Tag: Social

Social Image Generator + Jetpack

I feel like my quest to make sure this site had pretty sweet (and automatically-generated) social media images (e.g. Open Graph) came to a close once I found Social Image Generator.

The trajectory there was that I ended up talking about it far too much on ShopTalk, to the point it became a common topic in our Discord (join via Patreon), Andy Bell pointed me at Daniel Post’s Social Image Generator and I immediately bought and installed it. I heard from Daniel over Twitter, and we ended up having long conversations about the plugin and my desires for it. Ultimately, Daniel helped me code up some custom designs and write logic to create different social media image designs depending on the information it had (for example, if we provide quote text, it uses a special design for that).

As you likely know, Automattic has been an awesome and long time sponsor for this site, and we often promote Jetpack as a part of that (as I’m a heavy user of it, it’s easy to talk about). One of Jetpack’s many features is helping out with social media. (I did a video on how we do it.) So, it occurred to me… maybe this would be a sweet feature for Jetpack. I mentioned it to the Automattic team and they were into the idea of talking to Daniel. I introduced them back in May, and now it’s September and… Jetpack Acquires WordPress Plugin Social Image Generator

“When I initially saw Social Image Generator, the functionality looked like a ideal fit with our existing social media tools,’ said James Grierson, General Manager of Jetpack. ‘I look forward to the future functionality and user experience improvements that will come out of this acquisition. The goal of our social product is to help content creators expand their audience through increased distribution and engagement. Social Image Generator will be a key component of helping us deliver this to our customers.”

Daniel will also be joining Jetpack to continue developing Social Image Generator and integrating it with Jetpack’s social media features.

Rob Pugh

Heck yeah, congrats Daniel. My dream for this thing is that, eventually, we could start building social media images via regular WordPress PHP templates. The trick is that you need something to screenshot them, like Puppeteer or Playwright. An average WordPress install doesn’t have that available, but because Jetpack is fundamentally a service that leverages the great WordPress cloud to do above-and-beyond things, this is in the realm of possibility.

WP Tavern also covered the news:

Automattic is always on the prowl for companies that are doing something interesting in the WordPress ecosystem. The Social Image Generator plugin expertly captured a new niche with an interface that feels like a natural part of WordPress and impressed our chief plugin critic, Justin Tadlock, in a recent review.

“Automattic approached me and let me know they were fans of my plugin,” Post said. “And then we started talking to see what it would be like to work together. We were actually introduced by Chris Coyier from CSS-Tricks, who uses both our products.”

Sarah Gooding

Just had to double-toot my own horn there, you understand.


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Auto-Generated Social Media Images

I’ve been thinking about social media images again. You know, the images that (can) show up when you share a link in places like Twitter, Facebook, or iMessage. You’re essentially leaving money on the table without them, because they turn a regular post with a little ol’ link in it into a post with a big honkin’ attention grabbin’ image on it, with a massive clickable area. Of any image on a website, the social media image might be the #1 most viewed, most remembered, most network-requested image on the site.

It’s essentially this bit of HTML that makes them happen:

<meta property="og:image" content="/images/social-media-image.jpg" />

But make sure to read up on it as there are a bunch other other HTML tags to get right.

I think I’m thinking about it again because GitHub seems to have new social media cards. These are new, right?

Those GitHub social media images are clearly programmatically generated. Check out an example URL.

Automation

While I think you can get a lot of bang out of a totally hand-crafted bespoke-designed social media image, that’s not practical for sites with lots of pages: blogs, eCommerce… you know what I mean. The trick for sites like that is to automate their creation via templating somehow. I’ve mentioned other people’s takes on this in the past, but let’s recap:

You know what all those have in common? Puppeteer.

Puppeteer is a way to spin up and control a headless copy of Chrome. It has this incredibly useful feature of being able to take a screenshot of the browser window: await page.screenshot({path: 'screenshot.png'});. That’s how our coding fonts website does the screenshots. The screenshotting idea is what gets people’s minds going. Why not design a social media template in HTML and CSS, then ask Puppeteer to screenshot it, and use that as the social media image?

I love this idea, but it means having access to a Node server (Puppeteer runs on Node) that is either running all the time, or that you can hit as a serverless function. So it’s no wonder that this idea has resonated with the Jamstack crowd who are already used to doing things like running build processes and leveraging serverless functions.

