Facebook wants to help connect brands to creators so they can work out sponsored content and product placement deals, even if it won’t be taking a cut. Confirming our scoop from May, Facebook today launched its Brand Collabs Manager. It’s a search engine that brands can use to browse different web celebrities based on the demographics of their audience and porfolios of their past sponsored content.
Creators hoping to score sponsorship deals will be able to compile a portfolio connected to their Facebook Page that shows off how they can seamlessly work brands into their content. Brands will also be able to find them based on the Top countries where they’re popular, and audience characteristics like interests, gender, education, relationship status, life events, or home ownership.
Facebook also made a wide range of other creator monetization announcements today
Facebook’s Creator app that launched on iOS in November rolled out globally on Android today. The Creator app lets content makers add intros and outros to Live broadcasts, cross-post content to Twitter and Instagram, see a unified inbox of their Facebook and Instagram comments plus Messenger chats, and more ways to connect with fans.
Ad Breaks, or mid-video commercials, are rolling out to more US creators, starting with those that make longer and original content with loyal fans. Creators keep 55 percent of the ad revenue from the ads.
Patreon-Style Subscriptions are rolling out to more creators, letting them charge fans $4.99 per month for access to exclusive behind the scenes content plus a badge that highlights that they’re a patron. Facebook also offers microtransaction tipping of video creators through its new virtual currency called Stars.
Top Fan Badges that highlight a creator’s most engaged fans will now roll out more broadly after a strong initial reaction to tests in March.
Rights Manager, which lets content owners upload their videos so Facebook can fingerprint them and block others from uploading them, is now available for creators not just publishers.
Facebook also made a big announcement today about the launch of interactive video features and its first set of gameshows built with them. Creators can add quizzes, polls, gamification, and more to their videos so users can play along instead of passively viewing. Facebook’s Watch hub for original content is also expanding to a wider range of show formats and creators.
Facebook needs the hottest new content from creators if it wants to prevent users’ attention from slipping to YouTube, Netflix, Twitch, and elsewhere. But to keep creators loyal, it has to make sure they’re earning money off its platform. The problem is, injecting Ad Breaks that don’t scare off viewers can be difficult, especially on shorter videos.
But Vine proved that six-seconds can be enough to convey a subtle marketing message. A startup called Niche rose to arrange deals between creators and brands who wanted a musician to make a song out of the windows and doors of their new Honda car, or a comedian to make a joke referencing Coca-Cola. Twitter eventually acquired Niche for a reported $50 million so it could earn money off Vine without having to insert traditional ads. [Disclosure: My cousin Darren Lachtman was a co-founder of Niche.]
Vine naturally attracted content makers in a way that Facebook has had some trouble with. YouTube’s sizable ad revenue shares, Patreon’s subscriptions, and Twitch’s fan tipping are pulling creators away from Facebook.
So rather than immediately try to monetize this sponsored content, Facebook is launching the Brand Collabs Manager to prove to creators that it can get them paid indirectly. Facebook already offered a way for creators to tag their content with disclosure tags about brands they were working with. But now it’s going out of its way to facilitate the deals. Fan subscriptions and tipping come from the same motive: letting creators monetize through their audience rather than the platform itself.
Spinning up these initiatives to be more than third-rate knockoffs of Niche, YouTube, Patreon, and Twitch will take some work. But hey, it’s cheaper for Facebook than paying these viral stars out of pocket.
Rather than build its own HQ trivia competitor, Facebook is launching a gameshow platform. Today the company announced a new set of interactive live and on-demand video features that let creators adds quizzes, polls, challenges, and gamification so players can be eliminated from a game for a wrong answer. The features could help Facebook achieve its new mission to push healthier active video consumption rather than passive zombie watching that hurts people’s well-being. Creators and publishers who want early access can sign up here.
