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Twitter’s stickers are the hashtag reborn for the visual world

Twitter has this week revealed the latest addition to its core product: #Stickers which can be placed on top of images to add a new layer of creativity. Of themselves they’re not a new concept, though no doubt will be a well-received one all the same, but where they break ground is in how they’ll also connect images to one another.

Clicking on one of the stickers within an image brings up a search for other users of that same sticker, essentially bringing the hashtag squarely into the visual age. Twitter has long ceased being a purely text dominated platform, in fact at any moment your feed is likely filled with far more videos & images than anything else. Bringing hashtag functionality to stickers is a simple but powerful evolution to make sure that this key real estate can also be discoverable & searchable.

It’s all pretty harmless fun at this stage with wigs, moustaches and sun bursts but some of these will immediately lend themselves to curating similar images together and become useful for doing so. Beyond this the opportunities for specific event stickers (where are the Game of Thrones house banners when you need them?) to curate an entirely new but very natural stream of imagery are almost limitless.

It will be interesting to see if Twitter partners with key events like the Olympics this summer, or the new NFL season (for which it has negotiated some online streaming rights) to produce sets of stickers to allow supporters to better express themselves. Some platforms have already managed to elevate stickers to such a level that their users are willing to pay for them, but given Twitter doesn’t have much history in this micro payment area it might instead be looking ahead to how marketers can help pay for them.

Brands have begun dabbling in the opportunities to have their own ‘hashflags’ (where small images automatically appear after a given hashtag) but it’s often an uphill battle to get consumers to naturally use these phrases. If you provide an entertaining set of stickers then you’re now giving consumers a genuine incentive to want to splash your brand all over themselves, and in doing so create a visual stream which you can naturally own.

That’s all hypothetical for now, and there’s been no talk of offering an advertising product or promoted stickers within this space, but it would be remarkable if such an option did not eventually develop. Stickers have already proven themselves to be hugely popular on messaging platforms like Line & WeChat, whilst Snapchat is starting to attract a range of brands with its ‘lenses’ & ‘filters’. All are driven by the fact that such functionality is genuinely fun to use, and that brands which provide new options for creativity are truly perceived to be adding value to the users.

And in other Social Media News....

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And Finally....

US border control could start asking for your social media accounts

The US government is proposing making social media accounts part of the visa screening process for entry into the country.

US Customs and Border Protection’s proposed change would add a line on both the online and paper forms of the visa application form that visitors to the US must fill out if they do not have a visa and are planning on staying for up to 90 days.

The following question would be added to both the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (Esta) and I-94W forms: “Please enter information associated with your online presence—Provider/Platform—Social media identifier.”

The information will be optional, for now, but the proposed change published by the US Federal Register states that “collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide Department of Homeland Security (DHS) greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use to better analyze and investigate the case.”

The proposal is currently under consultation, with US government taking comments until 22 August.

The change forms part of the plan by the US DHS to scrutinise social media activity of visa applicants and those wishing to enter the country, following the San Bernardino killings in California, in which social media profiles formed part of the investigations along with an iPhone 5C.

Current DHS pilot programmes are being kept under wraps but are said to scan a limited amount of social media posts.

The pilot programmes currently used by DHS do not sweep up all social media posts, though government officials have kept details of the programmes closely held, as they do not want to reveal the precise process they use to try and identify potential threats.

It’s unclear if or how the DHS would verify information written on a form before hitting border control, leaving the possibility of false information being put down, and while the information may be optional, it will likely be difficult to discern what is and isn’t required on the form.

The US government approves around 10m visa applications a year and had 77.5 million foreign visitors in 2015. Collecting social media accounts for all visitors could produce one of the largest government-controlled databases of its kind almost overnight.

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