Facebook News Feed Stories Carousel

Facebook Tests a New ‘Swipeable’, Stories-Like News Feed

In its 2018 Q2 earnings announcement, Facebook indicated that their revenue growth could reduce significantly if users continue the trend for focussing the majority of their viewing time on Stories, as opposed to the News Feed. Its share price dropped 20%, destroying $120 billion in the company’s value.

This is because Facebook and Messenger Stories are currently only used by 300 million people a day. An obscenely large number, yet less than 10% of Facebook’s user base. Compared to Instagram, 40% of whose users interact with Stories every day, it’s a relatively insignificant bracket.

With this in mind, Facebook is eager to preempt what’s beginning to look like a shift to Stories. So, the company has begun to experiment with a new carousel-style layout for the News Feed, that would behave in exactly the same way as Stories. The experiment also merges Feeds and Stories into the same stream. Frequent TechCrunch contributor and reverse engineering expert Jane Manchun Wong spotted the prototype for this new Feed in the Android version of Facebook, and screen-captured her findings:

https://twitter.com/wongmjane/status/1117749628340826112

As you can see, in this prototype, when a News Feed post’s header or surrounding space is tapped, users see a full-screen version of the post. From there, they can swipe left to reveal the next piece of content in the carousel, which may be one of four things:

  • Traditional News Feed posts
  • News Feed ads
  • Vertical Stories
  • Vertical Stories ads

Despite swiping to keep the carousel rotating, users are still able to Like, react or comment on Feed posts while in this interface.

Facebook's hybrid News Feed/Stories carousel
Facebook's hybrid News Feed/Stories carousel

If Facebook’s News Feed engagement is in an overall state of decline - many reports suggest it is - and Stories engagement is growing, then it’s implied that users are losing interest in the main News Feed and looking elsewhere.

Facebook confirmed to TechCrunch that it’s actively experimenting with this hybrid News Feed/Stories approach, but also noted that it's still in the very early stages of development. A Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch that “We are currently not testing this publicly” as the company must still complete the user research phase before any public experimentation.

As the importance of Facebook's News Feed slowly declines, Stories presents the most pressing area of engagement for publishers that use Facebook. To connect these two areas is to connect the area users are beginning to spend the majority of their time in with the area that, for now, is driving Facebook’s revenue. A canny move on the company’s part, and one it’s worth keeping an eye one.


The Complete Publisher's Guide to Promoting Content Via WhatsApp

The Complete Publisher's Guide To Promoting Content Via WhatsApp

WhatsApp was built for private chatting not public sharing, so using it to share news with users presents a unique set of challenges for publishers. But, a group of publishers have started to undertake WhatsApp marketing strategies to explore what’s possible with the service. A western brand may call this a necessity but still feel distanced from it. But in India, WhatsApp’s most populous market, the narrative of news consumption has unfolded to make a transition to WhatsApp not a calculation, but a natural next step.

It’s a widely-held estimate that in January 2018, Indian WhatsApp user numbers reached 300 million. It may well be even higher than this today. Remarkable, considering WhatsApp has 1.6 billion monthly users internationally. Check the rapid increase in growth rate for Indian WhatsApp users:

Indian WhatsApp User Growth
Source: http://www.businessofapps.com/data/whatsapp-statistics/

User-reported statistics reveal that 82% of Indian internet users are on the app, putting it behind Facebook (89%) and YouTube (93%) only.

Germany’s another area of significant interest. According to Axel Springer’s Hannah Schwär: 94% of young Germans favour [WhatsApp] over other social media apps. Especially in times where it’s really hard to reach a young audience via news apps or Facebook, this is a really interesting channel.’

In the run up to the 2018 German federal elections, Axel Springer attempted to devise a way to engage young voters. Their in-house team created Shotty.

What’s Shotty?

In spite of its catchy name, Shotty is not actually a chatbot. Schwär found that commercially available WhatsApp chatbots didn’t support voice messages, a feature key to Shotty. So yes, the team literally had to manage the community by hand.

Shotty worked on the basis that the editor and host record a bulletin at 5am every morning with a loose, conversational tone. Then, they would distribute it via WhatsApp at 7am. Most users reported feeling too lazy to read much news in the early hours of the morning, so audio fitted into their morning routine seamlessly.

But, Schwär told Medium that without a WhatsApp-supported technical infrastructure it’ll be difficult to scale Shotty up any further. ScoopWhoop is a great example of WhatsApp-supported infrastructure deployed effectively, allowing for indefinite growth.

What’s ScoopWhoop?