Gameshow launch partners include Fresno’s What’s In The Box where viewers guess what’s inside, and BuzzFeed News’ Outside Your Bubble where contestants have to guess what their opponents are thinking. Plus, Facebook is testing the ability to award prize money with (Business) INSIDER’s Confetti, where viewers answer trivia questions and can see friends’ responses, with winners splitting the cash.
“Video is evolving away from just passive consumption to more interactive two-way formats”, Simo tells TechCrunch. “We think creators will want to reward people. If this is something that works will with Insider and Confetti, we may consider rolling out payments tools.”
When asked if Facebook was inspired by HQ, Simo repeatedly dodged the question and avoiding mentioning the startup’s name, but relented in saying “I think they’re part of a much broader trend that is making content interactive. We’ve seen that across much more than one player.”
Facebook won’t be taking a share of the prize money in this test. For now, it’s also forgoing its cut of its $4.99 per month subscriptions option that lets fans pay for exclusive content, which rolls out today to more creators. Facebook also just launched its Brand Collabs Manager that we scooped in May, which helps brands browse creators by demographic and portfolio so they can set up sponsored content and product placement deals.
The new interactive video features will be available to all publishers and creators, alongside the global launch of the Android version of Facebook’s Creator app for web celebs. The tools range from offering basic in-video polls to creating a full trivia gameshow. Creators and will be able to write out their trivia questions and designate correct answers, as well as “write down the logic of the game” says Simo.
While polls will work for Live and on-demand videos, gamification that impacts the outcome of the broadcast is only for Live. Brent Rivera and That Chick Angel are two creators who will be testing the features in the coming weeks. Facebook already found that fans enjoyed polling on its Watch show Help Us Get Married, which let viewers influence the wedding planning decisions about themes and the venue.
Facebook’s last attempt at original video, its Watch hub, saw mediocre adoption as the content felt also-ran rather than something special or must-see. That’s why Facebook is expanding Watch to offer a broader range of shows for more creators, including potentially longer or non-episodic content. That includes bringing Facebook videos originally only hosted on Pages into the Watch destination.
What we’re seeing here is positioning that diverges Facebook and Instagram’s video efforts. Facebook’s might be more interactive, about playing and watching with friends, and embrace more novel new formats like mobile gameshows. Instagram, with its history of polished photos, could house more traditional high-end entertainment content.
“We’re not trying to do one show or one trivia game. We’re trying to get every creator to create such gameplay. The beauty of the creators space is that they each have a unique audience” Facebook’s VP of video product Fidji Simo tells me. With 2.2 billion users, making an in-house one-size-fits-all game may have been impossible.
Pick a category, wager a few dollars and double your money in 60 seconds if you’re smarter and faster than your opponent. Proveit offers a fresh take on trivia and game show apps by letting you win or lose cash on quick 10-question, multiple choice quizzes. Sick of waiting to battle a million people on HQ for a chance at a fraction of the jackpot? Play one-on-one anytime you want or enter into scheduled tournaments with $1,000 or more in prize money, while Proveit takes around 10 percent to 15 percent of the stakes.
“I’d play Jeopardy all the time with my family and wondered ‘why can’t I do this for money?’ ” says co-founder Prem Thomas.
Remarkably, it’s all legal. The Proveit team spent two years getting approved as “skill-based gaming” that exempts it from some laws that have hindered fantasy sports betting apps. And for those at risk of addiction, Proveit offers players and their loved ones a way to cut them off.
The scrappy Florida-based startup has raised $2.3 million so far. With fun games and a snackable format, Proveit lets you enjoy the thrill of betting at a moment’s notice. That could make it a favorite amongst players and investors in a world of mobile games without consequences.
“I could spend $50 for a three-hour experience in a movie theater, or I could spend $2 to enter a Proveit Movies tournament that gives me the opportunity to compete for several thousand dollars in prize money,” says co-founder Nathan Lehoux. “That could pay for a lot of movies tickets!”
