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Traditional media is finally waking up to the fact that Facebook may not be the savior it once seemed to be. Remember just a few years ago, when it seemed like Facebook was going to rescue the big-name newspapers and media companies? The biggest publishers completely bought into the idea that posting content on Facebook and not on their own website was actually a shrewd business strategy. And now look where it has landed them.
How the Facebook con worked
The start of the con was simple – Facebook told the big mainstream publishers to create content for the world’s biggest social network in order to get referral links back to their websites. Plus, as part of the overall con, Facebook mentioned a lot of mumbo-jumbo about engagement and how creating an active Facebook presence was what was required in the brave new social media world. Looking back now, this was a brilliant move on the part of Facebook – they essentially got the world’s top content creators to create content for them… for free!
When organic reach on the social network started to decline, Facebook told the big publishers that they needed to buy ads or pay a little extra to promote their content in order to bring the same number of readers back to their website. Still following? Not only was Facebook getting publishers to create content for free, they were now asking them to pay a little extra on the side to reach the same amount of people.
And Facebook wasn’t finished there. When buying ads and paying to promote posts didn’t move the needle, Facebook told the big publishers that they needed to create “Instant Articles” – content that was specifically designed for Facebook and that could be read entirely within Facebook itself without the need to go to any external website at all. And the big publishers agreed to it – not only were they creating free content, not only were they paying to promote that content, they were now letting Facebook keep all the content for itself!
Trying to game the Facebook system is a losing battle
With more and more people only reading content on mobile devices, it looks like Facebook is going to walk away with (a) all the readers (b) all the content and (c) all the advertising dollars. People simply aren’t going to click out of the Facebook app to read content elsewhere – they will keep scrolling in their newsfeed. And so advertisers have every incentive to spend their dollars on Facebook and not elsewhere. Brilliant!
And that’s not all – every time publishers have tried to push back due to falling metrics, Facebook has simply moved the goalposts. First, publishers tried to create viral content. Then they rushed to create video content. Then they rushed to create long-form video content. The rules of “what works” constantly seem to change.
To add insult to injury, Facebook is now telling publishers that the “newsfeed” shouldn’t contain so much “news.” People using Facebook would rather read updates from their friends. And so now Facebook is removing close to 20 percent of all “news” from the newsfeed. Automatically, publishers can expect a 20 percent decline in views and engagement. And you know? They are going to have to deal with it because there are really only two sources of referral traffic these days: Google and Facebook.
So what comes next? Well, Facebook has cleaned out the major publishers and media companies and now it’s off to all the small, local newspapers and community media websites. Facebook is promoting this as part of its “Time Well Spent” initiative to make the social network a better place to hang out and watch cat videos. For Facebook users, it might be “time well spent,” but for publishers, it certainly is not “dollars well spent.”