While online retailers, restaurant review sites, social networks, and technology-oriented media sites like TechCrunch and CNET have embraced Facebook Connect as a means to encourage registrations and generate page views, perhaps no business sector could benefit more than the struggling newspaper industry.
In a sign that newspapers have begun to understand the opportunity Connect presents for their sites (and their readers), Bild, Germany’s largest newspaper, recently accounced that it would partner with Facebook to allow users to log into the site with their Facebook identities, The Local reported. When Bild readers log into the site via Connect, the comments they make to stories can be published back into their Facebook News Feed, thus drawing Facebook’s users back to Bild and the original articles published there.
“It’s a classic win-win situation for both sides,” Bild spokesperson Tobias Fröhlich told The Local, adding that no money or user data would change hands in the deal. “There are more possibilities for greater exposure to both Facebook and Bild content,” he said.
Newspapers, especially those in America, should follow this implementation closely to see if Facebook draws additional traffic and improves user engagement on Bild’s site. The decline of newspaper revenue, both in print and online revenues, has been staggering. In an economic analysis in the 2009 State of the News Media Report, researchers revealed chilling numbers:
In 2006, total industry advertising was $49.3 billion. In 2008, it was about $38 billion (estimating fourth-quarter results) – a decline in the two years of 23 percent….Newspaper stocks, which had lost 42 percent of their value from the start of 2005 to the end of 2007, lost an astonishing 83 percent of their remaining value during 2008.
As print sales plummet, online advertising has failed to make up for the shortfall. In fact, the Web accounts for only 10 percent of the industry’s revenue, the report contended. As a result, newspapers need more dynamic ways to engage with their Web users. They also must learn more about their readers in order to serve up relevant advertising (if that’s the thing that can sustain newspapers and other media companies over the long haul, which some doubt).
It’s discouraging to look over the current list of sites that have added Facebook Connect and not see the likes of a New York Times, Wall Street Journal or Washington Post. While those newspaper sites offer the obligatory “Share on Facebook” option, they miss out on the two-way engagement facilitated by Connect.
By not implementing it, the conversations their users have about their content while logged into Facebook are less likely to be diverted to their own site. Although they will get traffic from people using “Links” on Facebook, it adds unnecessary steps for end-users that a simple implementation of Connect could potentially eliminate. In addition, the publishing of stories as “Activities” in a News Feed, which Connect allows, can help draw traffic back to their sites.
Facebook and the newspaper industry should talk more, too, as they share a mutual challenge: While both provide essential services that people need to communicate and consume information, they must construct a viable business model based on online advertising. For Facebook, the challenge has been getting people to click on ads when they are in the mode of communicating with their friends (which can be more difficult to monetize than other online activities, like, for example, typing a product-specific keyword into Google).
Newspapers, for their part, often fail to understand how to target their advertising online, either due to a dearth of detailed demographic information or a failure to understand their users’ online habits. Facebook has those missing pieces of information for a lot of newspaper readers who happen to also have Facebook accounts. If they worked together, they could solve the online ad puzzle together.