Genies brings lifelike avatars to other apps with $10M from celebrities

Genies is emerging as the top competitor to Snapchat’s wildly popular Bitmoji as Facebook, Apple, and Google have been slow to get serious about personalized avatars. Over one million people have customized dozens of traits to build a realistic digital lookalike of themselves from over a million possible permutations.

When Genies launched a year ago after raising $15 million in stealth, it misstepped by trying to show people’s Genies interpreting a few weekly news stories and seasonal moments. Now the startup has figured out users want more control, so it’s shifting its iOS and Android apps to let you chat through your avatar, who acts out keywords and sentiments in reaction to what you type, which you can then share elsewhere. And Genies is launching a software developer kit that charges other apps to let you create avatars and use them for chat, stickers, games, animations, and augmented reality.

Genies’ SDK puts its avatars in other apps

To power these new strategies and usher in what CEO Akash Nigam calls “the next wave of communication through avatars where people feel comfortable expressing themselves”, Genies has raised $10 million more. The party round comes from a wide range of investors from institutional firms like NEA and Tull Co; angels like Tinder’s Sean Rad, Raya’s Jared Morgenstern, and speaker Tony Robbins, athletes like Carmelo Anthony, Kyrie Irving, and Richard Sherman; and musicians including A$AP Rocky, Offset from Migos, The Chainsmokers, and 50 Cent. Some like Offset have even used their Genie to stand in for them brand sponsorships so their avatar poses for photos instead of them.

“We’ve transitioned from being an app to an avatar services company” Nigam tells me. The son of WebMD’s co-founder, Nigam build a string of failed apps while at University Of Pennsylvania with Genies co-founder Evan Rosenbaum before working one called Blend that raised some money. Watching Snapchat-owned Bitmoji stay glued atop the app download charts inspired them to see more opportunity in the avatar space. Genies has had some talent issues, though. Nigam says it fired co-founder and president Matt Geiger, and a source tells me there were company culture issues that led to issues with the content writers it hired to create scenes for Genies to act out. Now it’s getting out of that scripted content creation business to focus on algorithmic suggestions of animations.

Genies in-app chat

The revamped Genies app lets you chat with up to six friends through your avatar. As you type, Genies detects actions, places, things, and emotions, and offers you corresponding animations your avatar acts out with a tap. Given people already have plenty of place to chat, it might be tough to get people to move real conversations inside Genies for more than a quick hit of novelty. But that functionality is also coming to Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and iMessage’s keyboards where the expressive animations could naturally augment your threads.

Gucci paid to let Genies users add its luxury clothes to their avatars

With the Genies SDK, the startup is ready to challenge Snapchat’s new Snap Kit that lets apps build Bitmoji into their keyboards. But for $100,000 to $1 million in licensing fees, Genies allows apps to develop much deeper avatar features. Beyond creating keyboard stickers, games can plaster your Genies’ face over your character’s head, and utilities apps can have your Genie act out the weather or celebrate transactions. And since Genies is still taking off, partners can create experiences that feel fresh rather than just a repurposing of Bitmoji’s already-established cartoony avatars. Users spent an average of 19 minutes creating their Genie, so the SDK could add significant engagement to these apps. Genies has also launched its first official brand deal, where Gucci has created a wheel in the Genies creator so you can deck out your mini-you with luxury clothing.

The Avatar Wars (from left): Facebook Avatars, Google Gboard Mini Stickers, Apple Memoji

Despite Bitmoji’s years of success, it’s yet to have a scaled competitor. TechCrunch broke the news that Facebook is working on a “Facebook Avatars” feature but seven months later it’s still not publicly testing and the prototype looks childish. Google’s Gboard just added the ability to create avatars based on a selfie, but they’re bland, low on detail, and far from fun looking. And Apple’s latest mobile operating system lets you create a Memoji, though they too look generic like actual emoji rather than something instantly identifiable as you. By designing avatars that not only look like you but like a cooler version of you, Genies could capture the hearts and faces of millions of teens and the influencers they follow.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2018/11/19/genies-avatars/

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Snap launches a certification program for AR shops to craft branded lenses

Snap has announced a partner program intended to make it easer for brands to get on board with — and pay for — its augmented reality ‘lenses’ by helping advertisers find certified AR shops to craft the digital product placements on their behalf.

The move follows the visual messaging platform opening up lenses, almost a year ago, to outside developers — with the launch of a Lens Studio AR developer tool.

Snap’s lenses use a combination of AR and hyper personalization as their selling strategy — by superimposing branded content directly onto users’ faces and/or around their person. This means the advert becomes all but inescapable (at least to the user’s friends) as branded stuff gets mapped onto and/or injected into their personal content where it can piggyback on social sharing to shoot for viral spread.

At launch, Snap says the global Lens Creative Partner Program has more than 30 certified ‘creators’ listed — with the largest number located in the US, followed by the UK, then Canada and Australia. (A similar number of partner shops are also badged as global.)

