Top 100: The Digital, Social & Media Stories That Shaped 2015

gr-almanac-picThe Ketchum Engagement Network is a community of digital and social practitioners across the world tasked with understanding what’s happening on the internet, and looking for ways to better understand consumer behaviour and help our clients engage with their publics.

Here are the 100 most important digital, traditional media and social stories that we spotted during 2015 (click to tweet). There are platform updates, new tools, innovation in media, and new reports and regulations.

This article was originally written for the Ketchum Digital & Social Almanac 2016. Please follow along with the complete 60-page book for further analysis of the trends that we’ve identified for the year head.

Amazon

1. Amazon Internet of Things platform work in progress
Amazon launched an Internet of Things (IoT) platform. It enables connected devices to easily and securely interact with cloud applications, and other devices. The Amazon IoT platform will make it as easy for people to build apps for light bulbs as it would for rockets. Watch this space.

2. Amazon takes action on fake reviews
Amazon took legal action against more than 1,000 unidentified people it claimed provide fake reviews on the US version of its website. It claimed that the defendants sell false reviews for as little as $5 on the website Fiverr.

3. Amazon does pins
Amazon went all Pinterest. Internet spotters stumbled upon a new visual service that the US online shopping giant is testing called Streams. Products are sponsored and change daily. Work in progress.

4. Amazon disrupts supermarket supply chain
Amazon turned the heat up on the retail business with a re-order button directly connected to the Internet to re-order popular household goods. This service is another bid by Amazon to disrupt supermarkets. Subscriptions for household goods have been available for some time.

Buzzfeed

5. Buzzfeed: ‘don’t post propaganda and sales nonsense’
BuzzFeed suspended brand accounts throughout the community and published new guidelines for brands. Be funny and don’t post propaganda.

6. Build Buzzfeed style quizzes
QZZR is a platform that enables you to create embeddable Buzzfeed-style quizzes. It’s simple and it’s elegant. It’s also free until you hit 50,000 engagements or want to export data.

Facebook

7. Facebook fundraising
The social media giant is trialing Fundraisers, a charitable giving application for non-profit organisations. Facebook wants to keep you on the platform. Charities will be able to fundraise off their page and a donate button will be available for pages and posts.

8. Facebook tests GIF-style profile photos and new layout
Facebook is testing tweaks to user pages. Users on the latest iOS mobile app in California and UK are seeing video profile images, a one-liner biography, photos, and updates presented as cards.

9. We dislike Facebook’s dislike
Facebook is testing a series of so-called reactions in Ireland and Spain as an alternative to the Like button. Seven emoji images ranging from Happy to Angry, and Love to Sad, replace the thumbs-up at the bottom of a post. It is dodging giving consumers what they actually want in a bid to keep brands on side.

10. Facebook follows Google with free learning platform
Facebook launched a web-based learning platform called Blueprint. It consists of 34 free courses. Google also has a robust web-based learning platform for each of its products. There’s also an app called Primer that provides a good introductory overview to Google’s services.

11. Facebook search threatens Google and Twitter for news
Facebook is set to challenge Google and Twitter as the go to place for real-time news. Facebook Search will return anything you’re allowed to see from its two trillion posts. It serves news on the platform around big stories and live events with the bias of your social graph.

12. Blogging is back on Facebook
Facebook spotted LinkedIn, Medium and Tumblr’s success with long form content and wants a piece of the action. It launched a significant upgrade to the Notes app this quarter. There’s no news yet as to whether Notes will be rolled out beyond people profiles. For now it’s a tool that will appeal to influencers with large Facebook networks.

13. Virtual reality format hits Facebook
360 videos have launched in the Facebook newsfeed. Follow Discovery, GoPro, Star Wars and VICE if you want to see content from the launch partners. Cameras cost around $800 so it’s a format for major brands and publishers. It’s the first product we’ve seen from the Oculus acquisition integrated into the main Facebook platform.

14. Facebook photo recognition doesn’t need to see your face
Privacy klaxon. Facebook is working on facial-recognition technology that can identify someone even if their face isn’t in the photo. The algorithm looks at various attributes including hair, clothing and body type to determine who is in the photo.

