Facebook has long been considered a key part of media. It drives 43 percent of traffic to news sites, beating even Google. For many publishers, Facebook is a critical part of the distribution and social strategy. Should publishers be worried about competition from Facebook?
Back in the day, it was so easy. Publishers would post a story on their page; people that liked the publisher’s page would see it in the timeline. We loved Facebook and Facebook loved us.
Then came “boosting” posts, where Facebook allowed publishers to pay a little extra to grow audience. This became the norm, and Facebook became a pay-to-play platform. It was a way for Facebook to make money and for publishers to gain attention; we didn’t blame them.
Now, every few months, publishers are faced with another algorithm change, and the idea of organic reach fades a little more. In 2016, organic reach is down 52 percent from last year.
It hasn’t all been bad. In April 2016, Facebook gave publishers two gifts: Instant Articles and Facebook Live. Instant articles load 10 times faster and live in-app. Facebook worked with publishers to develop a model that allowed publishers to keep advertising revenue and incorporate native advertising. However, the cost was loss of control of the content, and the inability to track readership trends.
We were told that publishers and advertisers utilizing video would be promoted and rewarded. This was a massive overstatement. Last week, Facebook announced it miscalculated how much time users spent watching video. Incorrect numbers have been displayed to advertisers and publishers for over two years.
In June, publishers were warned that Facebook would begin promoting Friends and Family over pages, making many publishers panic, though most reported not too much of a change. More recently, Facebook announced it would clamp down on clickbait headlines, but with no clear definition or criteria, legitimate news headlines could be blocked. In a sea of competition, many publishers originally began click-bait headlines to stand out on the platform.
The social media titan has been in the news for talks of censorship and its role in the media, after taking down a photo of the infamous Napalm girl. Aftenposten editor Espen Egil Hansen called Facebook a “frenemy” because of the way it controls the internet. He went on to say Zuckerberg was the most powerful editor-in-chief in the globe.
Zuckerberg swears Facebook is not a media company, yet it somehow has more control over publisher traffic than most publishers do. Publishers are taking note. New data indicate some publishers are backing off Instant Articles, a sign that they may be ready to start looking for other solutions that let them take back control of their content. Facebook is a business; I question how wise it is to build a business on top of another business. Facebook isn’t looking to hurt publishers, but it’s looking to make money, and we need to recognize it as friendly competition.
Michael is former Vice President of Innovation & Communications at the News Media Alliance.