Proving it as outsiders
St. Petersburg, Fla. isn’t exactly known as an innovation hub. But outside Tampa Bay, far from the distractions, copycatting and astronomical rent of Silicon Valley, the founders of Proveit built something different. “What if people could play trivia for money just like fantasy sports?” Thomas asked his friend Lehoux.
That’s the same pitch that got me interested when Lehoux tracked me down at TechCrunch’s SXSW party earlier this year. Lehoux is a jolly, outgoing fella who became interested in startups while managing some angel investments for a family office. Thomas had worked in banking and health before starting a yoga-inspired sandals brand. Neither had computer science backgrounds, and they’d raised just a $300,000 seed round from childhood friend Hilt Tatum who’d co-founded beleaguered real money gambling site Absolute Poker.
Yet when he Lehoux thrust the Proveit app into my hand, even on a clogged mobile network at SXSW, it ran smoothly and I immediately felt the adrenaline rush of matching wits for money. They’d initially outsourced development to an NYC firm that burned much of their initial $300,000 seed funding without delivering. Luckily, the Ukrainian they’d hired to help review that shop’s code helped them spin up a whole team there that built an impressive v1 of Proveit.
Meanwhile, the founders worked with a gaming lawyer to secure approvals in 33 states including California, New York, and Texas. “This is a highly regulated and highly controversial space due to all the negative press that fantasy sports drummed up,” says Lehoux. “We talked to 100 banks and processors before finding one who’d work with us.”
Proveit founders (from left): Nathan Lehoux, Prem Thomas
Proveit was finally legal for the three-fourths of the U.S. population, and had a regulatory moat to deter competitors. To raise launch capital, the duo tapped their Florida connections to find John Morgan, a high-profile lawyer and medical marijuana advocate, who footed a $2 million angel round. A team of grad students in Tampa Bay was assembled to concoct the trivia questions, while a third-party AI company assists with weeding out fraud.
Proveit launched early this year, but beyond a SXSW promotion, it has stayed under the radar as it tinkers with tournaments and retention tactics. The app has now reached 80,000 registered users, 6,000 multi-deposit hardcore loyalists and has paid out $750,000 total. But watching HQ trivia climb to more than 1 million players per game has proven a bigger market for Proveit.
Quiz for cash
“We’re actually fans of HQ. We play. We think they’ve revolutionized the game show,” Lehoux tells me. “What we want to do is provide something very different. With HQ, you can’t pick your category. You can’t pick the time you want to play. We want to offer a much more customized experience.”
To play Proveit, you download its iOS-only app and fund your account with a buy-in of $20 to $100, earning more bonus cash with bigger packages (no minors allowed). Then you play a practice round to get the hang of it — something HQ sorely lacks. Once you’re ready, you pick from a list of game categories, each with a fixed wager of about $1 to $5 to play (choose your own bet is in the works). You can test your knowledge of superheroes, the ’90s, quotes, current events, rock ‘n roll, Seinfeld, tech and a rotating selection of other topics.
In each Proveit game you get 10 questions, 1 at a time, with up to 15 seconds to answer each. Most games are head-to-head, with options to be matched with a stranger, or a friend via phone contacts. You score more for quick answers, discouraging cheating via Google, and get penalized for errors. At the end, your score is tallied up and compared to your opponent, with the winner keeping both player’s wagers minus Proveit’s cut. In a minute or so, you could lose $3 or win $5.28. Afterwards you can demand a rematch, go double-or-nothing, head back to the category list or cash out if you have more than $20.
The speed element creates intense, white-knuckled urgency. You can get every question right and still lose if your opponent is faster. So instead of second-guessing until locking in your choice just before the buzzer like on HQ, where one error knocks you out, you race to convert your instincts into answers on Proveit. The near instant gratification of a win or humiliation of a defeat nudge you to play again rather than having to wait for tomorrow’s game.
