Before the internet made it easier for advertisers to become publishers, they were already growing tired of the limitations (and inflated price) of traditional display advertising. In the magazine industry one of the big growth areas of the past 20 years was client publishing: helping – to varying degrees – companies create magazines which were then given or sold to customers, staff, members, or anyone interested in their field.
With some traditional advertising revenue streams dropping like a stone, newspapers belatedly started to see similar potential in their own markets. Trinity Mirror’s Media Wales are among a few newspaper publishers to sell video production services and the organisation has followed US newspapers in selling SEO services; while the FT followed Conde Nast when it recently bought an app production company.
While the execution varies, the idea behind it is consistent: this is no longer about selling content, or audiences, but expertise – and quite often expertise in distribution as much as in content production.
But the picture continues to change. And a new initiative from Facebook is worth watching closely in this regard:
“Facebook is encouraging advertisers to create ads based solely on the content they publish to their own Facebook pages
“… what Facebook really wants is for advertisers to spend time creating stuff that looks and acts just like the stuff Facebook users already like. (Worth noting that this is quite similar to Twitter’s ad strategy, which treats ads like tweets, and vice versa. Also worth noting: Just like Twitter’s ad strategy, this one should work very well on the limited real estate available on mobile phones.) It’s supposed to promote “earned” media — the industry’s name for promotion that fans/users/consumers end up doing for free, on their own.”
This is a natural extension of owning the platform. But whereas traditional publishers might try to sell users’ content (and, significantly, always feared Facebook staking a claim over their own), Facebook recognises that selling its distribution is the business they’re really in.
This starts to put Facebook in more direct competition with traditional media organisations, and has some significant potential implications:
- Firstly, it weakens publishers’ offerings on social media optimisation – they may have to advise clients to pay Facebook (and Twitter) as well as themselves.
- Secondly, it makes news organisations more direct competitors. In the same way that Apple initially blocked publishers from directing users to subscriptions outside apps, Facebook may see itself squaring up to media organisations.
- Finally, there’s always the chance that this will drive some advertisers out of the walled garden of Facebook and into the arms of the open web where they have more control. Maybe.
Whichever it is – and the whole project may fail to take off – publishers need to watch what Facebook is doing in this space, and adapt accordingly.