Last week, Facebook announced significant changes to its newsfeed that means all publisher content (read: Pages) will have their content deprioritised in favour of content from people you know (or ‘UGC’ as Facebook call it). As ever, this announcement, like so many other Facebook announcements, is a grenade hidden in a chocolate box marked “Enjoy!” but look closer there is more going on than simply your traffic going down.
FACEBOOK IS UNDER ATTACK
It sounds almost hilarious to say with a network that has +1.65 billion users but Facebook, the vacuum of human existence it is, has a lot of problems. Firstly, possibly most importantly, users are posting less about themselves on Facebook – roughly 25% less actually, year over year. This is a huge problem because we use things that are personal and – gulp – news is anything but. In fact, Facebook did too good a job of showing us what we like, that many have created sad bubbles and thus use Facebook less and less. Mix with this the rise of Messenger and Whatsapp and you have the perfect story for utility over…over-sharing. The other issue is of course, Snapchat – while no screeching competition, its growth and the lack of love from the Founders towards Facebook must be giving Zuck some pause for thought. Beyond this, Snapchat is entertaining the kids and that is often where the money follows. This is not something Zuck wants, and while the moves to reshuffle the newsfeed is a beautiful reminder that should you want people to actually read your stuff, you can line Zucks pockets and all shall be right with the world.
Unless the media world collectively decide to band together and form some sort of anti-Facebook union or boycott certain practices, it’s unlikely anything will drastically change anytime soon so here’s what I recommend your social media folks and newsrooms do to combat the changes:
1) Lessen your reliance on Facebook
Let’s get this one out of the way. It’ll be hard and you’ll take some hits but ultimately if you put it on Facebook you’re building nothing but Facebook. Be smarter and make content that works for you outside the network – fish the right people out using a nice ad strategy and hook them anyway you can into paying entities.
2) Don’t jump on Snapchat
The temptation will be great but the brands that are on there at the moment – organically or through monetised relationships aren’t doing the best job. While content is being seen in its millions, I have yet to see if it can prove any ROI for media brands. This said, if you want a good example follow Quartz or Cool Hunting – both are using it to extend stories and tell new ones.
2a) Jump on Snapchat
The oldies are coming! 14% of U.S. adults aged 35+ are on Snapchat (up from 2% in 2013 per comScore). While many view this a deathnell for the platform, I see it more as an early transition. Snapchat is maturing fast – a stat that was leaked out earlier this year was that 50% of new users were +25 years old. This group will use the service drastically differently – get them in and cater for their needs. Unlikely to want images you can scribble over, try new content formats – you might strike gold. New tools like the recently announced “Memories” will be a big opportunity to reach all demographics (but specifically older ones). The older demographic “trend” won’t slow down – nor will Snapchat’s aggressive product update schedule, so get on board and start testing.
3) Don’t freak out at your July/August numbers
Time will tell what the actual realities of this “tweak” will be – the reweighting is a matter of degree – no-one but Facebook knows. If they’ve kneecapped you, you’ll soon know. This is the perfect point to evaluate the content you have been putting out there and adjust what isn’t working – everything now needs to work and have a plan – even if it is to do nothing extra (why are you putting this up there…?)
4) Live video is your way to subscribers
When Facebook launched the live streaming functionality I expected great things – it turns out there are a lot of bored and boring people out there. There are however a lot of incredibly interested people out there too – find them, leave breadcrumbs and CTA, CTA, CTA (call to action). Go for the subscribe button and keep the quality high – if need be, retrain journalists into presenters – this shift is underway and you are late.
5) Understand your reader’s sharing behaviours
Expect to see adoption of Instant Articles slow right down – there is now little point in putting time and effort into this area (unless you have a good ad budget behind them) as the content will be de-emphasised compared to say a friend voluntarily sharing and article.
6) Start telling your readers what you are doing/expect of them
Whether it’s a cry for money aka the Guardian and the Brexit coverage or a reminder at the end of every video to subscribe, now is the time to really understand how to build a loyal group and leverage it. You should have been building your army before you need it – that time is now but you still have a lot of arrows left. Start thinking about your notification strategy, your sharing ecosystem, your URL shorter trust level and how you will increase your trust level in general. Recent events highlight just how important trust can be and yet few outlets focus on this element nearly enough. When was the last time you asked your customers to put you on the front page of their phones?