Founded in 2013 by six friends from advertising and marketing backgrounds, ScoopWhoop is best considered as India’s answer to sites like BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post. Co-founder and CEO Sattvik Mishra told Inc42 “We would go through all these sites in the US that had viral content such as Diply.com or Huffington Post or even a Buzzfeed. And we realised that this same culture was being replicated here in India.”

“All our publications around that time, apart from those in mainstream media, were American in nature, talking about their TV shows, their problems, and their issues. And the pop culture that did exist in India was US-focussed. So we decided to do something about it.”

ScoopWhoop’s WhatsApp service merely requires a user to click a button and send the automatically added ScoopWhoop contact a message, and they will begin to receive daily news updates via WhatsApp. The service is automated using MessengerPeople (then known as WhatsBroadcast); an identical setup to I AM POP, which we’ve covered in the past. It works similarly to The Quint’s WhatsApp chatbot.

What’s The Quint?

The Quint is an English and Hindi language news site founded by Raghav Bahl and Ritu Kapur. Initially, they used WhatsApp Business to distribute content with their readers. But the system restricted them to manually updating multiple 256-member WhatsApp groups, rather than one all-encompassing list. The response was overwhelming, and they quickly began to look into more efficient ways of distributing their content via WhatsApp.

Like ScoopWhoop, The Quint decided to experiment with MessengerPeople. Now, all a reader had to do was send the word ‘Start’ to the WhatsApp window, and they’d begin receiving daily news bulletins. Here’s how they look.

Bloomberg Quint's WhatsApp MessengerPeople Service
Source: https://www.messengerpeople.com/chatbots-what-is-a-whatsapp-bot-actually/

At first, The Quint tried MessengerPeople through the BloombergQuint branch of the publication, as the content is niche; stock updates, business news, etc. The user base grew rapidly, leading many users to the site and increasing and driving monetisation. This particular WhatsApp service has over 268,000 subscribers as of August 2018. And that’s just BloombergQuint; The Quint hosts a number of other channels, such as NEON and FIT.

How is WhatsApp performing in the UK?

All this hype isn’t restricted to India, of course. WhatsApp is performing brilliantly in the UK. Facebook and YouTube are the UK’s most popular social networks, both tied with 79% of social network users in the UK as of February 2018. WhatsApp, however, is the UK’s most popular chat app, with a social network user share of 58%. That tops even Facebook Messenger’s monthly active users. Here’s how the whole graph looks.

Social networks ranked by usage in the UK
Source: https://www.messengerpeople.com/whatsapp-user-base-uk/

I’m convinced. How do I use MessengerPeople?

Here’s the ‘Use Case’ for users who would like to send notifications and alerts over WhatsApp. This is likely the area which digital publishers will be most interested in.

Use Case: Notifications & Alerts

Use messaging apps to send your customers important information or updates in real-time, reaching them on their smartphone lock screen.

  • Verification – such as registration or login confirmation, two-factor authentication, etc.
  • Confirmation – for example, booking or payment confirmations.
  • Alert – delivery status, flight time changes and more.
  • Reminder – for an appointment or an unpaid bill, etc.

After signing up for the 14-day free trial, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Click on ‘Configure Test Numbers’ in the WhatsApp Business Test Users panel in the dashboard to save the test user phone numbers (yours and your colleagues’).
  2. Have you or another test user message to your channel number (which you can find in ‘WhatsApp Business Test Users’ in the Dashboard).
  3. Once this is done, navigate to the ‘Assignment’ page and assign the received ticket to any agent. It can then be replied to via WhatsApp.

For more information on how to get started with the service, head here.

Pricing starts at €699 per month, with additional packages available according to the chat answers, agents and channels the user requires. The full price breakdown and comprehensive list of features can be found here.

There’s plenty of evidence that MessengerPeople is worthwhile for publishers. Mathematics spoke to International Marketing Manager Birgit Bucher, who told us:

Our Messenger Communication Platform is based on personalized messenger customer communication. The customer contacts a business first in order to receive information and news. So naturally, there is an impressive opening rate behind that. Our clients have an average open rate of up to 90% and click-through rate of 35%.

Most WhatsApp users also have the push-notification enabled, so the message appears directly and immediately on the lock screen. This ensures maximum awareness. With the help of our platform, companies were able to increase their customer satisfaction.

Our take

Naturally, there are downsides to a WhatsApp strategy. As you’re no doubt aware, it’s not a ‘share-friendly’ platform, so requires a strategy entirely of its own, separate to that of social media channels. Also, the way that images download automatically onto users’ phones is a cumbersome frustration, occupying gallery space and potentially leading to unsubscribes.

