Goodbye Facebook: how publishers can survive and thrive in 2018

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What do changes to Facebook mean for publishers?

Last week, Mark Zuckerberg outlined upcoming algorithmic changes to what Facebook shows you on your Newsfeed.

For the average Facebook user, this change should be positive, resulting in more ‘meaningful interactions’, with an increased focus on friends and connections over published media. For the average publisher, however, this news might come as concerning.

As print publishing continues its decline, publishers need to be more creative and diverse about how they drive revenues. It’s not as simple as just putting content on a website and selling some ad space around the edges. Even digital native publishers such as Mashable are feeling the heat. Making money from producing content simply isn’t easy and it just got a bit harder.

So how can publishers navigate the storm ahead?

Prepare to spend

If content shared on Facebook is now less likely to appear organically on the Newsfeed, will we start to see publishers coughing up and paying for more of their content to be promoted to Facebook users?

This may only fit into the business models of some publishers, but we could see them starting to offer paid social options in their media packs to provide brands the reach they desire. It could eat away at margins for publishers, but might be necessary if Facebook traffic is important in reaching their audiences.

Continue to diversify

If you’re reliant on Facebook, now is the time to think about your strategies for building followings and driving traffic from other social channels, email and SEO.

But the successful publishers of the future will also be much more than just content producers. We see some of our publishing clients listing events, promoting job boards, hosting awards, sharing whitepapers, offering a range of sponsored content formats and exploring e-commerce or affiliates to name but a few methods for achieving revenue diversification. We’ll no doubt see even more creative revenue streams open up over the year ahead.

Drive for quality

If you’re a high quality content publisher that has carved out a nice niche for yourself, maybe you will find it easier to continue to drive traffic from Facebook. Let’s face it, if you really are high quality you probably haven’t been too reliant on Facebook to date anyway.

Personally, I’ll be keeping my eye on some of the ‘social first’ media brands and publishers that have had a nice ride thanks to Facebook over the last few years. Think Unilad, The Lad Bible and 9GAG – businesses built nearly entirely on Facebook views, the associated traffic to their websites and the revenue from display ads that follows.

Facebook has now followed Google in placing its long-term bet on quality, and that means turning off the traffic tap for media brands such as these. If I was them I would be thinking hard about the teams of people I employ to churn out social media content and how sustainable that now is.

Build retention

Having viewed the Google Analytics accounts of a variety of publishers, I nearly always see similar results: a bounce rate of about 80%, pages per session of about 1.2 and a time on site of less than one minute. Most visitors come to read the article they saw on social media, then they leave again.

Across our own publishing clients at 93digital, we’re seeing more of a drive towards building retention and repeat visits. Through implementing content walls, member accounts and paid subscriptions, publishers can drive long term value while gathering valuable demographic insights about their visitors.

Optimise the experience

It’s easy to talk about building retention and repeat visits, but user experiences have to be seamless for this to happen. The experience on mobile needs to be first class for most publishers, and if you’re expecting a user to part with their personal details and create an account on your site when it’s slow, clunky and hard to use, think again.

Publishers will need to invest more in their digital properties over the year ahead to create dynamic and impactful content hubs that visitors really enjoy using in order to build the retention, repeat visits and diversified revenue streams they need.

Alex Price is founder and managing director of 93digital.

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