15. Facebook project supports offline population
Two-thirds of the world’s 7.3 billion population has yet to get online. Helping them get connected is Facebook’s renewed purpose. Have a look at Internet.org.

16. Daily Active Users (DAUs) record
One billion people used Facebook on Monday 24 August. Not in a week, or a month but in a single day. Daily Active Users (DAU) is set to become the new metric for digital services.

17. Facebook simplifies pixel tracking
Facebook simplified the tracking pixels that enable us to follow customer journeys between Facebook and third-party web sites. This new tracking mechanism enables us to report on numerous different actions and build custom audiences for re targeting. Here’s a great primer.

18. Brand retail shops on Facebook
Retail is coming to Facebook. This is much more than the buy button launched in June. A new shop page will sit alongside the about tab on a brand’s Facebook page. Mark 2015 as the year that social commerce became a thing. Buy buttons have started to litter social platforms.

19. Facebook gives users greater newsfeed control
You can now take greater control over your newsfeed by forcing brands and friends into and out of your feed. Your brand and media suggestions will improve as a result. Select Friends and Pages to see first by tweaking the Following/See First setting on each page via the web, or use News Feed Preferences in the mobile app.

20. Comments and likes aren’t the only Facebook metric
A change to Facebook’s algorithm takes into account how much time you spend looking at a story to decide what appears in your news feed.

21. Send money in Facebook Messenger chat
Facebook extended the rollout of mobile payments in Facebook Messenger in the US. It allows a user to instantly pay or receive money from a friend.

22. Facebook: reach down, engagement up
Organic brand reach may be down in the Facebook newsfeed but engagement is up by as much as 50% year-on-year according to Simply Measured. Photos and videos are driving the trend.

23. Facebook gets friendlier
Another Facebook algorithm tweak. We’re seeing less content from brands and publishers, and more from friends. Facebook communities that work hard to earn attention are likely to be unaffected.

24. Facebook platform for media content
Instant Articles is a new Facebook tool that serves media content natively within the app. It launched with nine media partners including the BBC, Buzzfeed and The New York Times, and committed to share analytics data with publishers.

25. Facebook fake account cull
Facebook community managers started to see falling totals (around 10%) for branded and community Facebook pages as Facebook culled fake and memorialised accounts.

26. Facebook launches Facebook Place Tips
Facebook took aim at the travel business with a proposition called Facebook Place Tips. It wants to be a real time travel guide for consumers competing with FourSquare, TripAdvisor and Yelp.

27. Facebook at work
The social giant launched an enterprise version of its platform. We all use Facebook at work but this move will separate personal and professional profiles, and create enterprise groups.

28. Facebook is a consumer insight service; of course it is
We’ve been able to plug into Twitter’s firehouse for insights forever but now Facebook is offering the same via Datasift. Data will be anonymised but with 1.3 billion users it’ll be a massive data mine.

29. Video wins at Facebook brand organic reach
Photos on Facebook brand pages have the lowest average organic reach according to Socialbakers data. Videos are king of organic reach (8.71%) followed by text-only statuses (5.77%), link posts (5.29%) and photo posts 3.73%.

30. improving the end game
Facebook just made the tricky issue of getting over your ex a little bit easier. The social network is testing a set of features to limit the amount of content you see and share with an ex.

Glassdoor

31. Engagement opportunities for employers on Glassdoor
Glassdoor, the TripAdvisor-style employee review and rating community for organisations, closed a fundraising round and took aim at international expansion. It’s a reputation management platform for any organisation in the business of hiring people, as well as a jobs’ site.

Google

32. Accelerated mobile pages initiative
Google is spearheading an initiative to promote an emerging format for the mobile web. HTML Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is an open framework for mobile devices. 30 publishers and platforms from The Economist to The New York Times and from Twitter to LinkedIn have backed the standard that aims to improve the performance of the mobile web through a stripped down mobile-first approach.

33. Use Google Trends to predict content performance
Google is getting into the prediction business. New features of Google Trends enable you to interrogate data from Google News and YouTube. This is a great tool to test content ideas.

34. Google buy button connects search and commerce
Google is trialling a buy now button alongside search results on mobile devices. It wants to act as an intermediary for mobile commerce and is seeking retail partners.

