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Snapchat Bets on Localisation, Opens Office in Mumbai to Expand India Base

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Snap, the makers of popular communication app dubbed Snapchat that has been competing against Facebook’s Instagram for a long time, is set to expand its presence in India. The Santa Monica, California-based company has opened an office in Mumbai to boost its developments for the region. It is also in plans to bring new content creators as well as local publishers and media companies to offer relevant Lenses, Publisher Stories, and Shows through the platform.

“Our goal is to continue to introduce our products to the Indian population and make it increasingly more validated for the vibrant and rich tapestry of culture that exists within the country,” says Jared Grusd, Chief Strategy Officer, Snap, in a telephonic conversation with Gadgets 360.

Grusd recently came to India to launch the Mumbai office. Snap chose Mumbai as the city for its first local place in the country with a view to sit alongside a list of media, entertainment, telco, content, and fashion companies, the executive tells Gadgets 360. But that isn’t the company’s first move in Mumbai.

Late last month, Snap hosted its Creator Summit in Mumbai where it brought over 80 attendees, including blogger Malini Agarwal of MissMalini.com as well as influencers such as Gaurav Gera, Awez Darbar, and Nagma Mirajkar. The Summit was designed to build a relationship with Indian content community. Also, it helped bring content creators on board that would help design experiences specifically for Indian users.

“One big aim for Snapchat in the Indian market is to increase the amount of cultural relevance we have within the overall community,” emphasises Grusd. “In order to do that, there are many different things that we’re trying to achieve.”

To drive towards its ultimate aim, Snap back in April introduced support for four Indian languages to the Snapchat app. These are namely Gujarati, Hindi, Marathi, and Punjabi. Grusd reveals that the company is working towards bringing five additional Indian languages to the app by the end of the year. Specifics around the additional languages are yet to be announced, though.

Snap foresees that the addition of new languages would help Snapchat become a household name in India. A report released by Google last year reflects the importance of Indian languages for platforms like Snapchat by predicting that the Indian language Internet users will reach whopping 536 million by 2021.

But for Snap, localising language support is just one way to attract users in India. The company also has plans to make content on Snapchat more relevant for the Indian population and work closely with local content creators, influencers, celebrities, and brands to develop a plethora of offerings for the local users.

“We’ve created tools that allow friends to communicate with one another,” says Grusd. “We open them up to various creators and content companies to use in order to create rich, exciting content for the platform.”

“And so in this sense, as we get more local creators using the platform, we’ve got more local content. That is how we bring on more local content. In addition, we partner with media companies, who are in the market to develop content for platforms as well to leverage our tools also.”

To get started with new and existing partners, Snap in late April hired Durgesh Kaushik as the Head of Market Development for Snapchat in India. Kaushik, who previously worked at companies such as Facebook and Reliance Jio, has been assigned to lead market development activities in the country. Certainly, with the new office, the company is set to expand the India team by hiring new employees, too.

Snap is focusing on expanding strategic partnerships, building an engaged community of creators and users, and servicing local advertisers by hiring fresh talent in India.

“The most important thing for us is to ensure that we are relevant to the Indian market,” underlines Grusd. “And in order to accommodate that, we need our products and our content to be relevant in the market.”

Snap in the recent past launched its partnerships with JioSaavn and Gaana. Those partnerships enabled Snapchat users to share their favourite music tracks from the JioSaavn and Gaana apps. Further, the Shows section on Snapchat includes a news show from Brut India as well as FilterCopy from Pocket Aces, and Miss Malini’s Beauty BFFs. There are also localised creative tools for major Indian holidays and festivals, such as Holi and Republic Day, and films such as Student of the Year 2.

“We will increase the number of partnerships we do in the region in order to ensure that the product remains culturally relevant and for deeper connections for friends to hang out with friends,” says Grusd.

In April, Snap partnered with the Election Commission to help create awareness among Indian voters by launching tools and polling information. Grusd hints at the increase of such partnerships with Indian authorities over time.

“I think we always have like a great natural way of participating with authority because we care deeply about the issues that are many governments and many people around the world care about,” he states.

