Media Freaks Out About Facebook Changes; Maybe They Shouldn't Have Become So Reliant On Facebook

from the pivot-to-bankruptcy dept

Last week, a large part of the media ecosystem seemed to totally flip out following Facebook’s announcement that it was going to effectively de-prioritize news content in favor of content from friends and family. Facebook was pretty direct about how this will decrease traffic to many publishers:

Because space in News Feed is limited, showing more posts from friends and family and updates that spark conversation means we?ll show less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses.

As we make these updates, Pages may see their reach, video watch time and referral traffic decrease. The impact will vary from Page to Page, driven by factors including the type of content they produce and how people interact with it. Pages making posts that people generally don?t react to or comment on could see the biggest decreases in distribution. Pages whose posts prompt conversations between friends will see less of an effect.

From Facebook’s standpoint, this move is a pretty easy one to make. Even though it had spent the past few years heavily courting news publishers (including directly paying large publishers many millions of dollars to “pivot to video”), the company hadn’t totally succeeded in becoming the go to source for news (that remains Twitter’s strength). And yet, Facebook was also getting more and more grief over news items in its feeds, especially post-election when people incorrectly wanted to “blame” news on Facebook for Donald Trump’s presidential victory.

On top of that, this move will only enforce something that Facebook had been inching towards for a while: forcing businesses and publishers to pay to have their news reach a larger audience. So… if this means that Facebook makes more money, distresses fewer people, and doesn’t get attacked as much for the so-called problem of “fake news” it looks like a total win from Facebook’s perspective.

Publishers, on the other hand, were generally freaked out. Many have spent the past 5 years or so desperately trying to “play the Facebook game.” And, for many, it gave them a decent boost in traffic (if not much revenue). But, in the process, they proceeded to lose their direct connection to many readers. People coming to news sites from Facebook don’t tend to be loyal readers. They’re drive-bys.

This is why we actually think this is a good thing. As we’ve discussed in the past, if your entire business is reliant on someone else’s platform, you’re going to be in trouble. That other platform can pull the rug out from under you in an instant — as may be the case here.

This is a big part of the reason that we’ve deliberately refused to “play the Facebook game” over the years, even as friends at other publishers kept telling us we were missing out on traffic. As I noted a few weeks ago in our 2017 wrap-up post, we’re pretty proud of the fact that a plurality of our visitors are visiting directly, and that less than 20% of our visits come from social media. It suggests that our audience is pretty loyal, and I don’t need to freak out about changes on any platform — whether its social, search or something else.

Of course, it won’t be surprising to see some publishers continue to throw away good resources and time towards trying to “game” this new system. As Facebook’s announcement states, since it will promote content that people “interact” with, expect to see a lot of ridiculous “comment begging” or “share begging” from publishers. At Techdirt we’ve long forbidden any kind of “comment begging” in our posts (e.g., “Here’s some crazy opinion! Do you agree or disagree? Let us know below!”) because it feels cheap, manipulative and inauthentic, rather than genuine. I don’t want to insult your intelligence with such things, but I expect many publishers, desperate for that Facebook traffic drip, will resort to that kind of thing.

The better solution, hopefully, is that many more publications will get over their needy relationship with platforms like Facebook, and focus on building actual, loyal audiences. If not, perhaps they’ll go away. And, frankly, if they’ve spent the past few years living off of ephemeral Facebook traffic, it’s not clear that many will miss them.

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Comments on “Media Freaks Out About Facebook Changes; Maybe They Shouldn't Have Become So Reliant On Facebook”

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Anonymous Coward says:

publishers knew this was coming

This isn’t a surprise to any of the big publishers. This has been happening for all of 2017 and Facebook has been pretty open about this with publishers.

Specifically, brands and news orgs have been told that the number of their posts that make it into user feeds is being ratcheted back down to levels before Facebook thought Twitter was going to kill them because they do breaking news better. There will be fewer ads served and so the cost of those ads is going to rise.