Proveit will have to compete with free apps like Trivia Crack, prize games like student loan repayer Givling and virtual currency-based Fleetwit, and the juggernaut HQ.
“The large tournaments are the big draw,” Lehoux believes. Instead of playing one-on-one, you can register and ante up for a scheduled tournament where you compete in a single round against hundreds of players for a grand prize. Right now, the players with the top 20 percent of scores win at least their entry fee back or more, with a few geniuses collecting the cash of the rest of the losers.
Just like how DraftKings and FanDuel built their user base with big jackpot tournaments, Proveit hopes to do the same… then get people playing little one-on-one games in-between as they wait for their coffee or commute home from work.
Gaming or gambling?
Thankfully, Proveit understands just how addictive it can be. The startup offers a “self-exclusion” option. “If you feel that you need to take greater control of your life as it relates to skill-gaming,” users can email it to say they shouldn’t play any more, and it will freeze or close their account. Family members and others can also request you be frozen if you share a bank account, they’re your dependant, they’re obligated for your debts or you owe unpaid child support.
“We want Proveit to be a fun, intelligent entertainment option for our players. It’s impossible for us to know who might have an issue with real-money gaming,” Lehoux tells me. “Every responsible real-money game provides this type of option for its users.
That isn’t necessarily enough to thwart addiction, because dopamine can turn people into dopes. Just because the outcome is determined by your answers rather than someone else’s touchdown pass doesn’t change that.
Skill-based betting from home could be much more ripe for abuse than having to drag yourself to a casino, while giving people an excuse that they’re not gambling on chance. Zynga’s titles like Farmville have been turning people into micro-transaction zombies for a decade, and you can’t even win money from them. Simultaneously, sharks could study up on a category and let Proveit’s random matching deliver them willing rookies to strip cash from all day. “This is actually one of the few forms of entertainment that rewards players financially for using their brain,” Lehoux defends.
With so much content to consume and consequence-free games to play, there’s an edgy appeal to the danger of Proveit and apps like it. Its moral stance hinges on how much autonomy you think adults should be afforded. From Coca-Cola to Harley-Davidson to Caesar’s Palace, society has allowed businesses to profit off questionably safe products that some enjoy.
For better and worse, Proveit is one of the most exciting mobile games I’ve ever played.
Tweeting our article, Systrom wrote “It’s true . . . We’re building tools that will help the IG community know more about the time they spend on Instagram – any time should be positive and intentional . . . Understanding how time online impacts people is important, and it’s the responsibility of all companies to be honest about this. We want to be part of the solution. I take that responsibility seriously.”
Now we have our first look at the tool via Jane Manchun Wong, who’s recently become one of TechCrunch’s favorite sources thanks to her skills at digging new features out of apps’ Android APK code. Though Usage Insights might change before an official launch, these screenshots give us an idea of what Instagram will include. We’ve reached out to Instagram for comment, and will update if we hear back.
This unlaunched version of Instagram’s Usage Insights tool offers users a daily tally of their minutes spent on the app. They’ll be able to set a time spent daily limit, and get a reminder once they exceed that. There’s also a shortcut to manage Instagram’s notifications so the app is less interruptive. Instagram has been spotted testing a new hamburger button that opens a slide-out navigation menu on the profile. That might be where the link for Usage Insights shows up, judging by this screenshot.
Instagram doesn’t appear to be going so far as to lock you out of the app after your limit, or fading it to grayscale which might annoy advertisers and businesses. But offering a handy way to monitor your usage that isn’t buried in your operating system’s settings could make users more mindful.
Instagram has an opportunity to be a role model here, especially if it gives its Usage Insights feature sharper teeth. For example, rather than a single notification when you hit your daily limit, it could remind you every 15 minutes after, or create some persistent visual flag so you know you’ve broken your self-imposed rule.
Instagram has already started to push users towards healthier behavior with a “You’re all caught up” notice when you’ve seen everything in your feed and should stop scrolling.
