Facebook’s announcement that it would be making newsfeeds pay-to-play for publishers came as a shock to the industry.
In recent years, countless digital publishers were basing strategies off of pushing their entire content library -- videos, articles, images, etc. -- to the world’s largest social network. All the while, driving customers (and their demographic information) to Facebook, rather than the publishers’ owned and operated sites.
But publishers were willing to look past the lack of control over the audience because of the scale they were getting with Facebook.
The idea was to take “some” targeting toward millions, versus more granular targeting toward a more concerted base on your own site. Impressions rolled in, so advertisers were happy. Publishers banked on those views as part of their “audience reach,” getting used to the seemingly automatic results of the algorithm.
In the video industry, traditional pre-roll was not popular on Facebook because it was seen as a poor user experience. Many publishers began to distribute branded content on the social network, guaranteeing views through so-called “dark posts.”
Facebook benefited from this pay-to-play strategy, prioritizing paid posts and clickbait. Publishers and brands gamed the algorithm; now Facebook wants to take back control and ensure those dollars flow through them. A financial outlay was used as the barrier to entry for quality.
However, recent meetings with Congress show that really didn’t stop bad actors.
Facebook was also far from the only guilty party.
Twitter and Google had become their own respective fire hoses for content, granting access to media buyers because their large scale audiences made it easy to buy ads programmatically, targeted to their desired demographic.
Until recently, advertisers have been happy to ignore the potential issues surrounding brand safety, and we are now seeing the outcry that a broad message isn’t necessarily an effective one. Especially when there is no editorial control over the content brand messages are shown against.
Many publishers have been ignoring the benefits of owned-and-operated content (especially video) to enter themselves into a reliance on walled-gardens like Facebook. Now the viability of that economic model is being yanked out from under them.
For some, this was their only distribution strategy for content. Now their survival could depend on how quickly they can create compelling content for audiences on their own sites. The reality is, that without premium content, platforms like Facebook and YouTube lose leverage with premium content owners.
Media companies can build intelligent programming, distribution and windowing strategies across platforms that allow them to retain large audiences on their own sites and apps -- where the value per view is 10x or more.
Owned-and-operated sites are not a reason to completely abandon social media distribution. Instead, these other mediums should be seen as marketing platforms and distribution windows to be carefully managed alongside publishers own sites and apps.
There is value in teasing out your valuable content there, with the large audience numbers they provide. But owned-and-operated also provides numerous advantages to what you’ll get via social:
With ads served programmatically across the web, there’s always the chance content is being consumed alongside problematic materials. Hosting your own published content on owned-and-operated sites lends more control.
Know your audience
In recent years, users (especially Facebook users) have been sharing less about themselves. How, then, are publishers supposed to know what’s working and what isn’t? Publishers become casual acquaintances to these viewers, not “friends,” and it is difficult to build a large loyal audience when distribution platforms that you rely on are not financially feasible to run a business. Data is your most important asset. Media companies are not able to compete if they’re not building and utilizing data in a similar fashion on their owned-and-operated sites.
With artificial intelligence and passive user data, publishers can keep readers/viewers interested for far longer -- serving content that’s relevant to them. Should entertainment news around a certain celebrity be their preference, AI gives them more of that content.
That builds loyalty to a publisher. It’s also a major benefit for advertisers -- more captive audiences for their content. If something’s not working, publishers and brands can make changes to keep the user experience as rewarding as possible.
Publishers are staring over the cliff and wondering what comes next if and when Facebook turns its distribution into pay-to-play and chrome limits what ads they can use on their own properties.
The tools are already there to own your audience and retake control of how they interact with your content and brand partners. To compete with the rising social platforms and the economy of data, publishers need to the same methods that made these walled gardens so dominant.