Anonymous Coward says:

If you liked this article on the dangers of relying on social media, don’t forget to like and subscribe by clicking on the bell. Also retweet us, share on Pintrest, post on Reddit, message your friends using snapchat, take selfies of you watching the videos, and give us a shoutout on your “XXX reacts to this article!” video you make on Youtube.

Did I miss any “Teh Socials?”

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

The only downside i see is people have to like/comment/share anything to prioritize getting it into their feeds. Or does this not apply to accounts one is following? (And if not, how was it in the feed in the first place?) It seems “see first” still functions, but ok whatever. Don’t forget to like and subscribe. *barf*

Was only ever begrudgingly at FB for a short while, and they seem to change everything every few weeks anyway, so i am not sure my comment here has any validity anyway.

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

Deliberately choosing to be a sharecropper is a bad move

The land you rely on isn’t yours, and can be taken away from you at any moment without notice.

News organizations made this mistake with Facebook. Photographers made this mistake with Picasa. Developers made this mistake with Slack. And so on.

And what’s worse/ironic, is that every day it becomes easier to build and run your own infrastructure. There is now free open-source code for everything that’s worth doing. Hardware is cheap and plentiful. Robust, capable operating systems are also free and open-source. And the communities behind all of these are far more helpful than any commercial support organization.

Yes, it’s easier to rely on someone else. Yes, they make it tempting. There’s a reason for that.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Deliberately choosing to be a sharecropper is a bad move

The land you rely on isn’t yours, and can be taken away from you at any moment without notice.

Hardware manufacturers will learn this too.

A couple months ago I bought a Ricoh spherical image camera. Firmware updates and a few other features require logging into the Ricoh site. But they don’t do their own authentication; you must have a Facebook or Twitter account, and log in with that.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Deliberately choosing to be a sharecropper is a bad move

Which is why companies tend not to mention it in their advertising and packaging.

There are products out there that make perfect sense to have control or monitoring on your phone, and sell that as a feature. You simply connect via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

It’s only after you purchase and open it that your discover that it doesn’t connect to your phone. It only connects to an overseas server, which gives you limited access from your phone in return for handing over even MORE data that the device itself doesn’t collect.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Deliberately choosing to be a sharecropper is a bad move

I’d say diversify. I don’t think it’s that easy to maintain your own infra structure. Specially if you are not very familiar with coding. Keeping the stuff you use on your server updated, the code you use on your site updated, produce code without leaving all sorts of trash and possible security issues behind… It’s not an easy task. But you can use more than one platform to have places to fall back to.

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

Re: Re: Deliberately choosing to be a sharecropper is a bad move

The easy and cheap way around that is to hire someone. There are all kinds of people who will do this work on a freelance basis. Some of them are mid-career full-time professionals. Some of them are older folks who can use the extra cash. Some of them are students who can use the cash and the resume entry. These people can be found in the support mailing lists, newsgroups, and web forums for particular software; they can also be found via your local LUG or other user group.

And while at first glance it may appear to be cheaper to just be a sharecropper: it’s not. Not really. The $400 you drop on a grad student to properly configure a Drupal system is a lot cheaper than the $0 you drop on a “free” host.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Deliberately choosing to be a sharecropper is a bad move

A home VPN is one thing, as it will never demand a lot of compute power or data bandwidth. Want to deliver podcasts or video to a growing audience, and the services of a content delivery network is required. Need to use a database with every visitor, and a cloud provider is solves the problems of managing multiple machines, and providing the data bandwidth required.

Also configuration and maintenance of a server is not a one time job, but requires some expertise to deal with security updates, and someone available to do the necessary, maybe at short notice.

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Deliberately choosing to be a sharecropper is a bad move

Outsourcing those services is one way to solve the problem. But it’s not the only way. I can think of half a dozen methods for each one that avoid most or all of the entanglement issues.

And as to skillsets, I expect that anyone who calls themselves even an entry-level system administrator should be fully capable of installing operating systems, configuring firewalls, setting up and running HTTP/SMTP/DNS/etc. services, dealing with security and abuse issues, and so on. This is baseline competence in the field. And anyone who’s been doing it for a while should have a much larger set of skills, e.g., ability to build the OS from source, knowledge of failover techniques, ability to set up load balancing, and so on.