35. Google tweaks algorithm for mobile
Google added responsive design and site speed as variables to its algorithm. Non-mobile sites have been dumped in mobile searches. Use this nifty tool to test the performance of a site.

36. Exploring content syndication on owned versus social platforms
Social platforms such as LinkedIn Pulse and Medium enable bloggers to reach new audiences. They’re particularly useful for business-to-business but the impact on SEO penalties versus owned blogs is unknown. So far so good, so long as you follow Google’s rules.

Google+

37. Google+ overhaul
The Google+ user interface has been redesigned for mobile, and both Collections and Communities have been rebuilt. The relationship between Google+ and the Google algorithm is the only reason that we continue to use the platform. It’s increasing becoming a quiet corner of the internet.

38. Move over Google+
The search giant announced that it is splitting Google+ into photo sharing and streams. Social media pundits suggest that streams will likely be retired in time.

Imgur

39. Imgur takes aim at Pinterest for men
Imgur is Pinterest for men or Reddit for photos. Images are voted up and down. The platform has 150 million monthly users most of which are millennial men. The platform took its promoted posts out of beta after trial campaigns with brands such as eBay.

Innovation

40. Apple creates new media format with Live Photos
Live Photos announced by Apple for the iPhone 6 is likely to be disruptive. It’s built into the new iOS and both Facebook and Instagram will support the format in mobile apps. Apple says a live photo is not a GIF and it’s not a video. The new media format extends the moment of capture by a second-and-a-half either side of a photo.

41. Innovative news apps
BuzzFeed updated its news app and serves top stories each hour and Reuters launched a new personalised TV news app that serves a personalised news shows on demand. These two apps signpost the future of news: on demand, mobile, personalised, snack format and video.

42. Recipe publisher becomes native ad platform
Allrecipes had an overhaul. You won’t find any ads on the new site. Instead brands have profile pages and content is embedded in editorial. It’s become a massive native ad platform. This is another example of earned and paid media integration.

43. Emoji legitimised for brand comms
If emojis weren’t an acceptable form of brand communication they are now. The Oxford Dictionary made emoji its word of the year for 2016. Emojis are used in messaging apps as a shorthand. Emojipedia has an explanation for the meaning of individual emojis. Use with care – each platform serves its own variant.

44. Alibaba in massive content marketing play
Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba made a $3.6bn bid for Youku Tudou, China’s top video site. Alibaba is keen to explore closer alignment between the video platform, which reaches more than 500 million viewers, and its e-commerce services.

45. Virtual assistants: Facebook M rivals Google and Siri
Google’s search algorithms are getting smarter but they aren’t yet able to respond to a verbal query and match location (Hoxton or Shoreditch etc.), context (age, friends, time of day etc.) and topic (coffee, cake etc.). The so-called virtual assistant market is heating up. Facebook is launching a service called M that combines artificial intelligence with human support. The service rolled out initially in the US as part of the Messenger app.

46. Much of the ad traffic on the internet is fake
A rash of ad tech writers have been poking at traffic data. Bloomberg published an excellent primer. If data looks too good to be true it probably is. We’ve been here before. It’s an excellent argument for investing in public relations and building trust online through relationships rather than ads.

47. Influencer disclosure guidance from UK authority
The UK Advertising Standards Authority issued guidance on how bloggers/vloggers should disclose relationships with brands. This is an emerging area of practice and so has implications worldwide. The UK advertising watchdog says brands are responsible for sponsored content and that it should be clearly labelled as such.

Instagram

48. Happy fifth birthday Instagram
Instagram celebrated its fifth birthday. It has 500 million active users, half of whom are under 25. It has become a popular visual social media format for fashion, art, travel and food. It’s still possible for new users to gain rapid traction if content resonates with the network.

49. Boomerang content back and forth
Instagram launched a new content app called Boomerang. It could be useful for brand promotion, walk through, and how-to video clips. Boomerang shoots a series of photos and stitches them together in a clip that plays back-and-forth. Clips are saved to your camera roll for posting to Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms.

50. Instagram engagement study
There are a few surprises in a Hubspot study of Instagram engagement. It analysed 1.5 million images. We know #hastags work but Instagram likes shots posted with no filter, cool colours and de-saturated but bright. Action and faces get more likes. Calls to action work.