I expect more apps to attempt to self-police with tools like these rather than leaving themselves at the mercy of iOS’s Screen Time and Android’s Digital Wellbeing features that offer more drastic ways to enforce your own good intentions.
Both let you see overall usage of your phone and stats about individual apps. iOS lets you easily dismiss alerts about hitting your daily limit in an app but delivers a weekly usage report (ironically via notification), while Android will gray out an app’s icon and force you to go to your settings to unlock an app once you exceed your limit.
For Android users especially, Instagram wants to avoid looking like such a time sink that you put one of those hard limits on your use. In that sense, self-policing shows both empathy for its users’ mental health, but is also a self-preservation strategy. With Instagram slated to launch a long-form video hub that could drive even longer session times this week, Usage Insights could be seen as either hypocritical or more necessary than ever.
New time management tools coming to iOS (left) and Android (right). Images via The VergeInstagram is one of the world’s most beloved apps, but also one of the most easily abused. From envy spiraling as you watch the highlights of your friends’ lives to body image issues propelled by its endless legions of models, there are plenty of ways to make yourself feel bad scrolling the Insta feed. And since there’s so little text, no links, and few calls for participation, it’s easy to zombie-browse in the passive way research shows is most dangerous.
We’re in a crisis of attention. Mobile app business models often rely on maximizing our time spent to maximize their ad or in-app purchase revenue. But carrying the bottomless temptation of the Internet in our pockets threatens to leave us distracted, less educated, and depressed. We’ve evolved to crave dopamine hits from blinking lights and novel information, but never had such an endless supply.
There’s value to connecting with friends by watching their days unfold through Instagram and other apps. But tech giants are thankfully starting to be held responsible for helping us balance that with living our own lives.
Today Snapchat finally gets a true developer platform, confirming TechCrunch’s scoop from last month about Snap Kit. This set of APIs lets other apps piggyback on Snap’s login for sign up, build Bitmoji avatars into their keyboards, display public Our Stories and Snap Map content, and generate branded stickers with referral links users can share back inside Snapchat.
Snap Kit’s big selling point is privacy — a differentiator from Facebook. It doesn’t even let you share your social graph with apps to prevent a Cambridge Analytica-style scandal.
Launch partners include Tinder bringing Bitmojis to your chats with matches, Patreon letting fans watch creators’ Stories from within its app, and Postmates offering order ETA stickers you can share in Snapchat that open the restaurant’s page in the delivery app. Developers that want to join the platform can sign up here.
Snap Kit could help the stumbling public company colonize the mobile app ecosystem with its buttons and content, which might inspire Snapchat signups from new users and reengagement from old ones. “Growth is one of our three goals for 2018, so we absolutely hope it can contribute to that, and continue to strengthen engagement, which has always been a key metric for us” Snap’s VP of product Jacob Andreou tells me. That’s critical since Snapchat sunk to its lowest user growth rate ever last quarter under the weight of competition from Instagram and WhatsApp.
“There have been areas inside of our products where we’ve really set standards” Andreou explains. “Early, that was seen in examples like Stories, but today with things like how we treat user data, what we collect, what we share when people login and register for our service . . . Snap Kit is a set of developer tools that really allow people to take the best parts of our products and the standards that we’ve set in a few of these areas, and bring them into their apps.”
This focus on privacy manifests as a limit of 90 days of inactivity before your connection with an app is severed. And the login feature only requires you bring along your changeable Snapchat display name, and optionally, your Bitmoji. Snap Kit apps can’t even ask for your email, phone number, gender, age, location, who you follow, or who you’re friends with.
“It really became challenging for us to see our users then use other products throughout their day and have to lower their expectations. . . having to be okay with the fact that all of their information and data would be shared” Andreou gripes. This messaging is a stark turnaround from four years ago when it took 10 days for CEO Evan Spiegel to apologize for security laziness causing the leak of 4 million users’ phone numbers. But now with Facebook as everyone’s favorite privacy punching bag, Snapchat is seizing the PR opportunity.