And if you have to rely on third parties for services, then you should (a) spread the services around: no more than one per entity and (b) make sure that you architect everything so that you can quickly and seamlessly cut over when you need to. Never design in reliance on any one vendor.

Kal Zekdor (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Deliberately choosing to be a sharecropper is a bad move

"Don’t rely on third party services. If you don’t have the time or expertise to do it yourself, then find a third party to pay to set services up for you and rely on them."

Well, that’s a fun contradiction. Your (second) point about reliance on a single vendor is spot on, whether that’s a raw material supplier for widgets you build, a cloud hosting provider, or outsourced IT work, you need to be prepared to deal with them vanishing.

It’s fine if it’s a bit disruptive to do so, and it’s even fine if your business is less effective as a result. Hell, that’s expected, it’s the reason why you were using a vendor in the first place, they are able to provide value in excess of their costs, due to expertise, economies of scale, etc. You don’t want to be in a position where your business goes under (or takes a significant hit) because a vendor goes belly-up, but trying to do everything yourself isn’t the answer either.

TKnarr (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Deliberately choosing to be a sharecropper is a bad move

Point of order: a party you contract with directly is a second party, not a third party. Just make sure that your contract provides for sufficient penalties for failure to perform (ie. screwing up royally). The single-point-of-failure point is, yes, spot-on, and avoiding SPoF is easier when you contract directly for services.

mcherm (profile) says:

Remind me again how to support TechDirt...

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Dingledore the Previously Impervious says:


Facebook wants to stand behind the 1st amendment for the posts on it’s users’ newsfeeds. That means it really can’t be seen to be fiddling things to reframe the view that it’s users see into something different.

The question had to be asked: was the prioritising or hiding of posts only showing each user what they wanted to see; or also was herding people into categories to make advertising easier.

That Guy says:

FB and Ads

I joined Facebook many years ago because something I was a part of gets a lot traffic with FB. I was helping to admin a FB page. I don’t post much, and watch very carefully the things I say if I do say anything.

I really hated to when the news feed started to show tons of “suggested” post. Yea, they are ads. People paid to boost that post. I kept trying to hide, unlike, and get rid of them. When they keep coming back, I would be in problem reports with FB. The they started putting things in my news feed asking to me pay to boost a post for the page I help admin.

I kept reporting that I don’t want to see this, it is spam.

Every new thing they keep putting in he new feed that has no way to turn off or hide or set some preference, I report as bug.

Maybe, just maybe, they are starting to understand people don’t want this crap in the newsfeed. If they want to put it in one of the side bars that i ignore, go right ahead. But ads, or house ads for other fb services is not news.

Anonymous Coward says:

Remembering Google Reader

People need to learn how to learn, and then learn how to code their own programs to use RSS so that centralized technocratic giants can no longer seduce individuals, make them reliant, and then pull the rug out from underneath them (looking at you, Google Reader). It has always been long past due time to build our own mechanical and electronic tools (physical and virtual) using our own code.

CK says:

Serves them right

Serves them right, for dropping RSS feeds. In recent years it became very hard to keep using RSS/Atom feeds, cause many news sites all over the net stopped publishing them, browsers removed the integration from visible space, etc.

All happened after google dropped their reader tool, it’s like they want to be dependent on some other big company/site/tool, not embracing the users power to choose what they want.

Drew_Wilson (profile) says:

Personally, I was always a supporter of the concept of using Facebook… but as part of a broader approach to promoting what your site has to offer. To simply focus on any one site like Facebook is simply putting all of your eggs in one basket (re: bad idea). If Facebook is your biggest driver of traffic, then the worst case scenario you should have is that it’s going to hurt your traffic a fair bit. You should already be on other sites anyway, so it should be a case of shifting your focus if your intention is to “make it big” on social media (good luck with all the paid power users already dominating a vast majority of them).

I’m thinking a lot of the complaining is just coming from sites that can easily afford to take a hit and it’s more just about watching a source of traffic get squeezed and freaking out over it.

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