51. Instagram trends challenge Twitter
Instagram’s Explore menu takes a much more Twitter-like approach by surfacing posts based on trending tags and locations. Instagram wants in on real time. Ensure images are geo- and hash-tagged as part of any campaign. The new feature is only available in the US for now, with other markets to follow.

52. Thinking outside the square
Instagram announced support for landscape and portrait formats. Instagram you’re spoiling us. Its popularity is such that a third-party app market has developed to slice up images before posting to Instagram.

53. Instagram adds web services (at last)
Instagram embraced the desktop. You can now login to an account and search for hashtags, locations, and user accounts from the desktop.

54. Instagram increases image size by 70%
Instagram is increasing the size of images from 640 x 640 to 1,080 x 1,080. That means better quality photos for third party integrations, big screens and physical prints. The Android app is the first to make the switch with iPhone to follow.

55. Tool for Instagram planning
Influencer.DB took aim at the opportunity for influencer discovery and planning on Instagram. The tool serves free data to characterise an Instagram user such as topics, social profiles, location, frequency and engagement. Discovery requires a premium account.

56. How-to on Instagram
How-to-videos started moving from YouTube to shorter formats on platforms such as Instagram and Vine. It’s an opportunity for a brand to create content or engage an influencer on its’ behalf.

57. Instagram loops the loop
Instagram videos now loop. Gap was among the first brands to launch a micro-series utilising the new function.

LinkedIn

58. LinkedIn focuses on editorial in Groups
LinkedIn is going through a transition in the way that it manages Groups. It’s moving Groups to its member services team. There’ll be fewer ads or commercial opportunities. The platform recognised that Groups are places for members to come together for discussions and that ads get in the way. It plays to the strength of public relations on LinkedIn as a means of editorial engagement.

59. LinkedIn hits publishing milestone
The numbers tell the story: 350 million users, 200 countries; and 1-in-3 of all professionals on the planet. LinkedIn added another milestone this quarter when it announced a million people publishing on the platform. Editor Daniel Roth shared a post explaining the benefit for thought leadership, sales and marketing.

60. LinkedIn acquires Lynda.com
LinkedIn acquired learning company Lynda.com. LinkedIn users will get access to Lynda.com’s professional development courses taught by sector experts. LinkedIn is resurgent thanks to its mobile app and Pulse. Joining the dots between job hunting and skills makes a lot of sense.

Meerkat and Periscope

61. Is that a satellite broadcast truck in your pocket?
Live video streaming became a thing using apps called Meerkat and Periscope. The premise is simple: open the app and press a button to stream video live to your Twitter network. The stream dies when you close it.

62. Periscope goes horizontal
Live streaming app Periscope added a landscape feature, Live stream in landscape for bigger, wider images. This is a shift away from the vertical portrait format previously favoured. It makes sense as it makes better use of the screen on a mobile device.

Pinterest

63. Pinterest links IFFFT and Polyvore
Pinterest’s first partners for its developer platform are starting to roll out. Polyvore and If This Then That (IFTTT) are first up. IFTTT’s enables Pinterest accounts to be connected to other services such as Dropbox or Instagram for backups while Polyvore added a Pinterest login and Pinterest board collections.

64. Pinterest adds publishing access to content tools
To date we’ve had to publish images directly to Pinterest on behalf of brands or rely on motivated users. That’s changed with 10-Pinterest sanctioned content publishing tools. The first tools to get access to the platform are: Ahalogy, Buffer, Curalate, Expion, NewsCred, Percolate, Shoutlet, Spredfast, Sprinklr and Tailwind.

65. Pinterest takes aim at brand campaigns
Pinterest took aim at the creative community as it develops click-to-buy pins for brands. The platform has been pitching new content formats to ad agencies.

ProductHunt

66. ProductHunt: Reddit for new stuff
Product Hunt is an online community for new apps, tools and websites. It launched in 2013, came out of beta last year, and lists around 10 new products a day.

Reddit

67. Bookmark: reddit news site
Reddit, the self-described front page of the internet, is a community where lots of memes and news stories start their life. reddit publishes a best-of newsletter each Sunday. Now it’s spotted the opportunity to develop a news site called Upvoted curated with content from the site.