I think the idea of “hosting” the serverless function at a URL — and passing it the dynamic values of what to include in the screenshot via URL parameter is also clever.

The SVG route

I kinda dig the idea of using SVG as the thing that you template for social media images, partially because it has such fixed coordinates to design inside of, which matches my mental model of making the exact dimensions you need to design social media images. I like how SVG is so composable.

George Francis blogged “Create Your Own Generative SVG Social Images” which is a wonderful example of all this coming together nicely, with a touch of randomization and whimsy. I like the contenteditable trick as well, making it a useful tool for one-off screenshotting.

I’ve dabbled in dynamic SVG creation as well: check out this conference page on our Conferences site.

Unfortunately, SVG isn’t a supported image format for social media images. Here’s Twitter specifically:

URL of image to use in the card. Images must be less than 5MB in size. JPG, PNG, WEBP and GIF formats are supported. Only the first frame of an animated GIF will be used. SVG is not supported.

Twitter docs

Still, composing/templating in SVG can be cool. You convert it to another format for final usage. Once you have an SVG, the conversion from SVG to PNG is almost trivially easy. In my case, I used svg2png and a very tiny Gulp task that runs during the build process.

What about WordPress?

I don’t have a build process for my WordPress site — at least not one that runs every time I publish or update a post. But WordPress would benefit the most (in my world) from dynamic social media images.

It’s not that I don’t have them now. Jetpack goes a long way in making this work nicely. It makes the “featured image” of the post the social media image, allows me to preview it, and auto-posts to social networks. Here’s a video I did on that. That’s gonna get me to a place where the featured images are attached and showing nicely.

But it doesn’t automate their creation. Sometimes a bespoke graphic alone is the way to go (the one above might be a good example of that), but perhaps more often a nicely templated card is the way to go.

Fortunately I caught wind of Social Image Generator for WordPress from Daniel Post. Look how fancy:

This is exactly what WordPress needs!

Daniel himself helped me create a custom template just for CSS-Tricks. I had big dreams of having a bunch of templates to choose from that incorporate the title, author, chosen quotes, featured images, and other things. So far, we’ve settled on just two, a template with the title and author, and a template with a featured image, title, and author. The images are created from that metadata on the fly:

So meta.

This ain’t Puppeteer. This ain’t even the PhantomJS powered svgtopng. This is PHP generated images! And not even ImageMagick, but straight up GD, the thing built right into PHP. So these images are not created in any kind of syntax that would likely feel comfortable to a front-end developer. You’re probably better off using one of the templates, but if you wanna see how my custom one was coded (by Daniel), lemme know and I can post the code somewhere public.

Pretty cool result, right?

Tweet

I get why it had to be built this way: it’s using technology that will work literally anywhere WordPress can run. That’s very much in the WordPress spirit. But it does make me wish creating the templates could be done in a more modern way. Like wouldn’t it be cool if the template for your social media images was just like social-image.php at the root of the theme like any other template file? And you template and design that page with all the normal WordPress APIs? Like an ACF Block almost? And it gets screenshot and used? I’ll answer for you: Yes, that would be cool.


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Automatic Social Share Images

It’s a pretty low-effort thing to get a big fancy link preview on social media. Toss a handful of specific <meta> tags on a URL and you get a big image-title-description thing. Here’s Twitter’s version of an article on this site:

It’s particularly low-effort on this site, as our Yoast SEO plugin puts the correct tags in place automatically. The image it uses by default is the “featured image” feature of WordPress, which we use anyway.

I’m a fan of that kind of improvement for that so little work. Jetpack helps the process, too, by automating things.

But let’s say you don’t use these particular tools. Maybe creating an image per blog post isn’t even something you’re interested in doing, but you still want something nice to show for the social media preview.

We’ve covered this before. You can design the “image” with HTML and CSS, using content and metadata you already have from the blog post. You can turn it into an image with Puppeteer (or the like) and then use that for the image in the meta tags.

Ryan Filler has detailed out that process the best I’ve seen so far.

  1. Create a route on your site that takes dynamic data from the URL to create the layout
  2. Make a cloud function that hits that route, turns it into an image, and uploads it to Cloudinary (for optimizing and serving)
  3. Any time the image is requested, check to see if you’ve already created it. If so, serve it from Cloudinary; if not, make it, then serve it.