“I think one of the parts that [Spiegel] was really excited about with this release is how much better our approach to our users in that way really is — without relying on things like policy or developer’s best intentions or them writing perfect bug free code, but instead by design, not even exposing these things to begin with.”
Yet judging by Facebook’s continued growth and recovered share price, privacy is too abstract of a concept for many people to grasp. Snap Kit will have to win on the merits of what it brings other apps, and the strength of its partnerships team. Done right, Snapchat could gain an army of allies to battle the blue menace.
Snap’s desire to maintain an iron grip on its ‘cool’ brand has kept its work with developers minimal until now. Its first accidental brush with a developer platform was actually a massive security hazard.
Third-party apps promising a method to secretly screenshot messages asked users to login with their Snapchat usernames and passwords, then proceeded to get hacked, exposing some users’ risqué photos. Snap later cut off an innocent music video app called Mindie for finding a way to share to users’ Stories. Last year I wrote how A year ago I urged it to build a platform in my article “Snap’s anti-developer attitude is an augmented liability”, as it needs help to populate the physical world with AR.
2017 saw Snap cautiously extend the drawbridge, inviting in ads, analytics, and marketing developer partners to help brands be hip, and letting hacker/designers make their own AR lenses. But the real transition moment was when Spiegel said on the Q4 2017 earnings call that “We feel strongly that Snapchat should not be confined to our mobile application—the amazing Snaps created by our community deserve wider distribution so they can be enjoyed by everyone.”
At the time that meant Snaps on the web, embedded in news sites, and on Jumbotrons. Today it means in other apps. But Snap will avoid one of the key pitfalls of the Facebook platform: over-promising. Snap Deputy General Counsel for Privacy Katherine Tassi tells me “It was also very important to us that there wasn’t going to be the exchange of the friends graph as part of the value proposition to third party developers.”
How Snap Kit Works
Snap Kit breaks down to four core pieces of functionality that will appeal to different apps looking to simplify signup, make communication visual, host eye-catching content, or score referral traffic. Developers that want access to Snap Kit must pass a human review and approval process. Snap will review their functionality to ensure they’re not doing anything shady.
Once authorized, they’ll have access to these APIs:
Login Kit is the foundation of Snap Kit. It’s an OAuth-style alternative to Facebook Login that lets users skip creating a proprietary username and password by instead using their Snapchat credentials. But all the app gets is their changeable, pseudonym-allowed Snapchat display name, and optionally, their Bitmoji avatar to use as a profile pic if the user approves. Getting that login button in lots of apps could remind people Snapchat exists, and turn it into a fundamental identity utility people will be loathe to abandon.
Creative Kit is how apps will get a chance to create stickers and filters for use back in the Snapchat camera. Similar to April’s F8 launch of the ability to share from other apps to Instagram and Facebook Stories, developers can turn content like high scores, workout stats and more into stickers that users can overlay on their Snaps to drive awareness of the source app. Developers can also set a deep link where those stickers send people to generate referral traffic, which could be appealing to those looking to tap Snap’s 191 million teens.
Bitmoji Kit lets developers integrate Snapchat’s personalized avatars directly into their app’s keyboard. It’s an easy path to making chat more visually expressive without having to reinvent the wheel. This follows the expansion of Friendmoji that illustrate you and a pal rolling out to the iOS keyboard. But Bitmoji Kit means developers do the integration work instead of having to depend on users installing anything extra.
Story Kit allows developers to embed Snapchat Stories into their apps and websites. Beyond specific Stories, apps can also search through public Stories submitted to Our Story or Snap Map by location, time, or captions. A journalism app could surface first-hand reports from the scene of breaking news or a meme app could pull in puppy Snaps. The company will add extra reminders to the Our Story submission process to ensure users know their Stories could appear outside of Snapchat’s own app.
