Why Publishers Need to Walk Away From Facebook

Publishers need to stop looking at social media as the holy grail for consumer engagement and evolve their strategies now so they’re not dependent on the latest social network algorithm change.

In late June, Facebook once again announced a News Feed algorithm change—this time to focus more on friends and family content, and less on brands and publishers—a change that’s not all that surprising since Facebook is organized around who you know.

This modification, however, is making huge waves in the publishing world, since publishers and content houses have relied on Facebook as an effective way to get in front of consumers.

Now, for publishers who have already in many ways lost control of how their content is accessed, consumed and monetized, they’re faced with Facebook throttling their access yet further. And that’s not all. Facebook is also closing its News Feed application, Paper, further curtailing choice of outlets and hastening a consolidation of power that benefits no one but Facebook. Yikes!

But publishers are not quite in as dire straits as it may appear, even with this seeming abandonment of Facebook. For one thing, many consumers are starting to peel back on social usage.

A recent study conducted by SimilarWeb found that Americans spent less time on the four largest social networks in the first part of this year than they did during the same time period of 2015. More specifically, the study saw a 36.16 percent decrease on Instagram, 27.94 percent on Twitter, 19.21 percent on Snapchat and 6.7 percent on Facebook.

While the survey did not explore motivations for this decrease, one could argue that it’s because social media networks’ foundations are built around the social graph (who you know) versus the interest graph (what you like).

With Facebook, which is all about your friends and family, users go there to connect with and stay up-to-date on the people they know and care about. It’s less about the things they may be interested in, like surfing or country music. And while there are certainly other kinds of content within the social News Feed, it’s neither curated nor dictated by the individual user’s interests and preferences. It’s determined by the almighty, seemingly ever-changing algorithm, which underscores the real need for and value in building communities around interests.

That’s why publishers need to stop looking at social media as the holy grail for consumer engagement and evolve their strategies now so they’re not dependent on the latest social network algorithm change.

Reliance on “free” pages, handles and boards is really a Faustian bargain for publishers. Instead of “borrowing” real estate on social networks, publishers should seek new opportunities to own their digital presence, particularly in mobile. Ownership affords opportunities that don’t come with squatting on someone else’s space.

New options are emerging that are low-cost, low-risk and low-maintenance to start. With owning comes the ability to maintain greater control over how a brand’s content is accessed, consumed and monetized in mobile, where customers are increasingly spending their time. And when you own it, it can’t just be pulled out from under you.

Here are some ways that publishers can free themselves from the whims of social media giants and travel on a new path to return on investment:

  • Size isn’t everything: Rather than placing their content based on where the largest audiences are gathering, publishers should seek out better contexted, interest-based audience aggregation opportunities where the total numbers may be fewer, but the concentration of qualified customers is far greater.
  • Maintain your own voice: Publishers should prioritize the platforms and outlets that allow creation of a branded environment to serve content within its own context (versus being randomly inserted into a single-steam feed) and in its own editorial voice.
  • Go beyond the like to drive a more fruitful path to ROI: Ignore the lure of the empty scale and build a customer base on qualified interest over time. Engagement (as defined for each publisher, but certainly more than just a like or a follow) is the metric on which to focus because it leads to monetizable behaviors. Create meaningful metrics based on observed actions and behaviors such as time spent, made a post, commented or shared content, or focus on real value-creating activities like website traffic and conversions.

Although this latest algorithm change was another blow dealt to the content creators that again have had their reach reduced as a reward for attracting users to Facebook with their premium content, publishers can still survive. The key is focusing on building communities around interests, not personal connections, to draw in both consumers and relevant advertisers.

Winder Hughes is the founder and CEO of messaging app Hi-Fi.

Image courtesy of Lewis Tse Pui Lung/Shutterstock.