You might be aware that Facebook has started yet another new program with a few publishers. Called “Instant Articles”, the program lets a select number of news organizations publish stories directly to Facebook and the publishers keep the ad revenue. There are nine launch partners, including BuzzFeed, The New York Times and NBC News. If you use the Facebook app on an iPhone you might already have seen it.
A number of news reports have used the term “faustian” to describe the program and I agree. You’ll recall the legend of Faust and his deal with the devil – he got something he wanted in return for the devil owning his soul (and eternal damnation!). While it’s a bit of a stretch to equate Facebook with the devil, it’s an apt metaphor. All publishers – especially those whose business models are dependent upon lots of content views – want greater visibility. Facebook is the largest platform and in this case the publisher can monetize those views. Makes sense, right?
Not really in my view. Sure, if you’re happy with “one and done” traffic it’s fine but this is no way to build a loyal audience. Many of the publishers I know count repeat visits as a KPI. This doesn’t build that. It’s especially bad if any of your model counts on subscription revenue. The breadth and depth of your content offering – the quality that drives the justification for the subscription – is negated.
Facebook controls the terms of this news-publishing deal. Ask any brand if they’ve experienced Facebook changing the game in the middle of play and they’ll say yes. After all, this is the platform that encouraged brands to build pages and followings and then took away news feed access while encouraging ad spend. Who is to say that this program won’t change again in a few months? It’s especially troubling that news outlets will be able to publish so-called “branded content” directly to Facebook. I’ve made my views on native ads that are indistinguishable from your own news content well-known. Embedding them on Facebook makes them even more difficult to identify as sponsor messages (and who is to say when Facebook will demand their cut).
Don’t misunderstand. I see high value in using Facebook both for publishing and for advertising. I just think that abandoning the efforts to drive users to your own platform is ultimately self-defeating. When you think about it, Facebook doesn’t produce content. They produce a platform but users and brands populate that platform with the real value – content. Companies that don’t produce value in the long run disappear and if you’ve put your eggs in the Facebook basket rather than continuing your own efforts, it really may be a deal with the devil.