Snap says additional regions are being launched in a few weeks, and it says it’s expecting to onboard 100+ creators over the next few months.

Snap Lens Creative Partners program AR shop, Social Snack, with content created for Hasbro

“Today we are announcing the launch of a Lens Creative Partners program specific to building AR Lenses for brands. This group of certified creators spans large agencies and expert individuals who have been building engaging and immersive AR Lenses for Snap,” it writes in a blog post announcing the program.

“To be certified, creators had to be experienced in developing quality AR and complete a rigorous course about the development process, creative best practices, ad policies and buy models of sponsored AR Lenses on Snapchat.”

It’s not as instantly arresting as cat lenses but Snap’s push to expand advertiser interest in paying for the chance to virtually adorn users with branded content — by making it easier to find a tried and tested AR shop to do the work — will probably result in Mr Tibbles wearing a lot more virtual merch on his head in future.

So expect plenty more feline indignity in future.

Snap says that more than one in three of its 186 million daily active users play with AR lenses on the app each day, averaging three minutes each — adding up to a collective 500 years of daily AR play time.

Just think how much quality cat petting time people are missing out on.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2018/11/19/snap-launches-a-certification-program-for-ar-shops-to-craft-branded-lenses/

3 Empowering Small Business Tips for Today, 2019, and a Better Future

Posted by MiriamEllis

“American business is overwhelmingly small business.” – SBE Council

Small businesses have created 61.8% of net new jobs in the US since the early 1990s. Local business is big business. Let’s celebrate this in honor of Small Business Saturday with 3 strategies that will support independent business owners this week, and in the better future that can be attained with the right efforts.

What’s Small Business Saturday?

It’s an annual shopping event sponsored by American Express on the Saturday following Thanksgiving with the primary goal of encouraging residents to patronize local merchants. The program was launched in 2010 in response to the Great Recession. By 2017, Small Business Saturday jumped to 7,200 Neighborhood Champions (individuals and groups that organize towns for the event), with 108 million reported participating consumers spending $12 billion across the country.

Those numbers are impressive, and more than that, they hold the acorn of strategy for the spreading oak of a nation in which independently grown communities set standards of living, set policy, and set us on course for a sustainable future.

Tips for small businesses today

If your community is already participating in Small Business Saturday, try these techniques to enhance your success on the big day:

1. Give an extra reason to shop with you

This can be as simple as giving customers a small discount or a small free gift with their purchase, or as far-reaching as donating part of the proceeds of the day’s sales to a worthy local cause. Give customers a reason to feel extra good that they shopped with you, especially if you can demonstrate how their purchase supports their own community. Check out our Local Business Holiday Checklist for further tips.

2. Give local media something to report

Creativity is your best asset in deciding how to make your place of business a top destination on Small Business Saturday, worthy of mentions in the local news. Live music? A treasure hunt? The best store window in town? Reach out to reporters if you’re doing something extra special to build up publicity.

3. Give a reason to come back year-round

Turn a shopping moment into a teaching moment. Print up some flyers from the American Independent Business Alliance and pass them out to customers to teach them how local purchasing increases local wealth, health, and security. Take a minute or two to talk with customers who express interest. Sometimes, all it takes is a little education and kindness to shift habits. First, take a few minutes to boost your own education by reading How to Win Some Customer Back from Amazon this Holiday Season.

AMIBA has a great list of tips for Small Business Saturday success and American Express has thebest examples of how whole communities have created memorable events surrounding these campaigns. I’ve seen everything from community breakfast kickoffs in Michigan, to jazz bands in Louisiana, to Santa Claus coming to town on a riverboat in California. Working closely with participating neighboring businesses can transform your town or city into a holiday wonderland on this special day, and if your community isn’t involved yet, research this year can prepare you to rally support for an application to next year’s program.

Tips for small businesses for the new year

Unless your town is truly so small that all residents are already aware of every business located there, make 2019 the year you put the Internet to work for you and your community. Even small town businesses have news and promotions they’d like to share on the web, and don’t forget the arrival of new neighbors and travelers who need to be guided to find you. In larger cities, every resident and visitor needs help navigating the local commercial scene.

Try these tips for growth in the new year:

  1. Dig deeply into the Buy Local movement by reading The Local SEO’s Guide to the Buy Local Phenomenon. Even if you see yourself as a merchant today, you can re-envision your role as a community advocate, improving the quality of life for your entire town.
  2. Expand your vision of excellent customer service to include the reality that your neighbors are almost all on the Internet part of every day looking for solutions to their problems. A combination of on-and-offline customer service is your key to becoming the problem-solver that wins lucrative, loyal patrons. Read What the Local Customer Service Ecosystem Looks Like in 2019.
  3. Not sure where to begin learning about local search marketing on the web? First, check out Moz’s free Local SEO Learning Center with articles written for the beginner to familiarize yourself with the basic concepts. Then, start following the recognized leaders in this form of marketingto keep pace with new developments and opportunities as they arise. Make a new year’s resolution to devote just 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week, to learning more about marketing your small local business. By the end of a single year, you will have become a serious force for promotion of your company and the community it serves.

