Since it burst on the scene, not all that many years ago, [Facebook] has dangled carrot after carrot… Do your headlines this way and you’ll be rewarded. Hey, pivot to video! No, try our Instant Articles product (or else). And then, like Lucy yanking the football, it’s gone. Facebook has moved on.
Facebook’s latest Newsfeed changes have many publishers and marketers, old and new media alike, surprised and aggrieved… yet again.
The cynical take is Facebook is simply freeing up inventory for more ads under the guise of cracking down on “fake news” and clickbait, and based on their many attempts to downplay the impact of fake news combined with hyper-targeted advertising offerings that literally violate federal laws, the cynicism is well-deserved.
Facebook doesn’t view publishers as valued partners and never has, despite so many helping it grow and engage a worldwide audience, handing over tons of invaluable data along the way, not just from engagement on Facebook itself, but from their own websites too.
Facebook has transformed that invaluable data into billions of dollars of advertising revenue every year while steadily throttling publishers’ ability to reach their own audiences without becoming paid advertisers themselves. It’s an objectively and diabolically brilliant model that I simultaneously admire and despise.
Publisher, Disintermediate Thyself
Markets once were places where producers and customers met face-to-face and engaged in conversations based on shared interests. Now business-as-usual is engaged in a grinding war of attrition with its markets.
No wonder marketing fails.
With some notable exceptions, marketers have relied upon intermediaries to reach their desired audiences—from radio and TV shows to newspapers and magazines to live events and websites—and they prefer to pay as little as possible to reach as big an audience as possible. If you can’t deliver scale, you better be able to target large but narrowly defined demographics that deliver maximum (if often loosely defined) ROI.
They’re also typically as loyal to specific media partners as discounted CPMs, squishy KPIs, and last click attribution allow them to be.
While publishers effectively disintermediate themselves playing by Facebook’s rules in the Dumb Pipe shell game, savvy brand marketers have become pseudo-publishers themselves as redirected ad budgets fund “content marketing” initiatives that sometimes compete directly with the publishers they used to rely on as intermediaries. Ironically, thanks to years of commoditized content and contraction in traditional media, there are plenty of experienced “content producers” ready, willing, and able to execute a content strategy for a brand where traditionally packaged content isn’t the end product, and they know all of publishers’ best tricks.
Nowadays, savvy marketers can reach and engage audiences directly with their own search-optimized content, and on Facebook they can leverage the rich data publishers continue to help generate via paid social campaigns with guaranteed reach and “measurable” engagement that few publishers can match on their own.
In response, some publishers “compete” with Facebook by creating custom content for brands and managing the paid social campaigns themselves, giving Facebook a cut by paying for the reach and engagement they’re no longer able to deliver organically, neither on Facebook nor their own neutered websites that were engineered to rely on Facebook for traffic.
New Phone, Who Dis?
Owned channels are your website, your email, where you have the email addresses of the people there. I would rather have an email or a loyal visitor or an RSS subscriber than I would 100 times as many Twitter followers, because the engagement you can get and the value that you can get as a business or as an organization is just much higher.
How many publishers who feel betrayed (again) will pull the Facebook pixels off their sites and actively push to migrate their “fans” to their own sites and email lists?
How many could if they wanted to?
Marketing isn’t a zero sum game. There’s plenty of data that shows Facebook isn’t really a primary driver of referral traffic for most websites, and what it drives often isn’t as engaged as other channels. The sites that are most dependent upon them are typically focused on driving maximum eyeballs to support advertisers, and most of them pay Facebook to continue driving those eyeballs.
Facebook can be a valuable channel where publishers and marketers can coexist and even sometimes partner (Zuckerburg doesn’t really care who pays for the campaign), but unless you’re a marketing scheme for a Shopify-powered dropship program, you don’t build your content strategy around the ill-defined, ever-moving target of engagement on social networks, organic or paid.
As long as there’s an intermediary between you & your audience, you’re an easy target for disruption.
Prioritize reaching and engaging YOUR audience on your own site and your own email lists, not building up someone else’s.
Also published on Medium.