Image via Dennis Skley under CC BY-ND 2.0

Social Media News You Need to Know: January 2016 Roundup

After the hustle and bustle of the holidays, January can often feel like a bit of a letdown, excitement-wise. Luckily, there are plenty of new social network updates and features to be stoked about—Twitter’s considering opening up their character limit to an astronomical 10,000 characters and Facebook’s planning to (finally) roll out Reactions so that we can do more than simply like a post.

Maybe January isn’t so bad after all.

And the best part is, you don’t have to lift a finger. We’ve done the hard work of rounding up all of the hottest news to keep you in the know. So this January, all you need to do is sit back and catch up.


Conversational ads

Twitter introduced conversational ads on January 5. The new ads, intended to drive consumer engagement, allow companies to include call to action buttons and customizable hashtags. When a user clicks on the CTA button, conversation ads will open their Tweet composer, pre-populated with a brand message, accompanied by the hashtag buttons. The user can edit the Tweet to their liking, then share with their followers. After that, the user will receive a message from the brand thanking them for engaging with the Tweet. The Tweet that appears in the user’s timeline will include the original message that they interacted with. Revenue product manager Andrew Bragdon explained: “Each shared Tweet is powerful because it drives earned media for the brand at no extra cost, resulting in higher ROI.” The announcement blog post adds that, “conversational ads are currently available in beta for select advertisers in all markets” and that U.S. advertisers can track the impact of ads on their TrueVoice using Brand Hub.


Twitter considers moving ‘Beyond 140’

The social media platform that built a name for itself around the premise of short updates featuring 140 characters (or less) is considering a character count change. A big one. Tech blog re/code reports—citing “multiple sources familiar with the company’s plans”— that Twitter is considering a 10,000 character limit, supposedly to be launched toward the end of Q1. It’s the same character count the company implemented for direct messages in August 2015. According to re/code, people inside the company are referring to the project as “Beyond 140.” The rumored change may seek to maintain the existing timeline experience by displaying the first 140 characters of Tweets with an option to view the rest. Twitter may also implement a limit on users tagged per Tweet, re/code speculated, due to spam concerns.

Celeb apps

In early January, Twitter launched three new app features geared towards celebrity users—Twitter Camera, Twitter Q&A, and Twitter Challenger—according to Mashable. Twitter Camera is a “custom photo experience” that allows stars to create GIFs and videos to share directly to Twitter. Twitter Challenger is a reinvention of Twitter Mirror, which encouraged celebs to snap backstage selfies. It gives fans the chance to challenge their favorite stars to do certain tasks. At the 2015 Teen Choice Awards, famous attendees were challenged to do the Whip/Nae Nae. Twitter Q&A gives stars the ability to answer questions from fans under special hashtags. It’s described as a “mini press junket.” Jinen Kamdar, the global director of product at Twitter, told TechCrunch: “We encourage partners to basically post really great native, rich, unique content. They know that if they do that they will likely get featured in Moments, what we’re doing is [offering] a tool to make that easier.” The features—which have been “quietly available for months” according to Mashable—are currently only available to a select few celebrity Twitter users.  

Twitter Flight School open to all marketers

On January 11, Twitter opened up Flight School, their free online education program, to advertisers around the world. Twitter first launched Flight School in 2014 for agencies. Since then nearly 15,000 people have completed the coursework. Now, they’ve released a version for non-agency marketers. When students sign up, they’re asked to choose a “flight path” specific to their job. Clodagh O’Brien, Flight School program manager, explained in the announcement blog post: “Executives can learn how to use Twitter to build their personal brands and inspire thought leadership, while mid-level marketers can brush up on day-to-day Twitter content planning and budget allocation.” Courses within Flight School include: Twitter 101, How to create and manage objective-based campaigns, How to integrate Twitter into a TV campaign, and How to drive website traffic and conversions. Sign up at


Messenger Bots

This month, Facebook gave some developers access to an unannounced Chat SDK that allows them to build “bots” in Messenger, reported TechCrunch. The Chat SDK access gives them the opportunity to create interactive experiences for shopping, booking travel, and other experiences. TechCrunch explains: “The Chat SDK allows developers to create bots that users can send text messages to directly and that automatically respond with information, images, location services, product prices, Buy buttons, and more. The Chat SDK can also tap into Messenger built-in payments system to let users make purchases via bots.”