The newer partnerships by Snap are projected to bring fresh experiences for users in India — whether they would use lenses, filters, or simply surf the Discovery tab. The company is also largely investing in augmented reality (AR) — some of the areas where it already gained huge popularity in the past.

Snap is bullish on growing its monetisation by expanding its India presence over time.

“The business model of Snapchat is to participate in the advertising community and to create a platform where marketers and advertisers work with us as part of our ecosystem in order to build a vibrant community,” says Grusd. “And so over time, I think we will scale out the business model too.”

VP International Claire Valoti in a separate emailed statement to Gadgets 360 specifies that Snap has received an “enthusiastic response” from advertisers and brand partners and created “existing AR activations” for leading consumer brands in India this year.

“We are excited to continue to support advertisers through our partnership with local reseller, Tyroo, and are also establishing a local Advertising Solutions team to work directly with some of our larger advertisers,” she adds.

Why is India on Snap’s radar now?
Snap wasn’t focusing in India for quite some time. However, the company in April launched a ‘rebuild’ of its Android app that helped it see an “exciting trajectory” of its audience in the Indian market.

“Our relaunch Android application has given our opportunities to focus more on the Indian market, technically speaking, and allowed us to create an even more robust experience for the market,” says Grusd. “And so we’re really excited to do that now that we’ve relaunched that application.”

While the exact number of Indian Snapchat users aka Snapchatters isn’t public, Grusd underlines that the company has seen a 40 percent increase in daily active users (DAU) in India between the second quarter of 2018 and 2019.

“We’re really encouraged by that momentum,” he continues.

According to the statistics available on Statista, India is the sixth-largest country for Snapchat with a user base of over 15.1 million as of July this year. The US, on the other hand, dominates the global markets for the app with 97.55 million users.

Countries with most Snapchat users as of July 2019
Photo Credit: Statista

 

Snap in its latest earnings report posted that its daily active users rose to 203 million in the second quarter ended June 30 from 190 million in the previous quarter. However, the company doesn’t formally reveal any country-specific numbers.

Made for ‘real friends’
To create further brand awareness and entice new users from growing markets like India, Snap last month launched its ‘Real Friends’ campaign under which it featured 70 Snapchatters from 12 different countries, including “several” from India. The multi-market global advertising campaign followed an integrated approach with billboards placed across different cities. The prime purpose of the campaign was to highlight Snapchat as the platform for real and close friends — not acquaintances.

 

Grusd affirms that by offering a platform for friends, Snapchat comes as a distinct player in the market that is full of social media apps.

“Snapchat is created as an antidote to social media,” he says. “We are not social media — we are made for friends, to come together to hang out with friends. We think we are one of very few platforms in the world that actually are aspiring to achieve that goal. And everything we do from that product perspective is to ensure that our community uses our platform as a means for people who are friends with each other in real life to communicate and hang out with their friends.”

By promoting as a platform specifically for friends, Snapchat indeed tries to move out of the arena that has matured players such as Instagram on one side and emerging apps like TikTok on the other. But Grusd points out that apart from the creative tools and features that make the app a perfect destination for friends, the app follows certain standards and requires processes to limit instances of inappropriate content circulation that often bring the likes of Instagram and TikTok in the limelight.

“One thing to know about Snapchat compared to many other content platforms is that our platform is not completely open,” the executive says. “If you’re a content provider and you want to provide content on to our feed, you have to go through a bunch of processes in order to ensure the content is of sufficient quality and comply with many policies to ensure that the content meets our standards in order to come on to our platform.”

The team at Snap also spends plenty of time with content creators and partners to bring relevant, rich, and engaging content for users, he adds.



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Instagram’s TikTok rival, Reels, rolls out ads worldwide – TechCrunch

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Instagram Reels are getting ads. The company announced today it’s launching ads in its short-form video platform and TikTok rival, Reels, to businesses and advertisers worldwide. The ads will be up to 30 seconds in length, like Reels themselves, and vertical in format, similar to ads found in Instagram Stories. Also like Reels, the new ads will loop, and people will be able to like, comment, and save them, the same as other Reels videos.

