the term du jour.

That makes me think once more that Google missed a big opportunity by not investing more in Reader. It allowed people to curate a collection of links via “Shared Items” that was displayed to other Reader users who had opted to follow them. Shared Items could have easily, it seems to me, been pivoted into a tool that let people not just curate single stories but assemble a “Story” based on what they’re reading. A bookmarklet browser extension could have allowed for additional, non-Reader stories to be added as well.

We may know more about Google’s Stamp later this week as the company is said to be testing it in the very near future. But the company is now following a trend it could have innovated and which may be the wrong model for an all-inclusive media world.

Deciding to Retweet More

A few days ago I was looking over my recent Tweets to find a link to a story I know I’d seen recently and wanted to reference. As I was doing so I realized almost all my updates were either 1) My own posts, either with links or just random thoughts/asides or 2) Quote RTs, where I’m adding my own commentary to what someone else has posted.

That felt kind of wrong as I looked at it. It felt egotistical. It felt self-aggrandizing. Anyone who knows me knows that presenting myself as the end-all-be-all like that isn’t something I’m super-comfortable with.

There’s a bit of debate about how good a user experience the Quote RT format on Twitter is. On the one hand, you’re still amplifying someone else and showing off their update. On the other, you’re implying on some level that your own thoughts are superior and that the original should be subordinated.

To date I’ve been a fan of the Quote RT format. I kind of see it as the new version of writing a blog post that links to someone else’s original, adding your own thoughts and perspective in your new post. I want to show off someone else’s thoughts and add on to it in some manner.

What made me realize there’s a big ego-driven difference was that when looking at my series of updates, I kept seeing my own face staring back at me time and time again. A whole Tweetdeck column of my face next to some text and maybe a link and photo or GIF. That’s…not great. Specifically, it doesn’t fully embody the spirit of community I think Twitter offers.

“Do what you do best and link to the rest” was a common phrase in the early days of blogging. It meant you should focus on what you’re an expert in or where you have something original to say and then offer links to other interesting material from other people who have done likewise. I’m deciding I’m going to start doing something similar on Twitter going forward.

I’ll still be publishing plenty of original updates with links to either my blog posts or stories I think are interesting. That will be aided by some changes I made to my personal editorial calendar to help me spread Tweets out a bit and not bunch them all into the hour a day I spend cleaning out saved stories in Pocket.

Along with that, though, I’m going to commit to straight Retweets more often. I don’t need to chime in with my two cents every time. It’s usually alright to let the original Tweet speak for itself. More than that, I want to emphasize the knowledge of those in my network. These are good, smart people, and amplifying is a way I can help expose their expertise and experience to those who follow me, without me getting in the way. Not that I’ll stop using the Quote RTs feature completely, but I’m making a conscious effort to pull back on that.

Doing so still allows me to curate their updates under my own profile, which is good for me. But it also is better for them since their words are emphasized more straightforwardly. It’s the best approach I can think of that is in-line with today’s social world and still embodies that “…link to the rest” ethos from the early days.

Even more importantly, it means I’m not creating an ego-driven wall of updates with my own face next to them. My social media usage is, of course, meant to accomplish specific goals as I discussed before. But I believe curation is an important tactic in those efforts, and doing more RTing of those I follow more effectively and selflessly helps me do that.

Paid Tweetdeck Features are Coming Years Late

Reports circulated last week that Twitter is in the process of building a set of enhanced features for Tweetdeck, the “power user” publishing and management tool it bought a few years ago, that would add a paid tier to the free product. Those features include a dashboard offering insights on trending topics as well as analytics for people to view how their Tweets are performing.

This kind of additional feature set makes a lot of sense for Tweetdeck. If you’re not familiar with it, Tweetdeck is for serious usage of Twitter, already allowing for easy List management and viewing as well as the creation of columns tracking hashtag or keyword searches. This isn’t for the casual user, it’s for people who are managing multiple accounts, tracking different Lists of people they’re following and so on. It’s heavily used by social media brand managers and others who need to make sure they’re getting as much out of Twitter as possible.

So it makes a lot of sense that there would be a group of people just chomping at the bit to open their wallets (or those of their agencies/companies) to get access to these features, which are designed to make everyone’s lives easier. The problem is that these features are coming a bit late in the game to be truly differentiating. Many of the things listed in the set of upcoming potential additions are already available in similar tools like Hootsuite and others. These aren’t wholly new offerings that can keep Tweetdeck users plugged in and active.

Seven years ago, before Twitter introduced its own native analytics, when Twitter reporting was still largely the purview of just a couple third party tools, social media managers would have fallen over themselves to pay for the kind of features that are reported to be coming soon to Tweetdeck. But now we’re in a world where these kinds of numbers are widely available through other systems, many of which are already being paid for. We’re also at a place where Twitter is under more fire (sometimes self-inflicted) than ever before. Every six months there’s another round of “will Twitter survive/who will buy it” press speculation, casting the company’s future as being ever in doubt.

The key differentiating value proposition here is that people would be able to manage even more from within the single Tweetdeck dashboard/interface. That’s attractive, sure, but it also mimics functionality that is still already available elsewhere. But for those who aren’t already Tweetdeck aficionados there’s little here to make them consider a switchover.

Finally, this seems like the kind of thing a developer community – the kind Twitter used to have and cultivate until several years ago – would have built on their own. But that community isn’t anywhere what it once was because Twitter decided to essentially shut it down, exerting control over the API and making sure that the product was controlled more tightly since it impacted ad buying and display.

These enhanced features are still in the planning stages, so it remains to be seen what they’ll wind up looking like when they are officially rolled out. The one thing that seems certain is that this is the type of feature set that is at least six or seven years late, at least from the perspective of those for whom Tweetdeck is an essential part of their daily engagement, monitoring and publishing routine.