68. The home page of the internet
Much of the content shared on mainstream social networks and platforms often starts life on Reddit. The platform combines the features of a social network with niche communities, called sub-Reddits. Use the community as a start point for listening, creating insights and content sharing.

SnapChat

69. Snapchat’s selfie lenses
Snapchat rolled out a selfie lenses for the Halloween holiday that enable users to overlay a pumpkin on a selfie. Watch out for other seasonal and brand selfies. The lenses are hugely popular with hard-to-reach millennials according to SnapChat. The cost for a brand campaign? A cool $750,000.

70. More media on SnapChat
Snapchat Discover’s media shelf just got bigger. The messaging app added IGN,Tastemade and Mashable to its publisher line-up. Discover partners such as the CNN and Daily Mail are re-purposing and creating original content for Snapchat’s 100 million-plus active users.

71. URL sharing services shine light on dark web
The so-called dark web describes messaging services such as Facebook Chat, Snapchat and WhatsApp that are shared privately. This isn’t a new thing. Walled gardens have always been a feature of the Internet. Use URL sharing services to track how content is being shared in these networks.

72. Teens on Snapchat
Snapchat is the fastest growing social network with 50% of users aged 16 to 24 according to GlobalWebIndex. Brands are moving onto the platform to engage with this audience

Tools

73. Searching for answers
Answer the Public pulls data from Bing and Google auto suggest searches and serves answers in an image. Its a free tool from Coverage Book that you can use to tap into the psyche of internet searchers and get inspiration for content.

74. how-to guides to PR tools
#PRstack published two books consisting of 48 free how-to guides to third-party tools, to help public relations professionals get better at digital public relations. Follow this link for free downloads or to buy print copies.

75. Royalty free images
Sourcing royalty free images for mock-ups and Powerpoint decks is always a drama. morguefile.com, iconarchive.com, placeit.net and unsplash.com are all useful resources.

76. Apps for making images
Gifmaker doesn’t stamp a watermark in the corner of the image so is good for quick improvised jobs. Canva is another handy low-cost tool for making quick images for sharing on social media or in decks. Its drag-and-drop feature and professional layouts help to produce stunning graphics.

77. Turn your content into a GIF
Giphy, the GIF platform launched a new iPhone app that you’ll want to download called Giphycam. GIFs are much leaner than video and automatically run almost anywhere on the web. Use Giphycam to pull together posts, tweets and photos into a GIF.

78. Social scheduling tools
Buffer, Hootsuite (note issues with scheduling native images), Sprout Social and Tweekdeck are variously recommended by the Ketchum Engagement Network as tools for scheduling social media posts. Schedule with care kids, and always turn of sharing software when an issue or crisis bubbles up.

79. Your best headlines ever with free online testing tool
You’re going to want to play with this free tool from CoSchedule. It analyzes headlines and gives you a rating for quality and the potential for social sharing based on resonance. It works for any type of communication and scores you 1 to 100. Less than 50: try again. 60s: decent.70+: amazing. This headline scored 66.

80. Foreplay? There’s a web app for that
Crystal Knows analyses social content to recommend the best way to engage with somebody by email. It couldn’t be simpler: search on an individual, hit enter and it’ll spit out a personality report. The web app summarises social media content and suggests the best way to email, speak, work and sell to an individual. Register for the beta and try it out for yourself.

81. Native ad campaigns bared
BrandTale is a tool we discovered via Product Hunt. It tells you where a brand is running a native ad campaign. The tool scans all major media and returns the results for a brand and adjacent advertisers. Here’s an example for British Airways. Handy for insight and planning.

Twitter

82. Twitter curation
Moments landed on Twitter in the US The new lightning bolt tab provides a curated summary of the big stories on Twitter that you’ve missed since you last logged on. This is Twitter’s bid to get occasional users coming back. It’s an easy way to consume the content on Twitter without the need to proactively manage your network.

83. Twitter cuts workforce
Twitter is shed 300 jobs in product development and engineering. The company said it aims to move faster with a nimbler development team. Newly installed CEO Jack Dorsey is streamlining the business and seeking to halt the fall in user growth.