The company had previously tested Reels ads in select markets earlier this year, including India, Brazil, Germany, and Australia, then expanded those tests to Canada, France, the U.K. and the U.S. more recently. Early adopters of the new format have included brands like BMW, Nestlé (Nespresso), Louis Vuitton, Netflix, Uber, and others.

Instagram tells us the ads will appear in most places users view Reels content, including on the Reels tab, Reels in Stories, Reels in Explore, and Reels in your Instagram Feed, and will appear in between individual Reels posted by users. However, in order to be served a Reels ad, the user first needs to be in the immersive, full-screen Reels viewer.

Image Credits: Instagram

The company couldn’t say how often a user might see a Reels ad, noting that the number of ads a viewer may encounter will vary based on how they use Instagram. But the company is monitoring user sentiment around ads themselves, and the overall commercially of Reels, it says.

Like Instagram’s other advertising products, Reels ads will launch with an auction-based model. But so far, Instagram is declining to share any sort of performance metrics around how those ads are doing, based on tests. Nor is it yet offering advertisers any creator tools or templates that could help them get started with Reels ads. Instead, Instagram likey assumes advertisers already have creative assets on hand or know how to make them, because of Reels ads’ similarities to other vertical video ads found elsewhere, including on Instagram’s competitors.

While vertical video has already shown the potential for driving consumers to e-commerce shopping sites, Instagram hasn’t yet taken advantage of Reels ads to drive users to its built-in Instagram Shops, though that seems like a natural next step as it attempts to tie the different parts of its app together.

But perhaps ahead of that step, Instagram needs to make Reels a more compelling destination — something other TikTok rivals, which now include both Snap and YouTube — have done by funding creator content directly. Instagram, meanwhile, had made offers to select TikTok stars directly.

The launch of Instagram Reels ads follows news of TikTok’s climbing ad prices. Bloomberg reported this month that TikTok is now asking for more than $1.4 million for a home page takeover ad in the U.S., as of the third quarter, which will jump to $1.8 million by Q4 and more than $2 million on a holiday. Though the company is still building its ads team and advertisers haven’t yet allocated large portions of their video budget to the app, that tends to follow user growth — and TikTok now has over 100 million monthly active users in the U.S.

Both apps, Instagram and TikTok, now have over a billion monthly active users on a global basis, though Reels is only a part of the larger Instagram platform. For comparison, Instagram Stories is used by some 500 million users, which demonstrates Instagram’s ability to drive traffic to different areas of its app. Instagram declined to share how many users Reels has as of today.

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Twine raises $3.3M to add networking features to virtual events – TechCrunch

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Twine, a video chat startup that launched amid the pandemic as a sort of “Zoom for meeting new people,” shifted its focus to online events and, as a result, has now closed on $3.3 million in seed funding. To date, twine’s events customers have included names like Microsoft, Amazon, Forrester, and others, and the service is on track to do $1 million in bookings in 2021, the company says.

The new round was led by Moment Ventures, and included participation from Coelius Capital, AltaIR Capital, Mentors Fund, Rosecliff Ventures, AltaClub, and Bloom Venture Partners. Clint Chao, founding Partner at Moment, will join twine’s board of directors with the round’s close.

The shift into the online events space makes sense, given twine’s co-founders —  Lawrence Coburn, Diana Rau, and Taylor McLoughlin — hail from DoubleDutch, the mobile events technology provider acquired by Cvent in 2019.

Coburn, previously CEO of DoubleDutch, had been under a non-compete with its acquirer until December 2020, which is one reason why he didn’t first attempt a return to the events space.

The team’s original idea was to help people who were missing out on social connections under Covid lockdowns find a way to meet others and chat online. This early version of twine saw some small amount of traction, as 10% of its users were even willing to pay. But many more were nervous about being connected to random online strangers, twine found.

So the company shifted its focus to the familiar events space, with a specific focus on online events which grew in popularity due to the pandemic. While setting up live streams, text chats and Q&A has been possible, what’s been missing from many online events was the casual and unexpected networking that used to happen in-person.

“The hardest thing to bring to virtual events was the networking and the serendipity — like the conversations that used to happen in an elevator, in the bar, the lobby — these kinds of things,” explains Coburn. “So we began testing a group space version of twine — bringing twine to existing communities as opposed to trying to build our own, new community. And that showed a lot more legs,” he says.

