It’s easy to see why publishers have gone social in a bid to monetize their content. According to a Reuters study, almost half (44%) of U.S. users get their news fix through social media every week – and 44% of global users do so via Facebook.
In recent months, The New York Times, ESPN and The Washington Post have scaled back their advertising via Facebook Instant Articles. And the media giant has also come under fire for not doing enough to counteract fake news and limit the spread of misinformation across its substantial user base of 1.9 billion.
This raises two key questions: Are publishers waking up to the reality of Facebook’s flaws? If so, is it time to seek a new monetization model that works better?
Instant Articles fails to deliver.
When Facebook created Instant Articles in 2015, the product appeared to tick every box. Not only was it designed to deliver fast and immersive experiences, but it had the capacity to help publishers reach vast audiences, while retaining control of advertising.
It sounded too good to be true — and perhaps it was.
Since the launch of Instant Articles, reach has continually dropped. First Facebook changed its algorithms to prioritize video content, then posts from friends and family were placed above publisher content. Now, ephemeral stories (limited-time posts) are pushing articles even further out of view.
A report from Digital Content Next — a group that includes Bloomberg News and The Washington Post — shows publishers are frustrated by the limitations of Instant Articles. Key findings reveal restrictions on ad types and sizes, and poor measurement, are hindering monetization.
Although Facebook has tried to improve Instant Articles, enhancing Google AMP and Apple News integration, for now the product is still below expectations.
Fake news brings quality under the spotlight
Among the criticisms leveled at Facebook for its slow response to fake news, by far the most notable was the accusation its inaction had influenced the 2016 presidential election.
Critics named Facebook’s role as host to spurious stories about both major candidates, and the platform’s tendency to create echo chambers by showing users interest-based content, as determining factors in the final result. Even then-President Barack Obama condemned the spread of fake news on the site as a “dust cloud of nonsense.”
While CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially dismissed this charge as a “crazy idea,” the organization later produced a report recognizing its unwitting part in a misinformation campaign during the election. It also detailed measures Facebook plans to take against fake news, including enhancing its ability to identify false amplification and block bogus account building.
Yet many remain unimpressed, the News Media Alliance has labeled the efforts of Facebook (and Google) to combat fake news as “underwhelming” and more focused on “public relations than addressing underlying incentives […]”.
What are the alternatives for publishers?
As a result of the multiple dents in Facebook’s media crown, publishers are starting to look for different ways to keep revenue rolling.
Some have gone back to monetizing their own sites, and there is much to be said for this approach. Native ads and sponsored posts are inherently aligned with site content, which makes them less disruptive and more likely to drive engagement. Indeed, studies show native ads drive higher click-through rates (CTR).
Others, such as The New York Times, have put up paywalls that openly ask users for contributions to fund content. Though this technique has its pitfalls, like the ‘leaky paywall’ issue, wherein social media links make fenced off content accessible, impacting revenue for both advertisers and publishers.
Overall, the conclusion is that close to home is best. As the Digital Content Next report found, third-party advertising, such as that on Facebook, brings in a comparatively small sum — around $1.4 million— whereas syndicated partner ads achieve a healthier sum, generating $8 billion for the group members alone.While Facebook is likely to remain a useful option for publishers, it’s time to acknowledge that it’s not the only one. By focusing on their own assets and taking charge of advertising publishers will find monetization, efficiency begins at home.