Publishers wary of Facebook’s vow to ensure people see their posts
UK publishers have greeted Facebook’s pledge to better target their content with trepidation, fearing the charm offensive could eventually turn the social network into a content platform to rival their own sites.
Media owners can now access tools that boost the visibility of their articles to potential readers on Facebook, increasing the amount of traffic to their sites driven by social media.
It is a proposition six months in the making and has been honed in collaboration with publishers that have requested a more refined way to distribute content across the network. The social network has admittedly become a major traffic driver for publishers, pushing newspapers and magazines to adapt to social media’s growing influence on reach.
The potency of social media referrals is not lost on the Financial Times, which believes Facebook's tools can help expose its content to a bigger audience and fuel its charge for greater personalisation through social connections.
Rebecca Watts, head of social media at the Financial Times said: “Geo-targeted posts work extremely well for us on Facebook and we’re keen to experiment with different ways of reaching specific communities. Personalisation and relevance is at the heart of the FT’s reader engagement strategy.”
Yet the importance of personalisation to publishers reflects content’s growing importance at a time when the likes of Facebook and Google are trying to transform into publishing platforms. The social network’s latest tools aim to accelerate the shift, capitalising on publishers’ growing reliance on the channel to spread content.
Pete Wootton, managing director at Dennis Digital, warned that such a dependency on social media could cede more control of consumer data to third parties such as Facebook. While it’s a “positive sign” that Facebook’s tools are showing how important publishers are to its expanding service, it is “worrying” how it is taking behavioural data from publishers and then “leveraging” it.
News UK, owner of The Times and The Sun, shared the concern, which was compounded by reservations about the tools' ability to boost reach for content behind pay-walls. The Sun which has made the bulk of its content paid-for, believes Facebook is not the right environment to host paid journalism.
Chris Duncan, chief marketing officer at News UK, added: “Social media has provided an audience and incredible platforms for people to be able to engage with content. But when you step back from it you have to realise that all the social media platforms also have reduced content in the way that they present it to a granular format. As yet, there is no way to run paid journalism on Facebook where its owners monetise” [publisher] content."
Despite concerns of diminishing returns from some publishers, Facebook has said its tools will not have a major impact on their strategies with articles featured on the network featuring links back to their sites. Far more consequential is the service the social network will reportedly launch in the coming months that would offer publishers a revenue-share deal to host articles directly on its app.
Duncan said: “What Facebook is trying to do is become a publishing platform. They will say that it’s very much a better customer experience if publishers publish directly onto their platform. But [It’s the equivalent] of putting your head in the fox's nest [for publishers].”
Facebook is becoming a key channel for publishers with many now seeing traffic from social media grow at a faster rate than search. The social network is responsible for nearly a quarter of referrals to news sites, according to Quantcast.
Michael Cerda, product management director at Facebook, told The Drum earlier this month that the expansion of its offering to publishers represents a “value exchange” around “great content”.
Social media experts agree that its better not think of Facebook and website content as competitors for audience attention. Rather, think of how both platforms can work symbiotically.
Charlie Cottrell, Editorial Director at We Are Social, said: “Optimisation for social is critical. You have on average two seconds to grab someone’s attention when they are scrolling. To stop their thumb and hope to elicit a click your content needs to look perfectly at home on the platform you’ve placed it.
"That means your copy should be sharp, any images should be created to the correct social dimensions, the length and tone of video content should be determined by the habits of the audience on the platform you're creating content for.”
Facebook's plan to woo publishers forms part of a wider play to keep users within its own eco-system, particularly on mobile.