By January 2021, the new events-focused version of twine was up-and-running, offering a set of professional networking tools for event owners. Unlike one-to-many or few-to-many video broadcasts, twine connects a small number of people for more intimate conversations.

“We did a lot of research with our customers and users, and beyond five [people in a chat], it turns into a webinar,” notes Coburn, of the limitations on twine’s video chat. In twine, a small handful of people are dropped into a video chat experience– and now, they’re not random online strangers. They’re fellow event attendees. That generally keeps user behavior professional and the conversations productive.

Event owners can use the product for free on twine’s website for small events with up to 30 users, but to scale up any further requires a license. Twine charges on a per attendee basis, where customers buy packs of attendees on a software-as-a-service model.

The company’s customers can then embed twine directly in their own website or add a link that pops open the twine website in a separate browser tab.

Coburn says twine has found a sweet spot with big corporate event programs. The company has around 25 customers, but some of those have already used twine for 10 or 15 events after first testing out the product for something smaller.

“We’re working with five or six of the biggest companies in the world right now,” noted Coburn.

Image Credits: twine

Because the matches are digital, twine can offer other tools like digital “business card” exchanges and analytics and reports for the event hosts and attendees alike.

Despite the cautious return to normal in the U.S., which may see in-person events return in the year ahead, twine believes there’s still a future in online events. Due to the pandemic’s lasting impacts, organizations are likely to adopt a hybrid approach to their events going forward.

“I don’t think there’s ever been an industry that has gone through a 15 months like the events industry just went through,” Coburn says. “These companies went to zero, their revenue went to zero and some of them were coming from hundreds of millions of dollars. So what happened was a digital transformation like the world has never seen,” he adds.

Now, there are tens of thousands of event planners who have gotten really good at tech and online events. And they saw the potential in online, which would sometimes deliver 4x or 5x the attendance of virtual, Coburn points out.

“This is why you see LinkedIn drop $50 million on Hopin,” he says, referring to the recent fundraise for the virtual conference technology business. (The deal was reportedly for less than $50 million). “This is why you see the rounds of funding that are going into Hoppin and Bizzabo and Hubilo and all the others. This is the taxi market, pre-Uber.”

Of course, virtual events may end up less concerned with social features when they can offer an in-person experience. And those who want to host online events may be looking for a broader solution than Zoom + twine, for example.

But twine has ideas about what it wants to do next, including asynchronous matchmaking, which could end up being more valuable as it could lead to better matches since it wouldn’t be limited to only who’s online now.

With the funding, twine is hiring in sales and customer success, working on accessibility improvements, and expanding its platform. To date, twine has raised $4.7 million.

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Facebook rolls out new tools for Group admins, including automated moderation aids – TechCrunch

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Facebook today introduced a new set of tools aimed at helping Facebook Group administrators get a better handle on their online communities and, potentially, help keep conversations from going off the rails. Among the more interesting new tools is a machine learning-powered feature that alerts admins to potentially unhealthy conversations taking place in their group. Another lets the admin slow down the pace of a heated conversation, by limiting how often group members can post.

Facebook Groups are today are significant reason why people continue to use the social network. Today, there are “tens of millions” of groups, that are managed by over 70 million active admins and moderators worldwide, Facebook says.

The company for years has been working to roll out better tools for these group owners, who often get overwhelmed by the administrative responsibilities that come with running an online community at scale. As a result, many admins give up the job and leave groups to run somewhat unmanaged — thus allowing them to turn into breeding grounds for misinformation, spam and abuse.

Facebook last fall tried to address this problem by rolling out new group policies to crack down on groups without an active admin, among other things. Of course, the company’s preference would be to keep groups running and growing by making them easier to operate.

That’s where today’s new set of features come in.

A new dashboard called Admin Home will centralize admin tools, settings and features in one place, as well as present “pro tips” that suggest other helpful tools tailored to the group’s needs.

Image Credits: Facebook

Another new Admin Assist feature will allow admins to automatically moderate comments in their groups by setting up criteria that can restrict comments and posts more proactively, instead of forcing admins to go back after the fact and delete them, which can be problematic — especially after a discussion has been underway and members are invested in the conversation.

