In light of Facebook changes, media companies must focus on local innovation

By John Newby

Muskogee Phoenix

Muskogee, Oklahoma, USA


Many across the industry expressed surprise and alarm with the recent Facebook blog post indicating a switch in how the company delivers news-related content.

To be honest, I am not sure if being alarmed with Facebook’s announcement is more alarming than being more alarmed at the alarm and surprise throughout the industry. As an industry, we should be anything but alarmed and surprised. Our alarm only shows our disconnect with reality.

Facebook's announcement to change its News Feed algorithm isn't surprising. So what's next?
Facebook's announcement to change its News Feed algorithm isn't surprising. So what's next?

The announcement and strategy from Facebook was very simple and straight-forward. It indicated that it will now show more posts from family and friends, making that a priority over news feeds and media company posts.

In other words, we users now get to see more cat pictures, flowers, foodie photos, and Auntie May’s gardening techniques over news. Let the dumbing down of users continue.

For those who may have missed it, here is a portion of what Facebook conveyed:

“Overall, we anticipate that this update may cause reach and referral traffic to decline for some Pages. The specific impact on your Page’s distribution and other metrics may vary depending on the composition of your audience. For example, if a lot of your referral traffic is the result of people sharing your content and their friends liking and commenting on it, there will be less of an impact than if the majority of your traffic comes directly through Page posts.”

I would also like to quote Josh Benton, the founder of Nieman Lab, when he wrote:

“This is another step in the continued devaluation of large publisher followings on Facebook; the social network has over time reduced the share of your fans who see each of your posts (though they’re happy to take your ad dollars to show them to more!).

“Add in Instant Articles and the strong preference given to Facebook-native video and you see, once again, the primary hoarder of Internet attention consolidating its position. And various undulations in publisher Facebook traffic — seemingly driven more by algorithmic decisions rather than publisher success or failure — have shown over the past year or two that small tweaks can have big impacts.”

It should come as no surprise that Facebook continues to tighten its publisher noose. This isn’t the first blow to publishers nor will it be the last.

Yes, many of us have figured out how to utilise Facebook to our advantage to drive traffic to our Web sites. But for us to believe this is a win-win, mutual partnership is naive at best and negligent at worst.

What is the path forward for news media companies? Our brightest future involves blazing our own trails and not relying on our competitors to blaze the trails for us. That is always fraught with peril once our competitors determine they can blaze the trail alone.

Our path forward is simple, yet quite complex. We must diversify our revenue streams beyond the simple advertising and audience verticals. We must create a much broader approach on how we view revenue. While centralising has its place in our industry, we must balance the centralisation in such a way as to not stifle innovation at the local level.

Local-level innovation will be the most effective tool for news media companies. Whether it is native advertising, new events, e-commerce, programmatic, agency models, equity stakes, or any of the other great opportunities that lay before us, the last thing we want to do is sit still.

Let’s not fool ourselves into believing that the Facebooks and Googles of the world care one iota about the publishing business. In fact, if they could solve the content issue (which they are working on and making progress with), we would be kicked to the proverbial curb in a matter of days.

Let’s not let the word “innovation” become another buzzword. Let’s make innovation our culture, our DNA, our mantra moving forward. That is the only way out as we have seen the other approaches fail all too often.

Happy innovating!

About John Newby

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