This stuff gets my brain cooking. What if we didn’t need to create a raster image at all?

Maybe rather than needing to create a raster image we could use SVG? SVG would be easy to template, and we know <img src="file.svg" alt="" /> is extremely capable. But… Twitter says:

Images must be less than 5MB in size. JPG, PNG, WEBP and GIF formats are supported. Only the first frame of an animated GIF will be used. SVG is not supported.

Fifty sad faces, Twitter. But let’s continue this thought experiment.

We need raster. The <canvas> element can spit out a PNG. What if the cloud function that you talked to was an actual browser? Richard Young called that a “browser function” last year. Maybe the browser-in-the-cloud could do that SVG templating we’re dreaming of, but then draw it to a canvas and spit out that PNG.

Meh, I’m not sure that solves anything since you’d still have the Puppeteer dependency and, if anything, this just complicates how you make the image. Still, something appeals to me about being able to use native browser abilities at the server level.

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Comparing Social Media Outlets for Developer Tips

As a little experiment, I shared a development tip on three different social networks. I also tried to post it in a format that was most suitable for that particular social network:

How did each of them “do”? Let’s take a look. But bear in mind… this ain’t scientific. This is just me having a glance at one isolated example to get a feel for things across different social media sites.

The Twitter Thread

The Tweet

Twitter is probably our largest social media outlet. Despite the fact that I’ve done absolutely nothing with it this year other than auto-tweeting posts from this site (via our Jetpack Integration), those tweets do just about as well as it ever did when I was writing each tweet. These numbers are bound to change, but at the time of writing:

Views

102,501

Followers

~446,000

Retweets

108

Engagements

3,753

Likes

428 (first tweet)

Tweet Analytics showing 102,501 Impressions, 3,753 engagements and a few other more fine-grained stats.
Twitter provides analytics on tweets

Going off that engagements number, a little bit less than 1% of the followers had anything to do with it. I’d say this was a very average tweet for us, if not on the low side.

The Instagram Post

The Post

Instagram is by far the smallest of our social media outlets, being newer and not something I stay particularly active or consistent on. No auto-posting there just yet.

Followers

~2,800

Likes

308

Reached

2,685

Instagram provides analytics (“insights”) on posts.

Using Reach, that’s 96% of the followers. That’s pretty incredible compared t 1% of followers on Twitter. Although, on Twitter. I can easily put URLs to tweets and send people places, where my only options on Instagram are “check out the link in my profile” or use a swipe-up thing in an Instagram Story. So, despite the high engagement of Instagram, I’m mostly just getting the satisfaction of teaching something as well as a little brand awareness. It’s much harder for me to get you to directly do something from Instagram.

The YouTube Video

The Video

YouTube is in the middle for us, much bigger than Instagram but not as big as Twitter. YouTube is a little unique in that there can be (and are) advertising directly on the videos and that get’s a “revenue share” from YouTube. That’s very much not driving motivation for using YouTube (I make 50 cents a day, but it is unique compared to the others.

Subscribers

51,300

Likes

116

Views

2,455

YouTube analytics page showing 2.4K views, 192.8 hours of watch time, and a chart showing a graph that this video has more views than typical over time.
YouTube provides video analytics

Facebook?

We do have a Facebook page but it’s the most neglected of all of them. We auto-post new articles to it, but this experiment didn’t really have a blog post. I published the video to our site, but that doesn’t get auto-posted to Facebook, so the tip never made it there.

I used to feel a little guilty about not taking as much advantage of Facebook as I could, but whenever I look at overall analytics, I’m reminded that all of social media accounts combine for ~2% of traffic to this site. Spending any more time on this stuff is foolish for me, when that time could be spent on content for this site and information architecture for what we already have. And for Facebook specifically, whatever time we have spent there has never seemed to pan out. Just not a hive for developers.

CodePen?

I probably should have factored CodePen into this more, since it’s something of a social network itself with similar metrics. I worked on the examples in CodePen and the whole video was done in CodePen. But in this case, it was more about the journey than the destination. I did ultimately link to a demo at the end of the Twitter thread, but Instagram can’t link to it and I wasn’t as compelled to link to it on YouTube as the video itself to me was the important information.