Uber on Messenger
As we shared earlier this year at F8 (our developer conference) we’re building ways for you to interact with the businesses and services you care about right from Messenger. We believe that by doing so, we can provide more convenience and utility for both people and businesses.With group chats, Messenger is the best place to make plans with friends and family — 700 million of you do this worldwide. But why stop there? Plans are only as good as the follow-through. So I’m very excited to announce the launch of our transportation platform — to get you where you need to go faster, with your friends. This new capability will enable you to request a ride, receive updates on your driver’s status, and notify your friends without ever leaving Messenger and your conversations.I’m also thrilled to launch this new experience with Uber. And to celebrate this moment together, you will get a free ride (up to $20 value) for a limited time. All you have to do is link your existing Uber account or setup a new one within Messenger and request a ride.To get started as of this afternoon, make sure you have the latest version of Messenger. Then, from within a conversation, tap the more menu (…) and choose Transportation. You can also search directly for Uber from the Inbox and tap the car icon in the composer to request a ride.As always, please try this new experience, enjoy your free ride, and let us know how we can make it even better for you!

Posted by David Marcus on Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Lead Ads

On January 19, Facebook added two new features to lead ads, which initially launched in October 2015. The new features give businesses the opportunity to let people know more about what they’re signing up for. According to the announcement blog post: “A context card is an added (and optional) tile that pops up after someone clicks on a lead ad but before they get to the form, giving businesses a place to offer more details on the information people are signing up for.” Additionally, lead ads can now utilize carousel format which showcases three to five images and headlines before people click to the lead form. Lead ads are also now available on desktop as well as mobile.


Sports Stadium

On January 20, Facebook launched Sports Stadium, “a dedicated place to experience sports in real-time with your friends and the world.” Sports Stadium is intended to bring all the content on Facebook related to the game—such as posts from friends and comments on plays, posts and commentary from experts (teams, leagues, and journalists), live scores, stats, play-by-play, and game info—into one place. Steve Kafka, product manager, explained in the announcement blog post: “It’s a second-screen experience that we hope makes watching the broadcast even better.” Sports Stadium is currently available for American football games. It will “support other sports around the world like basketball, soccer, and more soon.” It’s available now on iPhone in the U.S. and “will expand to other platforms in the coming weeks.”



After initially announcing Reactions in October 2015, Facebook has indicated the feature will roll out to U.S. users “in the next few weeks,” reports Bloomberg Business. Reactions adds five new emoji responses to Facebook’s ubiquitous like button: Love, Haha, Wow, Angry, and Sad. A sixth button meant to indicate Yay was also planned, but was rejected because “it was not universally understood,” according to a Facebook spokesperson. According to Bloomberg, Facebook’s chief product officer Chris Cox explained the feature to a crowd of reporters in Japan: “You can love something, you can be sad about something, you can laugh out loud at something. We know on phones people don’t like to use keyboards, and we also know that the like button does not always let you say what you want.” The feature has been tested in Spain, Ireland, Chile, the Philippines, Portugal, and Colombia.  



Spotlight Compilations

On January 6, TechCrunch reported that Instagram has started running everyday spotlight compilations. These “vertical slideshows of the best videos related to a theme, like ‘Dynamic Duos—Odd Couple Animal Videos’ or ‘Ramped Up—Rad Skateboarding Videos.’” appear in the Spotlight section atop the Explore tab. The feature had previously been reserved for holidays, with Instagram making them for Halloween, Thanksgiving, the winter holidays, and New Year’s. Due to their popularity, Instagram’s community team began to create them for non-holiday themes. Gabe Madway, Instagram’s communications manager, told TechCrunch that Spotlight is “where you go to discover things you don’t follow but might end up following. Things you never expected to see. Every piece of content there has attribution. That is something we hope will spread the word about the talented people who use the platform.”

Image viaTechCrunch
Image viaTechCrunch


Super Bowl

On January 20, YouTube announced that it’s opening up its Real-time ads beta to more brands. The announcement blog post explained: “With Real-time ads, brands will be able to instantly run an ad across YouTube, hundreds of thousands of apps, and over 2 million sites in our Google Display Network with a message that ties directly to the big moment people just experience live.” The Real-time ads feature was discussed in YouTube’s post about the Super Bowl, alongside their AdBlitz website. Real-time ads will roll out more broadly later this year.

Image via under CC0 1.0
Image via under CC0 1.0


Closed Lens Store

On January 8, Snapchat shuttered its Lens Store. Initially launched in November 2015, Snapchat’s Lens Store allowed users to purchase lenses for reuse. The change does not mean that Snapchat is doing away with lenses, however. The messaging app will still offer users a rotating selection of 10 free lenses per day (up from seven previously, reported TechCrunch), including sponsored lenses. Users who purchased lenses from the Lens Store will continue to be able to use them. According to Mashable, the company will eventually offer lenses once available in the Lens Store to users for free, though the most popular ones won’t be there anytime soon.