One thing that’s not in Snap Kit, at least yet, is the ability to embed Snapchat’s whole software camera into other apps which TechCrunch erroneously reported. Our sources mistakenly confused Creative Kit’s ability to generate stickers as opposed to sharing whole stories, which Andreou called “an interesting first step” for making Snapchat the broadcast channel for other apps.
Additional launch partners include bringing Bitmoji to Quip’s word processor, RSVP stickers from Eventbrite, GIF-enhanced Stories search in Giphy, Stories from touring musicians in Bands In Town, storytelling about your dinner reservation on Quandoo, music discovery sharing from SoundHound, and real-time sports score sharing from ScoreStream.
While other platforms have escaped their host’s control, like Facebook’s viral game spam outbreak in 2009 or Twitter having to shut down errant clients, Snapchat’s approval process will let it direct the destiny of its integrations.
Bitmoji Kit in Tinder
When asked why Snapchat was building Snap Kit, Andreou explained that “We think that giving people more tools to be able to express themselves freely, have fun and be creative, both on Snapchat and other apps is a good thing. We also think that helping more people outside of Snapchat learn about our platform and our features is a good thing. And most importantly, being able to do this in a way that doesn’t compromise our users’ privacy is very good thing.”
Without much data sharing, there’s a lot less risk here for Snapchat. But the platform won’t have the same draw that Facebook can dangle with its massive user base and extensive personal info access. Instead, Snapchat will have to leverage the fear of being left out of the visual communication era and tout itself as the catalyst for apps to evolve. The biggest driver of the platform might be youngins demanding their Bitmoji everywhere.
Snap needs all the help it can get right now. If other apps are willing to be a billboard for it in exchange for some of its teen-approved functionality, Snapchat could find new growth channels amidst stiff competition. Platforms can entrench apps. And after its user count shrunk in March, Snap has to find a way to keep from disappearing
Facebook is hoping to avoid another privacy scandal by adding new accountability and transparency requirements for businesses that use its Custom Audiences too to target you with ads based on your email address or phone number. Starting July 2nd, advertisers will have to declare whether contact info uploaded for ad targeting was collected with proper user consent by them, one of their partners, or both. Users will be able to see this info if they opt to block future ads from that business.
Companies can only share Custom Audiences info with partners like ad agencies if they’re formally connected through Facebook’s business manager tool. And Facebook will start to show advertisers reminders that they need consent for contact info ad targeting and force all users connected to an ad account to confirm these terms.
The new consent tool launch confirms TechCrunch’s scoop from March that Facebook would crack down Custom Audiences targeting without consent. Facebook has always technically required consent, but it hasn’t necesssarily done much to enforce those rules. That same approach to API rules produced the Cambridge Analytica debacle.
Custom Audiences is one of Facebook’s most valuable revenue generators because it allows businesses to hit up their former customers to buy more. A scandal surrounding the targeting mechanism could be seriously detrimental to the social network’s business in a way that the rest of its recent public image problems haven’t, judging by the recovery of Facebook’s share price.
Since 2012, Facebook has offered Custom Audiences as a way for businesses to upload privacy-safe hashed lists of customer contact info. Facebook matches that against its users’ info to show them the business’ ads, rather than companies having to pay to try to reach those people through demographic targeting. That way, a company that already sold you a car and got your email signup could targeting you a few years later with ads to trade in and buy a new vehicle. Businesses can also use Facebook’s lookalikes targeting to reach people with similar characteristics to their existing customers.
Now at least Facebook will show this “Original Data Source” field asking who collected the uploaded phone numbers or emails. Users can check out this info if they click the “Why Am I Seeing This Ads?” button in the drop-down. However, Facebook stops short of scanning the lists for suspicious info, such as blocks of contact info that match hacked or purchased data sets.