It's always good to be careful when using startups that piggyback services like WhatsApp, but since changing from WhatsBroadcast, MessengerPeople has been officially endorsed by WhatsApp. It is one of the few official WhatsApp Business API providers worldwide. See here for their official recognition. I asked Bucher for clarity here and she explained “...there is no risk of WhatsApp cutting any numbers of our clients. You can read more about the WhatsApp Business API here.”

Here at Mathematics, we believe the proliferation of WhatsApp presents an absolutely vital opportunity to publishers. As of the time of publishing, you have the chance to be among the first British publishers utilising the platform in this way. You should take it.


Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Matthias Döpfner

Everything We Know About Facebook’s Dedicated News Tab - So Far

Recently, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sat down with Matthias Döpfner - CEO of Axel Springer - for a discussion about the roles of Facebook and journalism in a bustling digital media industry. During their conversation, which took place in Berlin and was broadcast to the world via Facebook, Zuckerberg revealed that he was considering launching a dedicated tab within Facebook for news, which would feature “high-quality, trustworthy content”. It could potentially be introduced before the end of 2019.

Zuckerberg estimates that 10-20% of Facebook’s audience would be interested in this new section. It will be free for all users, though Facebook may pay publishers whose work is featured in an effort to encourage responsible reporting. Currently, it’s not clear if Facebook would personally pay publishers or monetize this through an ad revenue share.

Perhaps this idea is evidence that Zuckerberg will aim to remain true to the promises made in his recent essay regarding Facebook’s substantial privacy and transparency issues. Perhaps it’s a savvy play engineered to ensure Facebook can continue to compete with Google and Apple on the news front. Don’t forget, Facebook has recently been confronted with new European Union copyright rules that will require it to “compensate publishers and creators for the content that appears on their websites”. These plans could have come from a place of necessity, as opposed to genuine desire for an overhaul of practice.

Facebook may hire editors to operate the news tab, but Zuckerberg told Döpfner that currently it’s unclear to what extent the content of the tab will be chosen by users or curated by editors. We do know that Facebook had to adapt its editorial strategy with trending news after being accused of intentionally stifling conservative voices. Facebook was even found by the Guardian to have given its editorial staff the ability to add or remove content from the trending bar, at their discretion. But, Zuckerberg went on to clarify: “We’re not going to have journalists making news. What we want to do is make sure that this is a product that can get people high-quality news.” All the same, Zuckerberg added: “I want to make sure that to the extent that we can that we’re funding as much high quality journalism as possible.” Döpfner replied, saying: “I’ve always been totally convinced that quality journalism in the digital world can only exist if there is also an element of paying readers.”

Mark Zuckerberg and Matthias Döpfner discuss Facebook's news tab

It appeared that Zuckerberg wasn’t too proud to take a dig at some competition, either, claiming: “We’re coming to this from a very different perspective than some of the other players in the space who view news as a way that they want to maximise their revenue” - possibly a reference to Apple News+, Apple’s recently unveiled ‘Netflix for news’ which came under fire when it was reported that it will take 50% of revenue from the service.

Another area Zuckerberg was keen to discuss was local news. Facebook’s late-2017 introduction of their ‘meaningful interactions’ algorithm saw the platform begin prioritising posts from friends and families of users. This meant that only news with the most emotionally stirring, click-driven headlines broke through to news feeds. It’s highly unusual for local stories to carry the weight of scoops on a national or international level. Facebook seems to be working to undo some damage the algorithm change brought with it; proof that the promises Zuckerberg makes in his essay on privacy may hold true? Furthermore, Zuckerberg expressed a desire to make small payments to third-party fact checkers and local news organisations.

Our take

Before Facebook changed its News Feed algorithm to prioritise ‘meaningful interactions’, the idea of users clicking to a tab to view news would have had us up in arms. Surely, to have to navigate to a separate tab is to massively compromise content impressions? Well, it depends. The user intent of a reader would potentially change, which could exchange large click volumes for fewer users - but potentially users of a higher value.

If this was the case, then hypothetically, Facebook could pay publishers according to dwell time, the same way Apple News+ does. This could make for an interesting steer away from low quality snackable content driven by clickbait headlines. For some publishers this would be great news, for others it could mean the introduction of controversial practice; articles stuffed with assets that aim to keep users stuck on a page, for instance.

We'll keep a close eye on best practice for the model if it rolls out. To be on Facebook’s news payroll could be an invaluable asset for publishers of all sizes and in all areas.

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