7) Start thinking about the basics differently
As our phones get clogged up with apps, games and messengers sometimes the ability to cut through the clutter can seem impossible. Text alerts may be a great way to drive traffic and yet are used by few. Don’t ignore the dock – tell people to put it in there – if you snag a spot you are significantly more likely to be used more regularly…so ask for that important spot.
8) Post more things about friends, family, families and siblings
Ok this is a short-term bump tactic but it should work as people will be more likely to share things that say friends, mum, dad are amazing people or how the third sibling is always the rockstar in the family. Should you choose this path, use with caution as overuse will probably be noticed and you will be penalised.
9) Wait to get that Chatbot
While an interesting new twist on the news paradigm, I personally think bots will be less useful in the long run for news than other industries. News doesn’t need more channels – it needs to help people focus and get informed. Chatbots could help with this but are more likely to cause frustration right now – first mover advantage has gone, so you may as well wait until all the best practices are out.
10) People need help to break their bubbles, help them
Create a string of stories to help people break out of their Facebook bubbles with how-to’s and video content about apps that give them time back for…you! Not only does this increase trust and credibility for your brand but it should also score you more subscribers too (if you create it correctly with the right CTAs).
11) Use Whatsapp to kickstart sharing
You can have 256 people in a chat and 50 of these chats – that’s on one Whatsapp account – what if you got creative and used a few accounts? You might just be able to create a few hockey stick effects if you identify the key/core sharers in your network and interest verticals. Look at Google Circles – there’s gold in them there hills…
12) Look for the new network
Facebook is unlikely to get toppled anytime soon (although my time at MySpace taught me nothing is ever too big to be immune from failure) but there will always be other options – start doing deals with the people that want to kneecap Facebook. Think Yubl, Snow (Asian Snapchat)
13) Use live streaming tools to create rituals
Facebook Live and Periscope et al offer huge opportunity for newsrooms – with low barriers to entry, the ability to create a morning show (already being shopped around by an agency in partnership with Facebook) that people tune into isn’t completely out of the question. Audiences can be reminded to pick up a paper, tune in – success is feeding the information to them at the lowest friction point. Other ideas could include wrap ups, live coverage, sixty seconds on and other such time-focused but high quality video. Low-fi options for revenue range from product placement, on-air mentions to branding on sets and faux-mercials. Test and learn what works best.
14) Don’t forget YouTube
The poor red button has been quiet of late but there is a lot of good news coming. The new live product seems interesting, if a little late, but generally using it to stream live and build subscribers still seems like a good play. Focus strategies on building content veins and regular programming with key figures and support roll outs with spend for the best success.
15) Refocus your email strategies on bite sized discovery
Email remains a key way people get their news and insight driven content. A clear strategy that is focused, creates trust through clear honesty and adds value through being considerate of context and things like time of day will become incredibly more valuable. Start investing in UI/UX experts that will help you determine the right tech and focus for your products. Personalisation and context tweaks (including but not limited to multiple images for different times of day when the email is opened, images based on the location where the email is read) can increase click through by more than 25%. Remember, there are more than three times the amount of email accounts than Facebook and Twitter accounts combined – they aren’t just used for coupons, events and changing passwords.
More information on the Facebook changes and “values” can be seen here.
Facebook remains the most powerful entity the world has ever seen. Rightly or wrongly Zuck and co have made it clear they are only interested in the next billion users. Beyond this, Facebook continues their forays into new and disruptive technologies like drone technology, VR, AI and others showing a very different beast is emerging. This beast is a beast that will be less and less reliant on the newsfeed. Media should never have relied or got complacent on the traffic it got from the Facebook teat but there’s never been a better time to wean yourself off of it.
Paul Armstrong, guest writer for Inside Agency, runs HERE/FORTH an advisory that helps business leaders decide how to best use rapidly changing, disruptive and emerging technologies. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul__armstrong or contact him on hereforth.com.
This article does not express the views of Thomson Reuters. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author.