84. Twitter polls: yes or no?
Twitter launched polls on iOS, Android and desktop. The feature allows an account to post a tweet with two multiple choice questions. A poll is available for 24 hours before being deleted. Responses aren’t tracked or shared with an account.

85. Twitter to go beyond 140 characters?
Twitter is tinkering with the length of tweets. This is founder and newly confirmed CEO Jack Dorsey’s latest idea to increase active users from the current level of around 300 million. Account names, images and URL links may be excluded from the 140 character count.

86. Twitter kills share counter button
Twitter angered the internet by announcing that it intends to switch off the code that feeds social sharing buttons to simplify the interface. It’s an odd move as social proof is an intrinsic part of internet culture. Brands and publishers wanting to keep using the feature will need to build their own using Gnip, Twitter’s data arm.

87. Twitter DM throttle removed
Twitter removed the 140 character limitation on direct messages. It’s unusual for a feature change to be so useful. It puts Twitter on a more equal footing with other messaging platforms. It’ll be useful for pitching and customer service applications but avoids spam.

88. Check your Twitter data
Twitter pushed out a new dashboard so that users can see how their data is being used by third party apps. The dashboard, available in settings, allows you to review log-in times, devices used, and the activity of apps that you’ve allowed to access your account. Delete anything you don’t need.

89. Twitter tweaks to reduce noise
Project Lightening is a Twitter project aimed at reducing noise on the platform. It wants to break the newsfeed and use human editors to serve important stories. Hard core Twitter users will be outraged but the platform needs to drive subscription sign-ups and improve ad performance.

90. Twitter tweaks direct messages
Users and brands can now decide whether to accept direct messages from people that they don’t follow. Tweak the setting in Settings > Security & Privacy. This is a boon for anyone that wants to use Twitter for two-way conversation such as customer service, rather than breach the 1,000 tweet daily allowance, or clog up their main stream.

91. Tweet first discovery tool
Here’s a handy web app from Digital Inspiration that will find the Twitter account that first tweeted a string, meme or URL. Bookmark it for the next time you want to find out the original source of content shared on Twitter.

92. Twitter rolls out nested comments
Twitter continues its drive to become a mainstream network by improving its visual appeal replacing the RT function with embedded tweets and comments. The new feature was well received by users. The change may reduce engagement by restricting how tweets are modified and re-shared.

93. Group conversations on Twitter
Twitter launched a group direct messaging feature mimicking Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and others. Up to 20 people can join in without the need to follow each other.

94. Video key social media content format as Twitter goes native
Twitter added native video tools. You can now capture, edit and share videos of up to 30 seconds from the Twitter app.

95. Twitter makes $30 million influencer relations play
Twitter made a chunky bet on influencer marketing, spending $30 million on an influencer management company called Niche

96. Hearts drive increased engagement says Twitter
Twitter is claiming a win for its switch from stars and favourites, to hearts and likes. In the first week Twitter said that it saw a 6% uplift in use of the function. It says the heart is more universally understood.

Wikipedia

97. Wikipedia kicks out 380 editors
Wikipedia banned 380 English so-called ‘black hat’ accounts that were engaging in paid advocacy on behalf of brands. Editing content on Wikipedia when there is conflict of interest breaches its guidelines. Instead, engage with editors via the “talk pages.” Here’s a best practice guide.

98. Is anyone paying attention to that Wikipedia page?
Brands often get wound up about content on a Wikipedia page when in reality it gets very little traffic. There’s an open source tool to check how much traffic a page gets.

YouTube

99. YouTube goes ad free for paying subscribers
YouTube unveiled a paid version of its video-sharing service. YouTube Red will costs $9.99 a month. Subscribers get ad free video and the ability to save content for offline viewing.

100. YouTube paid media plays
YouTube updated its paid product promotion policy. It explicitly prevents content creators from monetising content through ads unless they sign-up to Google’s rate card.

About Stephen Waddington

Stephen is a Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University. Chairman of Future Proof policy unit and Past President, CIPR. Author of Brand Anarchy and #BrandVandals; and editor and contributor to Share This and Share This Too. Connect with him on Twitter: @wadds

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