Cheat Sheet: The Future of Publishing on Facebook

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By Patrick Reynolds

The New York Times recently reported on an important potential deal between a dozen publishers and Facebook. The social network could potentially host their content directly on the Facebook platform in exchange for an advertising revenue share. This is a subtle act of war declared by Facebook against the common internet browser, and it's meant to keep users inside their ecosystem longer by giving less reasons to leave.

As content marketers, we've witnessed brands emulate the authoritative tone and style of publishers for the last half-decade. Could we now be seeing the opposite occur? Publishers, without a definitive platform of their own, may soon morph into “content brands” at the mercy of Facebook’s algorithm.

This could be big; let’s look into what this may mean for the future of online publishing.

I’m not a publisher, so why should I care where content is hosted?

For content consumers, the advantage is obvious. The average wait time for a new page to load off of a link posted to Facebook is 8 seconds. This both reduces user experience and goes against Facebook’s mission of hosting a centralized, coherent place for information and entertainment.

Sounds awesome! Is this good or bad for publishers?

It's too close to call. Initially, publishers have plenty to gain in revenue from boosts in traffic and from pricier, highly-targeted advertisements being displayed next to their articles. That being said, over time, as more publishers hop on board, we’ll probably find that the price of advertisements will normalize. The real advantage is in the savings: Publishers invested $6 billion into the advertising technology market in 2014 (e.g. retargeting, real-time bidding, reporting, etc.). In response, Facebook is positioning itself as the streamlined, efficient solution for advertising. Heck, publishers won’t even need to staff a sales team. 

So what’s the downside?

Publishers always need to be cautious when relying too heavily on a 3rd party for traffic.  

A good case study is Demand Media and their over-dependence on Google’s organic search traffic. When Google quietly updated their Panda algorithm change in 2013, Demand Media (i.e. Livestrong, eHow, Cracked) lost 40% of their traffic and $96.3 million in revenue that quarter.  

Why would a publisher put themselves in that position?

So long as an editorial focus is on quality, publishers likely have little about which to worry. Facebook, much like Google, will likely reward quality sources and penalize junk or over-optimized content.  

What are the benefits for publishers to advertise on Facebook?

Here’s a previous blog post explaining how incredible Facebook is at relevancy. They’re almost as good as this one girl.

Is this the first time a publisher has hosted content directly on a social media platform?

No way. It’s nice to think that Facebook is following the footsteps of Snapchat.

Remind me, what is a publisher again?

When we live in a world that has six-page National Geographic articles on Himalayan Snow Leopards battling for the same attention as pictures of how much weight your ex-boyfriend gained after college, who knows?  

At this point, the winners and losers of this new relationship are unclear. For social media and content marketers, we can assume that any positive move for Facebook is a positive move for us. However, we need to watch and make sure our brands our aligned on Facebook’s best practices as they continue to evolve.