That means Facebook is trusting advertisers to tell the truth about consent for targeting…despite them having a massive financial incentive to bend of break those rules. Today’s update will give Facebook more plausible deniability in the event of a scandal, and it might deter misuse. But Facebook is stopping short of doing anything to actually prevent non-consensual ad targeting.
Well Snap is stepping up. Snapchat will let you retract your risque, embarassing, or incriminating messages thanks to a new feature called Clear Chats that’s rolling out globally over the next few weeks.
Hold down on a text, image, video, memory, sticker, or audio note in a one-on-one or group chat Snapchat message thread and you’ll see a Delete button. Tap it, and Snapchat will try to retract the message, though it admits it won’t always work if the recipient lacks an internet connection or updated version of the app. The recipient will also be notified…something Facebook didn’t do in the case of Zuckerberg’s messages.
The Clear Chats feature could make people more comfortable sending sensitive information over Snapchat. The app already auto-deletes messages after they’re viewed unless a recipient chooses to screenshot or Save them, which their conversation partner can see. This could be especially useful for thwarting cases of revenge porn, where hackers or jilted ex-lovers expose someone’s nude images.
Unfortunately, the Clear Chats option could also be used to send then retract abusive messages, destroying the paper trail. Social media evidence is increasingly being used in divorce and custody battles, which an unsend feature might undermine…especially if Facebook goes through with rolling it out on its platform where messages are normally permanent. But right now, Snapchat’s priority is doing whatever it can to boost usage after hitting its slowest growth rate ever last quarter. If teens feel like Snapchat is a consequence-free place to message, whether or not that’s true, they might favor it over SMS and other social apps.
Until now, you could only buy v2 on Snap’s website. That’s because Snapchat’s eagerness to develop a bevy of sales channels made it very tough to forecast demand for its lackluster v1 Spectacles. They only sold 220,000. That led to hundreds of thousands of pairs gathering dust unsold in warehouses, and Snapchat taking an embarrassing $40 million write-off.
“We had an inventory challenge with v1” Snap’s VP of hardware Mike Randall told me in April. “We don’t think it was a product issue. It was an internal understanding our demand issue vs a planning issue. So we think by having a more simplistic channel strategy with v2 we can more thoughtfully manage demand with v2 vs v1.” Working with Amazon and its robust toolset should help Snap get Spectacles in front of more buyers without obscuring how many it should be manufacturing.
Still, the worst thing about Spectacles is Snapchat. The inability to dump footage directly to your phone’s camera roll, and the incompatibility of its round media format with other social networks means it’s tough to share your Spetacles content anywhere else while making it look good. Snap has experimented with a traditional landscape export format, but that hasn’t rolled out. Spetacles could strongly benefit from Snap partnering with fellow apps or open sourcing to let others show its circular always-full-screen format in all its glory.
Merchants can use the Snap Pixel to measure how their ads lead to sales. The ability to shave down the ecommerce conversion funnel could get advertisers spending more on Snapchat when it could use the dollars. Last quarter it lost $385 million and missed its revenue target by $14 million.
Snapchat is also bringing its augmented reality advertisements to its self-serve ad buying tool. They’re sold on an effective CPM basis for $8 to $20 depending on targeting. Snapchat is also turning its new multiplayer game filters called Snappables into ads.
Overall, it’s good to see Snapchat iterating across its software, hardware, and business units. Plagued by executive departures, fierce competition from Facebook, a rough recent earnings report, and share price troubles, it’s easy to imagine the team getting distracted. The long-term roadmap is fuzzy. With Stories becoming more popular elsewhere, Spectacles sales not being enough to right the ship, and Instagram preparing to launch a long-form video hub that competes with Snapchat Discover, Snap needs to figure out its identity. Perhaps that will hinge on some flashy new feature that captures the imagination of the youth. But otherwise, it must lock in for a long-haul of efficient and methodical improvement. If it’s not growing, the best it can do is hold on to its core audience and squeeze as many dollars out of them as possible without looking desperate.