Tips for an independent business future: The time is right

I’ve been working in local business marketing for about 15 years, watching not just the development of technologies, but the ebb and flow of brand and consumer habits and attitudes. What I’m observing with most interest as we close out the present year is a rising tide of localistic leanings.

On the one hand, we have some of the largest brands (Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc.) losing the trust of the public in serious scandals surrounding privacy, human rights violations, and even war. On the other hand, we have small business owners uniting to revitalize their communities in wounded cities like Detroit and tiny towns like Bozeman, in the wake of the Great Recession, itself cited as a big brand product.

Where your company does business may influence your customers’ take on economics, but overall, the engrossing trend I’m seeing is towards more trust in smaller, independently owned companies. In fact, communities across the US are starting to map out futures for themselves that are as self-sustaining as possible. Earlier, I referenced small business owners undergoing a mental shift from lone merchant to community advocate, and here, I’ve mapped out a basic model for towns and cities to shift toward independence.

What most communities can’t access locally are branded products: imported big label clothing, packaged foods, electronics, cars, branded cosmetics, books. Similarly, most communities don’t have direct local access to the manufacture or mining of plastics, metals, and gases. And, very often, towns and cities lack access to agroforestry for raw lumber, fuel, natural fibers and free food. So, let’s say for now that the typical community leaves these things up to big brands so that they can still buy computers, books and stainless steel cookware from major manufacturers.

But beyond this, with the right planning, the majority of the components for a high standard of living can be created and owned locally. For example:

There are certainly some things we may rely on big brands and federal resources for, but it isn’t Amazon or the IRS who give us a friendly wave as we take our morning hike through town, making us feel acknowledged as people and improving our sense of community. For that, we have to rely on our neighbor. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s up to towns and cities to determine whether neighbors are experiencing a decent standard of living.

Reading the mood of the economy, I am seeing more and more Americans becoming open to the messages that the percentage of small businesses in a community correlates with residents’ health, that quality social interactions lessen the chances of premature death by 50%, that independent businesses recirculate almost 4x as much community wealth, and that Main Street-style city planning massively reduces pollution vs. big box stores on the outskirts of town.

Small Business Saturday doesn’t have to be a once-a-year phenomenon. Small business owners, by joining together as community advocates, have the power to make it a way of life where they live. And they have one significant advantage over most corporations, the value of which shouldn’t be underestimated: They can begin the most important conversations face-to-face with their neighbors, asking, “Who do we want to be? Where do want to live? What’s our best vision for how life could be here?”

Don’t be afraid to talk beyond transactions with your favorite customers. Listening closely, I believe you’ll discover that there’s a longing for change and that the time is right.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!


Source: https://moz.com/blog/3-small-business-tips-2019

WhatsApp could wreck Snapchat again by copying ephemeral messaging

WhatsApp already ruined Snapchat’s growth once. WhatsApp Status, its clone of Snapchat Stories, now has 450 million daily active users compared to Snapchat’s 188 million. That’s despite its 24-hour disappearing slideshows missing tons of features including augmented reality selfie masks, animated GIFs, or personalized avatars like Bitmoji. A good enough version of Stories conveniently baked into the messaging app beloved in the developing world where Snapchat wasn’t proved massively successful. Snapchat actually lost total users in Q2 and Q3 2018, and even lost Rest Of World users in Q2 despite that being where late stage social networks rely on for growth.

That’s why it’s so surprising that WhatsApp hasn’t already copied the other big Snapchat feature, ephemeral messaging. When chats can disappear, people feel free to be themselves — more silly, more vulnerable, more expressive. For teens who’ve purposefully turned away from the permanence of the Facebook profile timeline, there’s a sense of freedom in ephemerality. You don’t have to worry about old stuff coming back to haunt or embarass you. Snapchat rode this idea to become a cultural staple for the younger generation.

Yet right now WhatsApp only lets you send permanent photos, videos, and texts. There is an Unsend option, but it only works for an hour after a message is sent. That’s far from the default ephemerality of Snapchat where seen messages disappear once you close the chat window unless you purposefully tap to save them.

Instagram has arrived at a decent compromise. You can send both permanent and temporary photos and videos. Text messages are permanent by default, but you can unsend even old ones. The result is the flexibility to both chat through expiring photos and off-the-cuff messages knowing they will or can disappear, while also being able to have reliable, utilitarian chats and privately share photos for posterity without the fear that one wrong tap could erase them. When Instagram Direct added ephemeral messaging, it saw a growth spurt to over 375 million monthly users as of April 2017.

