The News Is, Facebook IS The News -- So Time To Get Native

Alan Rusbridger hit the nail firmly on the head when revealing that the reason his former paper, The Guardian, failed to reach forecast digital ad revenues was Facebook -- or at least, it's the growing trend for distributors of news to use a social media channel to distribute their news. Seems pretty vicarious, doesn't it? A site we use to post pictures of the kids going back to school and cats reacting to cucumbers is also now in the throes of becoming how many people receive much of their news. But when you think about it, whose timeline isn't packed with news stories from outlets they follow as well as posts that friends have shared?

The data is there, however. Figures published by the Open Democracy a year ago, courtesy of comScore, show that something like 45 million Brits get news through the site each month -- more than double the number two channel, the BBC. It's just a little more popular than the Mail Online, which in turn is just a tad higher than The Guardian. Dwell-time figures are almost certainly skewed by people checking out skateboarding dogs and meaningless memes, but Facebook users spend at least seven times longer on the site than they do checking out the BBC. 

This shift is the reason why Rusbridger claims revenue was down $27m last year against earlier forecasts, and it's a massive issue that media companies across the globe must deal with. However, you have to spare a thought for British media, which not only has Facebook to contend with for attention, but also the publicly owned BBC, which obviously carries no advertising. It's hard to be too precise, but it would appear from the figures that the two main leaders have as much attention between them as the rest of the entire market combined.

Against this backdrop it's difficult to compete, and it raises the question of how a news operation can keep the proverbial lights on. The only solution to me -- other than non-news revenues, such as events -- is that news groups have to redouble their efforts on native. The Guardian was clearly one of the first to see the need for this -- and The Telegraph and to a lesser extent, The Times, are not far behind.

If you can't get them reading your content on your site in the same numbers as before, you need to ensure that where the audience interacts with your content is a moot point. As long as they're reading, listening or viewing the content somewhere, that's a feather in the cap for the sponsoring brand.

Native is set to become increasingly important for news operations anyway, but for me, the most pressing case for brand-supported content is this massive shift away from news sites as destinations in favour of Facebook. Strategy has to shift to move emphasis from ad dollars to wide distribution, high reader numbers and robust interaction through comments, shares and likes. The only way to hit all of these targets has to be native, doesn't it?

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