Recently, Facebook has made a change for fan/brand pages and page managers can no longer change the images, headlines, and excerpts show when including a link in a post. Instead, they rely on open graph tags.

On one hand, it’s annoying because if you were linking to a page you didn’t control, sometimes you would find yourself needing to adjust the description or excerpt if there wasn’t one. On the other, I think you can see where this editing power could lead people to create and/or propagate, wait for it, “fake  news.”

For those people that manage College and University pages, this is especially frustrating. Most of the time we are sharing links, it is to pages that we control and linking somewhere in our school’s network of websites. Even then, we can’t be sure people have correctly tagged their pages.

This is important because having clear, interesting copy and images on your posts not only affects us when we share our own content, other people share our content too. We want to make sure our content looks great when shown to others as well!

For several years, Facebook has been using “open graph” tags, similar to the meta tags of old, as a guide to use when sharing a post. These OG tags include a post title, URL, description, image, and more. Here’s an example:

<meta property="og:url" content="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/19/arts/international/when-great-minds-dont-think-alike.html" />;
<meta property="og:type" content="article" />;
<meta property="og:title" content="When Great Minds Don’t Think Alike" />;
<meta property="og:description" content="How much does culture influence creative thinking?" />
<meta property="og:image" content="http://static01.nyt.com/images/2015/02/19/arts/international/19iht-btnumbers19A/19iht-btnumbers19A-facebookJumbo-v2.jpg" />

You can set these open graph tags manually in your code. If you use WordPress, most of the SEO plugins including Yoast will set these tags for you and allow you to customize content for them.

One area where this gets tricky is with the featured image. Unless you specify a particular image in your code, the WordPress tools like Yoast use the default image you set in the plugin’s settings.

Facebook and Twitter want large images as your featured images, so make sure they’re at least 200px wide by 200px high. Facebook would love that to be higher. They say in their developer area:

Use images that are at least 1200 x 630 pixels for the best display on high resolution devices. At the minimum, you should use images that are 600 x 315 pixels to display link page posts with larger images. Images can be up to 8MB in size.

Time to test your content

Once you’ve got all your open graph tags ready, it’s time to test. Don’t wait to check until you’re ready to post your story or tweet that, um, tweet.

Facebook has a handy debugging tools that will show you what it sees when it scrapes your page and shares it.

When you enter a URL into Facebook’s sharing debugger, you get this back. These are the results for a previous post on this blog about Snapchat.

Example of Facebook Sharing Debugger Output

As you can see, it has a good post title and the correct description. I’m not crazy about that image, though. It’s just grabbed one from the post to share, as I don’t have a default image setup for this blog.

I’m using Yoast SEO on this site, so I can easily change that image. Before I do that, I need to clear Facebook’s cache of my post. To do that, I need to paste my URL into the Batch Invalidator. This will basically retcon Facebook and make them grab a fresh version of my page. You can enter URL’s one by one here, or paste many (hence, the batch in the name.)

I created a custom graphic, added it to Yoast, invalidated my URL, and re-scraped. Now, Facebook shows me this:

Open Graph Example

Yes, that’s an ugly graphic, but I only spent 2 minutes on it. Now, Facebook sees the graphic I intended as opposed to a random image Yoast and/or Facebook selected or my default image.

 

It was a holiday weekend here in the USA, so many people were sharing photos and videos of their parties, fireworks, kids, and more on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. I was no exception, throwing up some firework slo-mo videos and a few shots from my Phantom 3.

I was posting and liking content on both my phone and laptop, on mobile and wi-fi, in two states and 3 cities. It was all fine until I went to add a new friend. Somewhere in a Facebook data center, an alert was probably set off and I was temporarily banned from Facebook. This is first time this has happened since I created my account in 2005 – you know, back when you had to have a college email address to join.

Yes, blocked from using Facebook. They said I had “suspicious activity,” and I could not log in. People who tried to visit my profile got a 404.

Facebook’s solution to get my account unlocked: i was told to upload a picture of myself to prove my identity. Here’s the prompt:

Facebook screen asking for a photo of myself

I found a selfie I took this weekend and uploaded it. And waited. There was no feedback from Facebook on why I had been locked out, possible causes, or the timeline for having the photo I uploaded reviewed and my account unlocked.