If I was trying to compare CodePen stats here, I would have created the Pen in a step-by-step educational format so I could deliver the same idea. That actually sounds fun and I should probably still do that!

Winner?

Eh.

The problem is that there isn’t anything particularly useful to measure. What would have been way more interesting is if I had some really important call to action in each one where I’m like trying to sell you something or get you to sign up for something or whatever. I feel like that’s the real world of developer marketing. You gotta do 100 things for someone for free if you want them to do something for you on that 101st time. And on the 101st time, you should probably measure it somehow to see if the effort is worth it.

Here’s the very basic data together though…

Followers Engagements %
Twitter ~446,000 3,753 0.08%
Instagram ~2,800 2,685 96%
YouTube ~51,300 2,455 5%

One interesting thing is that I find the effort was about equal for all of them. You’d think a video would be hardest, but at least that’s just hit-record-hit-stop and minor editing. The other formats take longer to craft with custom text and graphics.

These would be my takeaways from this limited experiment:

  • You need big numbers on Twitter to do much. That’s because the engagement is pretty low. Still, it’s probably our best outlet for getting people to click a link and do something.
  • Instagram has amazing engagement, but it’s hard to send anyone anywhere. It’s still no wonder why people use it. You really do reach your audience there. If you had a strong call to action, I bet you could still get people do to it even with the absence of links (since people know how to search for stuff on the web).
  • While I mentioned that for this example the effort level was fairly even, in general, YouTube is going to require much higher effort. Video production just isn’t the same as farting out a couple of words or a screenshot. With that, and knowing that you’d need absolutely massive numbers to earn anything directly from YouTube, it’s pretty similar to other social networks in that you need to derive value from it abstractly.
  • This was not an idea that “went viral” in any sense. This is just standard-grade engagement, which was good for this experiment. I’m always super surprised at the type of developer tips that go viral. It’s always something I don’t expect, and often something I’m like awwwww we have an article about that too! I’d never bet on or expect anything going viral. Making stuff that your normal audience likes is the ticket.
  • Being active is pretty important. Any chart I’ve seen has big peaks when posts go out regularly and valleys when they don’t. Post regularly = riding the peaks.
  • None of this compares anywhere close to the real jewel of making things: blogging. Blogging is where you have full control and full benefit. The most important thing social media can do is get people over to your own site.

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Social Cards as a Service

I love the idea of programmatically generated images. That power is close at hand these days for us front-end developers, thanks to the concept of headless browsers. Take Puppeteer, the library for controlling headless Chrome. Generating images from URLs is their default use case:

const puppeteer = require('puppeteer');  (async () => {   const browser = await puppeteer.launch();   const page = await browser.newPage();   await page.goto('https://example.com');   await page.screenshot({path: 'example.png'});    await browser.close(); })();

That ought to get the ol’ mind grape going. What if we had URLs on our site that — with the power of our HTML and CSS skills — created perfect little designs for sharing using dynamic data… then turned them into images and used them for our meta tags?

The first I saw of this idea was Drew McLellan’s Dynamic Social Sharing Images. Drew wrote a script to fire up Puppeteer and get the job done.

Since the design part is entirely an HTML/CSS adventure, I’m sure you could imagine a setup where the URL passed in parameters that did things like set copy and typography, colors, sizes, etc. Zeit built exactly that!

The URL is like this:

https://og-image.now.sh/I%20am%20Chris%20and%20I%20am%20**cool**%20la%20tee%20ding%20dong%20da..png?theme=light&md=1&fontSize=100px&images=https%3A%2F%2Fassets.zeit.co%2Fimage%2Fupload%2Ffront%2Fassets%2Fdesign%2Fhyper-color-logo.svg

Kind of amazing that you can spin up an entire browser in a cloud function! Netlify also offers cloud functions, and when I mentioned this to Phil Hawksworth, he told me he was already doing this for his blog!

So on a blog post like this one, an image like this is automatically generated:

Which is inserted as meta:

<meta property="og:image" content="https://www.hawksworx.com/card-image/-blog-find-that-at-card.png">

I dug through Phil’s repos, naturally, and found his little machine for doing it.

I’m madly envious of all this and need to get one set up for myself.

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