Snapchat lost daily active users the past two quarters

WhatsApp should be able to build this pretty easily. Add a timer option when people send media so photos or videos can disappear after 10 seconds, a minute, an hour, or a day. Let people add a similar timer to specific messages they send, or set a per chat thread default for how long your messages last similar to fellow encrypted messaging app Signal.

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel’s memo leaked by Cheddar’s Alex Heath indicates that he views chat with close friends as the linchpin of his app that was hampered by this year’s disastrous redesign. He constantly refers to Snapchat as the fastest way to communicate. That might be true for images but not necessarily text, as BTIG’s Rich Greenfield points out, citing how expiring text can causes conversations to break down. It’s likely that Snapchat will double-down on messaging now that Stories has been copied to death.

Given its interest in onboarding older users, that might mean making texts easier to keep permanent or at least lengthening how long they last before they disappear. And with its upcoming Project Mushroom re-engineering of the Snapchat app so it works better in developing markets, Snap will increasingly try to become WhatsApp.

…Unless WhatsApp can become Snapchat first. Spiegel proved people want the flexibility of temporary messaging. Who cares who invented something if it can be brought to more people to deliver more joy? WhatsApp should swallow its pride and embrace the ephemeral.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2018/11/17/whatsapp-disappearing-messages/

Sheryl Sandberg claims she didn’t know Facebook hired agency behind ‘abhorrent’ anti-Soros campaign

Sheryl Sandberg has denied that she obstructed early investigations into election meddling and claimed that she was unaware Facebook was involved with an agency that ran “abhorrent” anti-Semitic campaigns that targeted George Soros, among others.

Facebook, the world’s largest social network, with more than 2.2 billion users, spent Thursday doing its best to fight a media relations forest fire that followed an explosive New York Times article revealing a campaign to smear George Soros, and other revelations.

The company fired PR and research firm Definers, the center of some of the story, it disputed allegations that it tried to hide details around Russian hacking and it held an hour-long call with journalists and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Now Sandberg has joined Zuckerberg and Facebook itself in distancing herself from some of the core claims of the Times report, which paints her in a particularly poor light.

“On a number of issues – including spotting and understanding the Russian interference we saw in the 2016 election – Mark and I have said many times we were too slow,” she wrote in a rebuttal posted to Facebook. “But to suggest that we weren’t interested in knowing the truth, or we wanted to hide what we knew, or that we tried to prevent investigations, is simply untrue.”

Sandberg repeated a common refrain at Facebook: the company wasn’t aware of the scale of the attacks it received until it was too late and it is now committed to “investing heavily” to prevent recurrences.

“While we will always have more work to do, I believe we’ve started to see some of that work pay off, as we saw in the recent US midterms and elections around the world where we have found and taken down further attempts at interference,” she wrote.

But perhaps the most striking part of Sandberg’s post is a brief passage in which she claims that she — Facebook’s chief operating officer — was unaware of the exact scope of Definers’ work for the company, which included disinformation campaigns against Apple, Google and the George Soros-backed Open Society Foundations.

From her post:

I also want to address the issue that has been raised about a PR firm, Definers. We’re no longer working with them but at the time, they were trying to show that some of the activity against us that appeared to be grassroots also had major organizations behind them. I did not know we hired them or about the work they were doing, but I should have. I have great respect for George Soros – and the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories against him are abhorrent.

Indeed, the claim that Sandberg didn’t even know the agency worked for Facebook flies in the face of the company’s original response, in which it wrote that its “relationship with Definers was well-known by the media.”

According to those statements, the relationship was well-known by the media but unknown to the company COO? OK then.

The New York Times’ allegations are hugely serious, enough to solicit fast and concerned responses from a multitude of politicians and prompt Facebook’s campaign PR machine to splutter into frenzied activity — don’t expect this issue to disappear soon.

Here’s a quick recap of what you need to know so far.

If you didn’t yet do so, go read The New York Times report.

And here’s the response from Sandberg in full:

I want to address some of the claims that have been made in the last 24 hours.

On a number of issues – including spotting and understanding the Russian interference we saw in the 2016 election – Mark and I have said many times we were too slow. But to suggest that we weren’t interested in knowing the truth, or we wanted to hide what we knew, or that we tried to prevent investigations, is simply untrue. The allegations saying I personally stood in the way are also just plain wrong. This was an investigation of a foreign actor trying to interfere in our election. Nothing could be more important to me or to Facebook.

As Mark and I both told Congress, leading up to Election Day in November 2016, we detected and dealt with several threats with ties to Russia and reported what we found to law enforcement. These were known traditional cyberattacks like hacking and malware. It was not until after the election that we became aware of the widespread misinformation campaigns run by the IRA. Once we were, we began investing heavily in more people and better technology to protect our platform. While we will always have more work to do, I believe we’ve started to see some of that work pay off, as we saw in the recent US midterms and elections around the world where we have found and taken down further attempts at interference.