When I would try to login to my account, I received this message:

Facebook's photo saying user cannot log in

I waited. I took a walk and enjoyed the beautiful weather. I checked Instagram. I waited some more. Folks on Twitter weighed in:

A few hours later, I attempted to login again and was allowed in with no issues. I never received any feedback or email messages from Facebook telling me my account was reinstated or saying why I had been locked out.

I’m not mad at Facebook. Their systems saw something out of the ordinary, such as multiple logins from multiple devices in several locations, and followed security protocols as developed. My concern is with the lack of communication and method they offered to unlock my account.

I don’t know why I was not emailed at any point during the process. Facebook is quick to email me when a friend tags me in a comment or post, or when a friend goes live on video, so it’s strange they would be silent during a major account issue.

Google image Search results ImageSecond, I think the method of uploading a photo doesn’t seem terribly secure and easy to spoof.

There are photos of me all over the internet, and as you can see, when you google me, there’s plenty of photos. Facebook collects my email and mobile number, I’m not sure why they didn’t make me verify by code sent via email or text, like many other services do.

Did a person check the image, or was some super-secret Skynet AI responsible for seeing it was me in the photo and unlocking my account? Was the image actually deleted from Facebook’s servers once the check was complete as they said it would be?

Regardless, once I was back in I made sure to check what apps had access to my account (not many) and what privileges they had to access my data (not much). I don’t think one of them triggered the block, but it’s better to be safe with third party websites you give access to your Facebook account. If you do those quizzes and content generators that post on your behalf, you have given those random apps full access to your info, your friends, and more. That gives me a bad feeling, but that’s a post for another day.

If there’s a lesson here to be learned, it’s keep a photo of yourself handy in case you need to upload it to Facebook.

 

Facebook StoriesIt seems like all the major social platforms are working day and night to copy each other’s features. Lately, it seems they all have their sights set on the newly-public Snapchat, who launched their stories feature ages ago. Instagram soon followed,  and this week the mighty Facebook is launching a story feature.

Stories are not a new concept – users can now post images, videos, and more to a “story” as opposed to their news feed. These are intended to be ephemeral, lasting a few hours or a day, and then the disappear. Users can send these to all their friends, or like Snapchat and Instagram, direct them a specific user.

Facebook will allow drawing, stickers, and more to be added to photos. Facebook’s spin on the story will include a feature they are calling “masks,” which is a lift of Snapchat’s filters feature. Snapchat’s filters are fun but they have some pretty serious science behind them. Here are a few examples of masks Facebook will ship:

Facebook Masks

As you can see, they will be heavily advertiser focused. In the example above, you can see an Aliens move tie-in, Minions, and Guardians of the Galaxy. These IPs all have new movies coming out this summer. After all, Facebook is an advertising company, first and foremost.

Here’s what I thought when I saw this news this morning. If every platform and tool has an ephemeral stories feature, then none of them do. My time is limited, and now I have to think about what platform I should or need to post my stories on. None of them? All of them? Where do I reach the most amount of people?

For example, for some reason, I have a huge following on Snapchat. Literally tens of thousands. I post stories there and they do well with many views. Now, with Facebook launching stories, will that audience erode? Do I have to post the same content on Facebook where I reach less people, or do I focus my limited energies on the platforms where I already have brand value?

And that’s me as an individual. This is going to add a whole new layer of complexity for brands, institutions, and companies. They will need to decide where it makes sense for them to spend their time and resources to reach their key audiences as well. The Verge says this:

Where to post your daily story now becomes a daily concern for a certain subset of youngish, social media-savvy people. Facebook says stories belong everywhere that people are talking online, but what if the format is a fad? And what if forcing it on users across its entire family of app leads to a general fatigue with the idea? The company says each of its apps has a distinctive audience, and I believe it. But there’s also plenty of overlap. There’s a risk here that Facebook’s mania for stories will be interpreted as overkill by its users, and the feature will ultimately fade into the background. (This happened with live video!)

This stories war has the potential to also create confusion among users. If Facebook puts a large amount of attention and advertising around the Stories feature, will that slowly decrease the amount of news feed posts people and brands are doing? Will brands want to spend money to promote their posts to news feeds if the traffic isn’t there to see it?

Personally, I’m all for stories if it stops people posting freebooted videos and “inspirational” quotes on their news feeds.