For example, admins can now restrict people from posting if they haven’t had a Facebook account for very long or if they had recently violated the group’s rules. Admins can also automatically decline posts that contain specific promotional content (perhaps MLM links! Hooray!) and then share feedback with the author of the post automatically about why those posts aren’t allowed.

Admins can also take advantage of suggested preset criteria from Facebook to help with limiting spam and managing conflict.

Image Credits: Facebook

One notable update is a new moderation alert type dubbed “conflict alerts.” This feature, currently in testing, will notify admins when a potentially contentious or unhealthy conversation is taking place in the group, Facebook says. This would allow an admin to quickly take an action — like turning off comments, limiting who could comment, removing a post, or however else they would want to approach the situation.

Conflict alerts are powered by machine learning, Facebook explains. Its machine learning model looks at multiple signals, including reply time and comment volume to determine if engagement between users has or might lead to negative interactions, the company says.

This is sort of like an automated expansion on the Keyword Alerts feature many admins already use to look for certain topics that lead to contentious conversations.

Image Credits: Facebook

A related feature, also new, would allow admins to also limit how often specific members could comment, or how often comments could be added to posts admins select.

When enabled, members can leave 1 comment every 5 minutes. The idea here is that forcing users to pause and consider their words amid a heated debate could lead to more civilized conversations. We’ve seen this concept enacted on other social networks, as well — such as with Twitter’s nudges to read articles before retweeting, or those that flag potentially harmful replies, giving you a chance to re-edit your post.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook, however, has largely embraced engagement on its platform, even when it’s not leading to positive interactions or experiences. Though small, this particular feature is an admission that building a healthy online community means sometimes people shouldn’t be able to immediately react and comment with whatever thought first popped into their head.

Additionally, Facebook is testing tools that allow admins to temporarily limit activity from certain group members.

If used, admins will be able to determine how many posts (between 1 and 9 posts) per day a given member may share, and for how long that limit should be in effect for (every 12 hours, 24 hours, 3 days, 7 days, 14 days, or 28 days). Admins will also be able to determine how many comments (between 1 and 30 comments, in 5 comment increments) per hour a given member may share, and for how long that limit should be in effect (also every 12 hours, 24 hours, 3 days, 7 days, 14 days, or 28 days).

Along these same lines of building healthier communities, a new member summary feature will give admins an overview of each member’s activity on their group, allowing them to see how many times they’ve posted and commented, have had posts removed, or have been muted.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook doesn’t say how admins are to use this new tool, but one could imagine admins taking advantage of the detailed summary to do the occasional cleanup of their member base by removing bad actors who continually disrupt discussions. They could also use it to locate and elevate regulator contributors without violations to moderator roles, perhaps.

Admins will also be able to tag their group rules in comment sections, disallow certain post types (e.g. Polls or Events), and submit an appeal to Facebook to re-review decisions related to group violations, if in error.

Image Credits: Facebook

Of particular interest, though a bit buried amid the slew of other news, is the return of Chats, which was previously announced.

Facebook had abruptly removed Chat functionality back in 2019, possibly due to spam, some had speculated. (Facebook said it was product infrastructure.) As before, Chats can have up to 250 people, including active members and those who opted into notifications from the chats. Once this limit is reached, other members will not be able to engage with that specific chat room until existing active participants either leave the chat or opt out of notifications.

Now, Facebook group members can start, find and engage in Chats with others within Facebook Groups instead of using Messenger. Admins and moderators can also have their own chats.

Notably, this change follows on the heels of growth from messaging-based social networks, like IRL, a new unicorn (due to its $1.17B valuation), as well as the growth seen by other messaging apps, like Telegram, Signal and other alternative social networks.

Image Credits: Facebook

Along with this large set of new features, Facebook also made changes to some existing features, based on feedback from admins.

It’s now testing pinned comments and introduced a new “admin announcement” post type that notifies group members of the important news (if notifications are being received for that group).

Plus, admins will be able to share feedback when they decline group members.

Image Credits: Facebook

The changes are rolling out across Facebook Groups globally in the coming weeks.

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