I also want to address the issue that has been raised about a PR firm, Definers. We’re no longer working with them but at the time, they were trying to show that some of the activity against us that appeared to be grassroots also had major organizations behind them. I did not know we hired them or about the work they were doing, but I should have. I have great respect for George Soros – and the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories against him are abhorrent.

At Facebook, we are making the investments that we need to stamp out abuse in our system and ensure the good things people love about Facebook can keep happening. It won’t be easy. It will take time and will never be complete. This mission is critical and I am committed to seeing it through.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2018/11/15/sheryl-sandberg-claims-she-didnt-know-facebook-hired-agency-behind-abhorrent-anti-soros-campaign/

Facebook Messenger is building a ‘Watch Videos Together’ feature

Netflix and chill from afar? Facebook Messenger is now internally testing simultaneous co-viewing of videos. That means you and your favorite people could watch a synchronized video over group chat on your respective devices while discussing or joking about it. This “Watch Videos Together” feature could make you spend more time on Facebook Messenger while creating shared experiences that are more meaningful and positive for well-being than passively zombie-viewing videos solo. This new approach to Facebook’s Watch Party feature might feel more natural as part of messaging than through a feed, Groups or Events post.

The feature was first spotted in Messenger’s codebase by Ananay Arora, the founder of deadline management app Timebound as well as a mobile investigator in the style of frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong. The code he discovered describes Messenger allowing you to “tap to watch together now” and “chat about the same videos at the same time” with chat thread members receiving a notification that a co-viewing is starting. “Everyone in this chat can control the video and see who’s watching,” the code explains.

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that this is an “internal test” and that it doesn’t have any more to share right now. But other features originally discovered in Messenger’s code, like contact syncing with Instagram, have eventually received official launches.

Watch Party exists on Facebook, but could be more popular as a chat feature

A fascinating question this co-viewing feature brings up is where users will find videos to watch. It might just let you punch in a URL from Facebook or share a video from there to Messenger. The app could put a new video browsing option into the message composer or Discover tab. Or, if it really wanted to get serious about chat-based co-viewing, Facebook could allow the feature to work with video partners, ideally YouTube.

Co-viewing of videos could also introduce a new revenue opportunity for Messenger. It might suggest sponsored videos, such as recent movie trailers. Or it could simply serve video ads between a queue of videos lined up for co-viewing. Facebook has recently been putting more pressure on its subsidiaries like Messenger and Instagram to monetize as News Feed ad revenue growth slows due to plateauing user growth and limited News Feed ad space.

Other apps like YouTube’s Uptime (since shut down) and Facebook’s first president Sean Parker’s Airtime (never took off) have tried and failed to make co-watching a popular habit. The problem is that coordinating these synced-up experiences with friends can be troublesome. By baking simultaneous video viewing directing into Messenger, Facebook could make it as seamless as sharing a link.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2018/11/16/facebook-messenger-watch-videos-tegoether/

Facebook Messenger is building a “Watch Videos Together” feature

Netflix and chill from afar? Facebook Messenger is now internally testing simultaneous co-viewing of videos. That means you and your favorite people could watch a synchronized video over group chat on your respective devices while discussing or joking about it. This “Watch Videos Together” feature could make you spend more time on Facebook Messenger while creating shared experiences that are more meaningful and positive for well-being than passively zombie-viewing videos solo. This new approach to Facebook’s Watch Party feature might feel more natural as part of messaging than through a feed, Groups, or Events post.

The feature was first spotted in Messenger’s codebase by Ananay Arora, the founder of deadline management app Timebound as well as a mobile investigator in the style of frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong. The code he discovered describes Messenger allowing you to “tap to watch together now” and “chat about the same videos at the same time” with chat thread members receiving a notification that a co-viewing is starting. “Everyone in this chat can control the video and see who’s watching” the code explains.

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that this is an “internal test” and that it doesn’t have any more to share right now. But other features originally discovered in Messenger’s code like contact syncing with Instagram have eventually received official launches.

Watch Party exists on Facebook but could be more popular as a chat feature

A fascinating question this co-viewing feature brings up is where users will find videos to watch. It might just let you punch in a URL from Facebook or share a video from there to Messenger. The app could put a new video browsing option into the message composer or Discover tab.  Or if it really wanted to get serious about chat-based co-viewing, Facebook could allow the feature to work with video partners, ideally YouTube.

Co-viewing of videos could also introduce a new revenue opportunity for Messenger. It might suggest sponsored videos, such as recent movie trailers. Or it could simply serve video ads between a queue of videos lined up for co-viewing. Facebook has recently been putting more pressure on its subsidiaries like Messenger and Instagram to monetize as News Feed ad revenue growth slows down due to plateauing users growth and limited News Feed ad space.