Working on API

Snapchat is working on an application programming interface (API), reports Digiday. This would “let partners start buying ads with more precision and frequency,” according to Digiday. They also report that Snapchat has reached out to ad tech companies and agencies to ask them what they would need from API software. The article notes that “since Snapchat is just now starting to plan an API, it could still be months or even close to a year before one fully launches.” Digiday explains that opening an API is a critical step because it allows for more types of ads, such as ones with calls to actions, along with better targeting.

Image via Digiday
Image via Digiday

Leak: video calling and stickers

Snapchat may be overhauling some of its text and video chat features, reported Mashable. Several tech publications are sharing leaked images of the new features taken by developers from Snapprefs. The features were hidden within the code in the Snapchat APK (Android application), reported TechCrunch. The potential new features include more advanced video calling, audio only calling, and stickers.

Image via Mashable


Live broadcast on Twitter

On January 12, Periscope launched live broadcast on Twitter. In the announcement blog post, Periscope explained: “Whenever a broadcast is shared on Twitter, you tap the link to open the Periscope app. Today we’re replacing those links with the broadcast itself, autoplaying right within the Tweet.” The video will also go full-screen and display Periscope comments and hearts. Users do not need the Periscope app or a Periscope account to view content. Periscope added: “For everyone on Twitter, there’s now a richer experience in your home timeline, search results, and on anyone’s profile who’s share a Periscope.” In Twitter’s announcement blog post, Periscope CEO and co-founder Kayvon Beykpour added that this would make it easier for Twitter users to see both live broadcasts and replays, directly in Tweets.

Periscope directly from GoPro

On January 26, Periscope announced a new GoPro integration that will give users the ability to broadcast from a GoPro HERO 4 camera directly to Periscope for iPhone. They explained in the announcement blog post: “We’ve seen people put their phones in some precarious situations—they’ve been taped to drones, tied to balloons, and submerged underwater. Creativity always finds a way, but we wanted to make it a little bit easier.” Users will be able to switch between their GoPro and iPhone cameras. There’s also a news button that will lock phone screens so that buttons won’t be pressed while they sit in users’ pockets. Tony Bates, president of GoPro, said in the post: “GoPro enables people to capture and share their experiences in the most immersive way possible, and the integration with Periscope provides GoPro users with a great, real-time platform to share their content.” According to The Verge, “The GoPro will still save any video recorded during the broadcast to the camera’s SD card.”



On January 18, WhatsApp announced that it’s doing away with subscription fees. The announcement blog post explained that for many years, users would be asked to pay a fee to use WhatsApp after the first year. The post said: “Many WhatsApp users don’t have a debit or credit card number and they worried they’d lose access to their friends and family after their first year. So over the next several weeks, we’ll remove fees from the different version of our app and WhatsApp will no longer charge you for our service.” The post noted that this change does not mean that they’re introducing third-party ads. They are, however, going to be testing tools that allow users to communicate with businesses and organizations that they want to hear from, such as chatting with an airline about a delayed flight. Tech blog re/code noted that users who have already paid their 99 cent subscription for the year will not be getting that fee back.

Image via Microsiervos under CC BY 2.0
Image via Microsiervos under CC BY 2.0


GIF button added on iOS

On January 14, Tumblr added a GIF button to its iOS app. Now Tumblr users on iPhones will be able to tap the GIF button to search for a GIF to add to their post. In their announcement post, Tumblr explained: “This button turns your feelings into GIFs, then inserts those GIFs into your posts. Web and Android users have had it for a little while, and now the triumvirate is complete.”



Trends on Vine

This month Vine celebrated its third year of operation with the announcement of Trends on Vine. Jason Mante, head of UX, wrote: “More than ever, Vine is the place where trends begin and blow up. This new site makes it easy for you to discover and dig into the stories behind some of our most notable trends—many of which extend beyond our phones, influence culture, and reach millions of people around the world.” On the Trends on Vine page, the concept is explained further: “What you see here is just the beginning of us collecting the stories behind influential Vine trends.”



On January 21, six-person startup Zula launched ZCast, reports The Verge. The new app aims to do for audio what Periscope did for video. ZCast gives users the ability to start a live audio recording from their smartphone or computer. Links to the session can be shared to Twitter, where users can invite others to join. Those listening to the broadcast can leave comments in real time and broadcasters can reply either via chat or live on the air. The Verge explains: “Zula wants ZCast to be a collaborative affair much in the same way listeners can call into live radio shows.” Hillel Fuld, marketing chief of Zula, told The Verge: “Think YouTube for podcasts. No need for a studio or equipment, and you can produce, record, and distribute audio content in one place.”