December 17, 2019: Instagram tests updates to Stories; Live-streaming platforms lock in exclusive contacts with top creators; Walmart shifts DTC strategy to resemble Amazon’s; YouTube updates harassment policy, leaving creators angry; Facebook, Google, and Pinterest release trend reports
Here’s what’s worth knowing this week:
Instagram Tests Two New Updates to Stories
This week, Instagram is testing two new tools for Stories.
Collaborative Stories: Select users will see a new “Group Stories” option, which enables users and their friends to collaborate on private Stories.
STC POV: Remember Threads? Yeah, no one really does. Instagram launched Threads in the beginning of September to allow users to quickly send messages, photos, and videos to those on their “close friends” lists. With “Group Stories,” Instagram appears to be bringing the Threads capability to the Instagram app itself (which it prob should have done from the get-go, but you live and you learn).
Where video and Stories continue to grow in popularity, “Group Stories” could hold a level of appeal for brand use (though it’s worth noting that Instagram Direct groups are limited to 32 people). Brands have the opportunity to use this feature to test campaign concepts before they go to market, host virtual focus groups, and create ambassador groups or “top fan” groups exclusives between brands, influencers, and consumers.
“Poses” Mode for Stories: Instagram is developing another Stories camera option that would allow users to create stop-motion style clips out of multiple images.
STC POV: As Instagram continues to release fun, new tools to keep Stories fresh, accessible, and relevant, brands should look to use them – especially because Instagram is known to bump engagement for those using its new tools. “Poses” could offer brands an opportunity to showcase successive product shots or prompt user action by providing steps to guide them through a process.
However, as with any new feature, creators will inevitably be the first-movers and the ones learning the best practices and rules of engagement. As such, brands looking to experiment with “Poses” should look to partner with creators who have also used the feature.
The War Among Live-Streaming Platforms Heats Up
As the war among online live-streaming platforms continues to heat up, leading platforms such as Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, and Microsoft are turning to exclusive deals with gamers to lock in top talent.
Exclusive deals? Tell me more.
These platforms are offering money in exchange for the streamers broadcasting themselves playing video games exclusively on the rival platforms. Typically, exclusivity for these deals only applies to live videos and doesn’t prevent streamers from posting on-demand videos to other platforms. In turn, the platforms benefit by being able to grow their advertising businesses – especially among brands looking to target younger, male viewers.
Talk to me about the competition between platforms.
Sure thing. For live viewership, Twitch leads the way. In Q3 2019, Twitch accounted for more than 76% of the more than three billion hours that people spent streaming gaming videos across Twitch, Facebook, YouTube, and Mixer during the period. Additionally, in Q3 2019, creators streamed 87.3 million hours of live video on Twitch, compared to 11.1 million hours on YouTube. For on-demand gaming uploads, however, YouTube reigns supreme. In the first half of 2019, YouTube accounted for 87 percent of on-demand gaming video uploads.
The battle for creator exclusivity among the top live-streaming platforms is resulting in lucrative deals for top talent. Like we’ve said all along, the platform that wins creators’ favor and preference will be most dominant because creators’ audiences will follow them across platforms (as seen recently with viral TikTok stars’ waterfall following on YouTube).
As the competition between social platforms continues to intensify (coinciding with the demand for top creators/talent), it’s possible that we could begin to see this trend towards exclusive contracts with top creators (i.e., mega-influencers, celebrities, athletes) expand beyond live-streaming/gaming to include other types of content deals, as well. While we have already seen this happen with traditional TV contracts and Facebook Watch, could we one day see creators signing exclusive contracts with TikTok for the creation of any music-related content? Only time will tell.
Walmart Shifts its DTC Strategy (Again)
Bonobos founder Andy Dunn’s departure from Walmart signals the latest shift in strategy around the company’s investment in its group of digitally native brands.
Back up. What was Dunn’s role at Walmart?
After Walmart acquired Bonobos in 2017, Dunn was initially brought on as Walmart’s VP of Digital Brands to help the company find other digitally-native brands to acquire. However, Dunn’s role quickly shifted to helping Walmart figure out how to launch its own digitally-native brands to reach a demographic that Walmart has long struggled with: young, affluent, urban customers. Now, with Dunn’s departure, the company has, again, rethought this strategy and has shifted to no longer focus on building purely DTC brands.
What’s the strategy now?
This time around, Walmart is honing in on brands that it can sell both online and in-store to target this elusive demographic. In doing so, Walmart has partnered with established fashion brands (i.e., Calvin Klein, Levi’s, Betsey Johnson) to sell on its website and has begun launching its own private label brands. Note that these aren’t quite differentiated strategies, as they are being replicated by one of Walmart’s biggest competitors; you guessed it, Amazon.