Other apps like YouTube’s Uptime (since shut down), and Facebook’s first president Sean Parker’s Airtime (never took off) have tried and failed to make co-watching a popular habit. The problem is that coordinating these synced-up experiences with friends can be troublesome. By baking simultaneous video viewing directing into Messenger, Facebook could make it as seamless as sharing a link.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2018/11/16/facebook-messenger-watch-videos-tegoether/

Facebook has other ties to Definers, the GOP-led opposition research group

In the wake of a fairly catastrophic behind the scenes glimpse into Facebook’s high-level decision making, one question remains: Who brought a controversial Republican opposition research firm into the fold?

In a long call with reporters on Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg denied any knowledge of his company’s own dealings with Definers Public Affairs, the firm in question. Definers Public Affairs is “an outfit of elite GOP operatives” specializing in opposition research — a cutthroat dark art that’s the norm in politics but anomalous in virtue-conscious Silicon Valley.

Founded by a Republican campaign manager lauded for his dirt-digging prowess, Definers is far from a normal, politically neutral contractor. For one, the company shares staff and office space with America Rising, its oppo research-focused PAC, as well as a right-leaning news aggregator called NTK Network that surfaces stories placed by the company’s other wings.

In one effort, Definers pushed back against Facebook critics with a narrative that linked the social network’s detractors to George Soros, the billionaire Democrat and frequent target of anti-semitic conspiracy theories.

Zuckerberg did not mince words about his attitude toward his company’s relationship with Definers. “I learned about this yesterday. In general, this kind of firm might be normal in Washington…. but it’s not the kind of firm that Facebook should be working with,” Zuckerberg said on Thursday, noting that Facebook had cut ties with the firm.

In her statement late on Thursday, Sheryl Sandberg denied any knowledge of the firm too, stating that she didn’t know about the work they were doing for Facebook but “should have.” In the predictably flimsy and characteristically late response, Sandberg denounced conspiracy theories targeting Soros as “abhorrent.”

While the company still hasn’t explained how Facebook tapped the Republican-led firm for crisis communications, there are a few educated guesses to be made.

(TechCrunch contacted Facebook with questions about the scope of the firm’s work and how the relationship began and will update this story if we learn more.)

Other ties to the oppo research group

After denying any knowledge of Definers — curious given that Facebook itself stated that its “relationship with Definers was well known by the media” — Zuckerberg landed on an explanation: “Someone on our comms team must have hired them.” While this passing of the buck is questionable, it’s also probably true.

In fact, a noteworthy chunk of Facebook’s communications team has direct ties to Definers founder Matt Rhoades, who formerly ran Mitt Romney’s campaign bid for president. Facebook’s current Director of Policy Communications Andrea Saul served as the National Press Secretary for the Romney for President campaign from early 2011 to November 2012 under Rhoades. After the Romney campaign dried up, Saul went to work doing PR for Sheryl Sandberg’s nonprofit LeanIn.org for two years and found her way to Facebook in mid-2016.

Jackie Rooney, a Facebook spokesperson and member of Facebook’s Corporate and Internal Communications team, served on the Romney campaign as Chief of Staff to the campaign manager, Matt Rhoades. Rooney has been with Facebook for almost six years. Carolyn Glanville of Facebook’s Corporate Communications team, a relatively new hire at Facebook, also served on the Romney campaign as Deputy Communications Director.

A handful of other Facebook product team members also worked on the Romney campaign though were less directly connected to Rhoades. Romney has fundraised for Definers sister firm, the America Rising PAC, as recently as 2015. America Rising’s stated goal is to serve as “an independent organization that can drive the toughest negative narrative against Democrats.”

Beyond Facebook’s comms connections, another educated guess at the Definers culprit points to Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s deeply influential longtime chief lobbyist.

Kaplan, Facebook’s Vice President of Global Public Policy, served in the George W. Bush White House from 2001 until 2009, first as the Special Assistant to the President for Policy and later as Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy where he “integrated the execution of legislative, communications, and external outreach and policy strategies.” Both Rhoades and Pounder — Definers founder and President, respectively — worked on the Bush campaign in 2004 and went on to serve in the White House after the Bush campaign prevailed, developing some renown for their opposition research work.

“We distill and strategically deploy public information to build and influence media narratives, move public opinion and provide powerful ammunition for your public relations and government affairs efforts,” the group more commonly called Definers boasts. “Nobody else can say the same.”

Chain of Command

Having attended Harvard together, Kaplan and Sandberg are close. At Facebook, Kaplan reported to Communications and Public Policy VP Elliot Schrage before Schrage’s departure announced this June. Schrage reported to Sandberg, though Kaplan was often looped into high level decision making as well as part of “an elite group” of senior executives at the company.

According to the New York Times report, Facebook’s involvement with Definers began prior to October 2017, likely after the group set up shop in Silicon Valley a few months prior. While those conversations at times addressed content controversies, it’s hard to imagine that they wouldn’t also shape overarching communications strategy in the midst of ongoing crises as well.

After Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal in March, Kaplan urged Sandberg to ramp up the lobbying efforts of fellow Bush administration alum Kevin Martin. Around the same time Facebook again “expanded” its work with Definers, switching to a more offensive strategy aligned with the on-the-attack style that the firm specializes in.

Like any decent political operative, Kaplan usually shirks the limelight — but not lately. Kaplan made headlines recently by appearing in the supporters section for Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh during the nationally televised hearing. A week later, Kaplan and his wife hosted a celebration party for those who had worked on the Kavanaugh nomination that was attended by the nominee himself.

If there was a time when Facebook’s relationship with Republicans was in fact strained, Silicon Valley’s premier equivocator has swung fully the other way with help from Kaplan. While left-leaning Silicon Valley might balk, his deep Republican establishment ties remain more of an asset than a liability to Facebook and have allowed him to serve effectively in his role for more than 10 years at the company. Facebook continues to scratch its East Coast lobbying itch while giving lip service to West Coast political ideals and generally telling everyone what they want to hear.

The buck stops where

One of tech’s biggest companies bringing a Republican political oppo outfit in to mitigate a relentless series of PR catastrophes is noteworthy in its own right, but Zuckerberg’s ignorance of Facebook’s dalliance with Definers makes the whole thing even more odd. Who knew what and when? Did Sheryl Sandberg really not know that the company was contracting with the group? Given her closeness to Kaplan, Schrage, and her extreme awareness of Facebook’s image, cultivated via the comms team, is that even possible?

As Facebook’s two top executives theatrically recoil in horror at their own company’s foray into the political dark arts, they might be surprised to learn that the oppo is in fact coming from inside the house.

More likely, they wouldn’t be.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2018/11/16/facebook-definers-comms-sandberg-kaplan/

YouTube SEO: Top Factors to Invest In – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

If you have an audience on YouTube, are you doing everything you can to reach them? Inspired by a large-scale study from Justin Briggs, Rand covers the top factors to invest in when it comes to YouTube SEO in this week’s episode of Whiteboard Friday.

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re chatting about YouTube SEO. So I was lucky enough to be speaking at the Search Love Conference down in San Diego a little while ago, and Justin Briggs was there presenting on YouTube SEO and on a very large-scale study that he had conducted with I think it was 100,000 different video rankings across YouTube’s search engine as well as looking at the performance of many thousands of channels and individual videos in YouTube.

Justin came up with some fascinating results. I’ve called them out here @JustinBriggs on Twitter, and his website is Briggsby.com. You can find this study, including an immense amount of data, there. But I thought I would try and sum up some of the most important points that he brought up and some of the conclusions he came to in his research. I do urge you to check out the full study, especially if you’re doing YouTube SEO.

5 crucial elements for video ranking success

So first off, there are some crucial elements for video ranking success. Now video ranking success, what do we mean by that? We mean if you perform a search query in YouTube for a specific keyword, and not necessarily a branded one, what are the things that will come up? So sort of like the same thing we talk about when we talk about Google success ranking factors, these are success factors for YouTube. That doesn’t necessarily mean that these are the things that will get you the most possible views. In fact, some of them work the other way.

1. Video views and watch time

First off, video views and watch time. So it turns out these are both very well correlated and in Justin’s opinion probably causal with higher rankings. So if you have a video and you’re competing against a competitor’s video and you get more views and a greater amount of watch time on average per view — so that’s how many people make it through a greater proportion of the video itself –you tend to do better than your competitors.

2. Keyword matching the searcher’s query in the title

Number two, keyword matching still more important we think on YouTube than it is in classic Google search. That’s not to say it’s not important in classic Google, but that in YouTube it’s even more important. It’s even a bigger factor. Essentially what Justin’s data showed is that exact match keywords, exactly matching the keyword phrase in the video title tended to outperform partial by a little bit, and partial outperformed none or only some by a considerable portion.

So if you’re trying to rank your video for what pandas eat and your video is called “What Pandas Eat,”that’s going to do much better than, for example, “Panda Consumption Habits” or “Panda Food Choices.” So describe your video, name your video in the same way that searchers are searching, and you can get intel into how searchers are using YouTube.

You can also use the data that comes back from Google keyword searches, especially if videos appear at the top of Google keyword searches, that means there’s probably a lot of demand on YouTube as well.

3. Shorter titles (<50 characters) with keyword-rich descriptions

Next up, shorter titles, less than 50 characters, with keyword-rich descriptions between 200 and 350 words tended to perform best in this dataset.

So if you’re looking for guidelines around how big should I make my YouTube title, how big should I make my description, that’s generally probably some best practices. If you leak over a little bit, it’s not a huge deal. The curve doesn’t fall off dramatically. But certainly staying around there is a good idea.

4. Keyword tags

Number four, keyword tags. So YouTube will let you apply keyword tags to a video.

