Facebook recently put out an announcement that it would be shifting the way in which it curated its content so that users would see more from family and friends and less from pages, brands and media companies. That triggered a mass freakout among many who have developed a reliance on the social media platform.
Guest post by Mike Masnick of Techdirt
Last week, a large part of the media ecosystem seemed to totally flip out following Facebook's announcement that it was going to effectively de-prioritize news content in favor of content from friends and family. Facebook was pretty direct about how this will decrease traffic to many publishers:
Because space in News Feed is limited, showing more posts from friends and family and updates that spark conversation means we’ll show less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses.
As we make these updates, Pages may see their reach, video watch time and referral traffic decrease. The impact will vary from Page to Page, driven by factors including the type of content they produce and how people interact with it. Pages making posts that people generally don’t react to or comment on could see the biggest decreases in distribution. Pages whose posts prompt conversations between friends will see less of an effect.
From Facebook's standpoint, this move is a pretty easy one to make. Even though it had spent the past few years heavily courting news publishers (including directly paying large publishers many millions of dollars to "pivot to video"), the company hadn't totally succeeded in becoming the go to source for news (that remains Twitter's strength). And yet, Facebook was also getting more and more grief over news items in its feeds, especially post-election when people incorrectly wanted to "blame" news on Facebook for Donald Trump's presidential victory.
On top of that, this move will only enforce something that Facebook had been inching towards for a while: forcing businesses and publishers to pay to have their news reach a larger audience. So... if this means that Facebook makes more money, distresses fewer people, and doesn't get attacked as much for the so-called problem of "fake news" it looks like a total win from Facebook's perspective.
Publishers, on the other hand, were generally freaked out. Many have spent the past 5 years or so desperately trying to "play the Facebook game." And, for many, it gave them a decent boost in traffic (if not much revenue). But, in the process, they proceeded to lose their direct connection to many readers. People coming to news sites from Facebook don't tend to be loyal readers. They're drive-bys.
This is why we actually think this is a good thing. As we've discussed in the past, if your entire business is reliant on someone else's platform, you're going to be in trouble. That other platform can pull the rug out from under you in an instant -- as may be the case here.
This is a big part of the reason that we've deliberately refused to "play the Facebook game" over the years, even as friends at other publishers kept telling us we were missing out on traffic. As I noted a few weeks ago in our 2017 wrap-up post, we're pretty proud of the fact that a plurality of our visitors are visiting directly, and that less than 20% of our visits come from social media. It suggests that our audience is pretty loyal, and I don't need to freak out about changes on any platform -- whether its social, search or something else.
Of course, it won't be surprising to see some publishers continue to throw away good resources and time towards trying to "game" this new system. As Facebook's announcement states, since it will promote content that people "interact" with, expect to see a lot of ridiculous "comment begging" or "share begging" from publishers. At Techdirt we've long forbidden any kind of "comment begging" in our posts (e.g., "Here's some crazy opinion! Do you agree or disagree? Let us know below!") because it feels cheap, manipulative and inauthentic, rather than genuine. I don't want to insult your intelligence with such things, but I expect many publishers, desperate for that Facebook traffic drip, will resort to that kind of thing.
The better solution, hopefully, is that many more publications will get over their needy relationship with platforms like Facebook, and focus on building actual, loyal audiences. If not, perhaps they'll go away. And, frankly, if they've spent the past few years living off of ephemeral Facebook traffic, it's not clear that many will miss them.