With Walmart focusing on building brands that it can sell both online and in-store, it hopes to increase sales without burning as much money on shopping costs or digital advertising. In doing so, Walmart discovered that, in order to attract these upscale brands to sell on its website, an updated experience was needed. Walmart leveraged IGC on its website (in addition to ratings and reviews) and also provided a dedicated space where influencers can highlight their favorite fashion pieces from Walmart.com, helping to aid in exposure and sales for these brands.
While this is definitely a start, Walmart may need to do more if it wants to compete with the likes of Amazon. In fact, Amazon is going one step further and co-developing its own DTC lines with brands and influencers. With influencer-to-consumer (ITC) brands emerging as the new disruptors and challengers, Amazon is staying ahead of its competition.
YouTube Updates Another Policy and Angers Creators
What are the policy updates?
YouTube will “no longer allow content that maliciously insults someone based on protected attributes such as their race, gender expression, or sexual orientation.” The policy also takes a more stringent approach toward ongoing patterns of harassment, even including toxic commentators.
And creators are angry because…?
For some of the platform’s OG creators, they fear that the new policy change, which expands YouTube’s definition of threats and strengthens penalties for repeated patterns of harassment, might be unequally and unfairly applied across the site. Users have also expressed anger at what they view as a larger trend of YouTube making changes to the platform that threaten community expression and ultimately allow content by networks to flourish at the expense of smaller creators. However, the larger issue at play is not necessarily this policy change alone, but the fact that it is the second of two major changes for YouTube’s communities in less than a month.
What was the other change?
In late November, YouTube announced a new policy in which users are required to declare whether their content is explicitly for children and whether their channel is “always” or “never” for kids. The new policy, which takes full effect starting January 1, 2020, was made to comply with a settlement Google made with the U.S. government in June over charges that it had violated COPPA, a law designed to keep children under 13 safe online.
Why are creators angry about this?
To start, videos marked for kids no longer feature personalized ads, resulting in a significant drop in ad revenue from those videos. These videos will also lose their comments sections and other customization options like info cards and end screens, entire channels marked “for kids” will lose their “community tab,” and users subscribed to any channel that uploads a video designed for kids won’t be notified and those videos will not appear in YouTube search or algorithmic recommendations on other channels.
YouTube is making it crystal clear that the key to monetization is playing by its rules – brand safety being a critical component of this. What’s interesting to note is that, when speaking out about these changes, creators rarely talk about the brand safety aspect of these changes and instead mostly ground their complaints in the fear of unintentionally violating YouTube policies (and the consequential monetary outcomes that follow). Notably, this indicates that there is a knowledge or awareness gap on the creator side regarding why YouTube is prioritizing “family friendly” content when it comes to monetization.
In some cases, creators are free to create “high-risk” content. YouTube has offered creators the opportunity to offer brands exclusive sponsorships on high-risk content or channels, but, of course, that isn’t possible if that channel is stripped of its monetization capabilities entirely.
Now Trending in Trending
This week, Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Pinterest released their trends reports. Spoiler alert: they’re long. But, fear not! We broke down the key updates below.
- Remember that time a literal egg was #trending? In Twitter’s #ThisHappened in 2019 report, the platform details the most memorable moments of the year. What reigns supreme? An egg, of course.
- Facebook’s annual Topics and Trends Report highlighted three key topics in the U.S. and it’s safe to say they’re not all that new. Topics include: bathing and associated activities; flexitarianism; and podcasts moving to the big-screen.
- Google’s annual “Year in Search” report revealed Disney Plus was officially the most searched term of the year, proving that the happiest place on earth can now be your couch. Also notable, “Old Town Road” was the top trending song globally in 2019, highlighting TikTok’s ability to influence and contribute to the biggest trends of the year.
- According to Pinterest’s annual “Pinterest 100” report, WFH outfits, 90s inspired fashion and space travel aren’t going anywhere next year. 2020 is about to be out of this world. Also ICYMI – Pinterest also slipped in the fact that its platform now has 320 million monthly active users performing more than two billion searches roughly every four weeks.
When it comes to trends, which platform is leading the pack? TikTok, Instagram and Twitter are where trends are created because they are creator-focused platforms, compared to Google and Pinterest which are more search-focused. For TikTok specifically, 2019 was a breakout year for the platform – most notably because it was the first time a song (Old Town Road) landed itself a top spot in the Billboard charts and in search because of its popularity and virality on TikTok.
Like TikTok, Instagram and Twitter are contributors to mainstream culture, compared to Google and Pinterest which most often reflect what’s happening in culture as they are search networks and are innately up-to-date on what’s new and next. While YouTube and Facebook are also creator-focused platforms, they haven’t been at the forefront of the cultural and digital zeitgeist in recent years.