This is something that used to exist in Google SEO decades ago with the meta keywords tag. It still does exist in YouTube. These keyword tags seem to matter a little for rankings, but they seem to matter more for the recommended videos. So those recommended videos are sort of what appear on the right-hand side of the video player if you’re in a desktop view or below the video on a mobile player.

Those recommended videos are also kind of what play when you keep watching a video and it’s what comes up next. So those both figure prominently into earning you more views, which can then help your rankings of course. So using keyword tags in two to three word phrase elements and usually the videos that Justin’s dataset saw performing best were those with 31 to 40 unique tags, which is a pretty hefty number.

That means folks are going through and they’re taking their “What Pandas Eat” and they’re tagging it with pandas, zoo animals, mammals, and they might even be tagging it with marsupials — I think pandas are a marsupial — but those kinds of things. So they’re adding a lot of different tags on there, 31 to 40, and those tended to do the best.

So if you’re worried that adding too many keyword tags can hurt you, maybe it can, but not up until you get to a pretty high limit here.

5. Certain video lengths perform and rank well

Number five, the videos that perform best — I like that this correlates with how Whiteboard Fridays do well as well — 10 to 16 minutes in length tend to do best in the rankings. Under two minutes in length tend to be very disliked by YouTube’s audience. They don’t perform well. Four to six minutes get the most views. So it depends on what you’re optimizing for. At Whiteboard Friday, we’re trying to convey information and make it useful and interesting and valuable. So we would probably try and stick to 10 to 16 minutes. But if we had a promotional video, for example, for a new product that we were launching, we might try and aim for a four to six minute video to get the most views, the most amplification, the most awareness that we possibly could.

3 takeaways of interest

Three other takeaways of interest that I just found potentially valuable.

Older videos do better on average, but new videos get a boost

One is older videos on average tend to do better in the rankings, but new videos get a boost when they initially come out. So in the dataset, Justin created a great graph that looks like this –zero to two weeks after a video is published, two to six weeks, six to twelve weeks, and after a year, and there are a few other ones in here.

But you can see the slope of this curve follows this concept that there’s a fresh boost right here in those first two to six weeks, and it’s strongest in the first zero to two weeks. So if you are publishing regularly and you sort of have that like, “Oh, this video didn’t hit. Let me try again.This video didn’t hit. Oh, this one got it.This nailed what my audience was looking for.This was really powerful.” That seems to do quite well.

Channels help boost their videos

Channels is something Justin looked deeply into. I haven’t covered it much here, but he looked into channel optimization a lot. Channels do help boost their individual videos with things like subscribers who comment and like and have a higher watch time on average than videos that are disconnected from subscribers. He noted that about 1,000 or more subscriptions is a really good target to start to benefit from the metrics that a good subscriber base can bring. These tend to have a positive impact on views and also on rankings. Although whether that’s correlated or merely causal, hard to say.

Embeds and links are correlated, but unsure if causal

Again on the correlation but not causation, embeds and links. So the study looked at the rankings, higher rankings up here and lower rankings down there, versus embeds.

Videos that received more embeds, they were embedded on websites more, did tend to perform better. But through experimentation, we’re not quite clear if we can prove that by embedding a video a lot we can increase its rankings. So it could just be that as something ranks well and gets picked up a lot, many people embed it rather than many embeds lead to better rankings.

All right, everyone, if you’re producing video, which I probably recommend that you do if video is ranking in the SERPs that you care about or if your audience is on YouTube, hopefully this will be helpful, and I urge you to check out Justin’s research. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Source: https://moz.com/blog/youtube-seo

Tinder tests ‘Swipe Surge’ in US to connect users during peak times

Tinder today announced the test of a new in-app experience it’s calling “Swipe Surge,” that will send notifications to users when there’s a spike in Tinder usage in their area. The feature is designed to allow Tinder to better capitalize on real-world events that drive increased usage – like music festivals, parties, or spring break holidays, for example.

The company says that it tested out sending push notifications to alert users about surge periods in its app back in 2016, and found that it resulted in users forming 2.5x more matches during a swipe surge.

Users also received nearly 20 percent more right swipes during these events, and they were 2.6x more likely to receive a message, Tinder noted.

Now it’s turning these push notifications into a real product with Swipe Surge.

In addition to the alerts designed to draw Tinder users into the app at the same time, the app will include “Swipe Surge” branding during the event. People who already joined the surge by responding to the push notification will then move to the front of the match queue, and Tinder will show you who’s currently active in the app.

Tinder says that activity during a surge is 15x higher overall, and increases matchmaking potential by 250%.

The company has been working to promote Tinder as a dating app for the younger demographic in recent months, with its marketing campaign focused on the “single lifestyle,” media publication “Swipe Life,” and a test expansion of Tinder U, its college student product.

The Swipe Surge test is underway now in major U.S. markets, says Tinder.

 


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2018/11/15/tinder-tests-swipe-surge-in-us-to-connect-users-during-peak-times/