It’s what marketers, social media ‘experts’ and PR pros talk about every day; what does the future look like for social media? Alongside that, we have been talking for several years about the changing media landscape. Traditional news outlets had a hard time with the growing popularity of social media networks. Brands saw a window of opportunity to share their content directly to their target audience.
Thanks to the growing volume of users and content, social media networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn saw an opportunity to create a business model. The more content is produced, the higher the urge for brands to turn to advertising to get their message across. This growing dependency of companies on traffic and share of voice raised an issue for Facebook; it has lost the fine balance between relevant content for its users and paid content. After all, no one likes to see their timeline dominated by ads from retailers, financial organisations or fashion companies above photos, stories and recommendations by their friends.
It seems that Zuckerberg and co. have recently drawn the same conclusion. Facebook announced that it has reconfigured its news feed algorithm to show posts from close friends higher up, which will probably result in a decrease in reach for business pages. Facebook will also limit the number of posts shown from a single friend to people with little content in the feed, ensuring that less active Facebook users still get a wide variety of content instead of being ‘spammed’ by one single friend every time they log in. As part of this strategy, Facebook will also show fewer stories as a result from friends that are liking or commenting on other posts.
Facebook’s recent updates seem to indicate that Zuckerberg is looking for a ‘healthier’ business model, making a small step away from advertising and reaching out to its users. Relevant content from friends and family will become more important than what brands have to say. For Facebook, this is inevitable if it wants to remain the most popular social network. We have seen it before with other platforms like MySpace – if the next best thing comes along and you have no balanced business model you are doomed to fail.
It was the same strategy of putting the ‘user first’ that led Google to roll out Penguin, Panda and Hummingbird. Google has prioritised the experience of its users. These users need to find the most useful content and this means that brands, media and organisations need to step up their game and create relevant content instead of focusing on technical aspects of their website, aggressive link building or stuffing pages with keywords.
Where Google made these steps in the past years, Facebook was forced to keep focusing on advertising and building out their business model since they are a stock registered company. But the time has come for Facebook to reprioritise, focusing on their users instead of the ones that have previously brought in the money.
Moving away from brands and focusing on users creates another challenge for Facebook. How can Facebook encourage people to post interesting and relevant content on the platform, whilst also discouraging users from continuing their journey elsewhere after a recommendation from a friend?
After Facebook’s modest outreach towards journalists with services like Facebook Subscribe, we haven’t heard much about Facebook’s plans to combine publishing/news media and their platform. Pew Research revealed recently that news on Facebook is a common but incidental experience. So, for a long time it looked like Facebook would be all about selfies, funny gifs, relationship updates and advertisements for years to come, with all the future predicting articles about the end of Facebook as a result.
But with the latest update also came other news. Facebook is reaching out to publishers, looking for a way to host publishers’ news content inside the social network’s (updated) news feed. The New York Times reports Facebook’s promising plans to host content from publishers in the coming months. And yes, there is a business model alongside this plan creating potential revenue split for publishers and Facebook. Users can expect, probably as a result from their friends, relevant articles that they can read within Facebook. And as a result from Facebook’s impressive community and ad targeting, ads can be shown alongside the articles that are relevant with regards to the audience, outlet and article subject.
After LinkedIn’s introduction of LinkedIn Pulse and its focus on great content, Facebook is making similar steps on a consumer-focused network. Both social networks once started as ‘just a platform for like-minded people’ and became giant tech companies with a lot of investors demanding revenue. But after years of focusing on advertising models, they recognize that a healthier balance between advertising and relevant content is needed. Especially since social networks keep growing and the amount of content is keeping the same high pace of growth. Following their own DNA, these social media networks are putting both social as media back in their business with focusing on the most relevant and actual media content for you, as a result from your profile and connections.
That is why publishing seems to be the future of these social media networks, and not advertising.