How Media Execs Can Get off the Facebook Crack and Thrive Again
By Bart Myers | Countable Founder & CEO
We all know the truth: Facebook is not altruistic. They’re not in business to build your business, to send you traffic, to be your friend. They’re in business to return massive shareholder value by giving their users the best experience they know how, and monetizing them to the hilt. And yet, here we are scratching our heads as we watch the decline of digital media—Buzzfeed, Mic, HuffPo, Vox— just the latest victims to the great Facebook awakening. We saw it happen to Zynga and so many others. But this one? It hurts. It hurts because the media industry saw Facebook as its savior, and initially benefited from the free source of traffic. But then the changes came.
From Instant Articles (which reside on Facebook and which Facebook can monetize) to new algorithms that optimize for the most “engaging” content (even if that means fake news), publishers were sold a bill of reach and revenue goods that has largely not materialized. What’s more, on Facebook, the venerable New York Times is equal to your friend Josh or to a Russian propaganda campaign. Great brands, touting world class newsrooms have been watered down, but nonetheless continue handing over their audience to the social giants. It’s a vicious cycle.
We should all be scared, because without thriving media we are in serious trouble. A democracy without a vibrant press holding the powerful accountable will slide inexorably into autocracy and tyranny. Absolute power corrupts. Sunlight and transparency are the only remedies. Media needs a business model that works in order to thrive (survive), and in order to do its very important job. So what’s that model? Hint: it’s not classified ads.
All hope is not lost, but media execs need to be brave. Here’s the three things they should do immediately:
Get off the crack. Stop giving away your content.
Stop giving away your amazing content, engagement with your content, and most critically your audience. How? Bring your audience back to platforms you control to present that content, monetize, encourage sign ups, and drive engagement. There’s a lot of ways to do this, and new platforms like Countable at your disposal that can support this pivot. Your property— website and apps—is where your audience should go to get your content and support you. Not Facebook.
Get to know your audience (again)
Just like the old days when you had newspaper subscribers who paid to get your paper, you need to get to know your audience again, and own that audience. You need to give them compelling reasons to come to your properties, sign up for your content, engage directly, and get to know what they do or don’t like. You need to understand your audience, not as a generic demographic group, but as individual opinions, values, and perspectives—all of which you can incorporate back into your newsroom and features. Facebook gets this. The most valuable thing they have is the data they own about their audience—your audience. You can have this, too, and not in aggregate but on an individual subscriber basis. And, for what it’s worth, giving your audience a way to tell you what they think about a story doesn’t have to incur bias. Your community should be using your content as a jumping off point to conversations, to action, to events, to doing something. That’s a win. Own that win.
Double-down on what makes you and your content valuable and unique
Do you have incredible reporters who know their beats, reach their audiences, and are in the community? Great—work that. Do you do features that no one else does, that are popular in your locality? Work that! Leverage what you know about your audience (not the Facebook audience) to get them to your content and keep them coming back for more. Then, when you’ve reclaimed your audience and know what differentiates your brand and content, you can begin to unlock business models that work for you and your audience. Ads may be a part of that equation, or subscriptions, donations, upsells, promoted events, or a combination.
So, media, it’s time to be brave. Have that conversation with your executive team, and take the plunge to reclaim your brand, your audience, your future.