Who’s Won and Who’s Lost in Social Media, Mid-Year 2016
Your audience is no longer yours, and you need to build a strategy around that reality.
It’s weird to think about, but your audience is already gone. You no longer own it. You no longer control it. If the relationship between social platforms and media companies is linear—if it’s about winners and losers—then social media are the winners, especially Facebook.
The people who come to your website via social, and the people you engage with on social are no longer your audience, and the sooner you understand that, the better.
Social media is now the first stop for most news consumption. I say that anecdotally. I have no empirical knowledge whether that’s true, but it sure feels true. First thing in the morning, before I turn on “Morning Joe,” I check my social feeds. I don’t go to Quartz, or the Washington Post, or Real Clear Politics, or even the New York Times first.
Here’s what Jeff Jarvis said on Medium a few weeks ago, and he’s right:
“In this latest structure of the net, our websites are no longer destinations. In young people’s lives, content is not a product to be consumed. For them, content is a social token that feeds their conversations. How can we still presume to force people to come to our sites when our content can travel to them?”
Content not only can travel to them, it does. Social platforms are the gateway to media in 2016. That’s not good, for a whole lot of reasons. In terms of monetization, the best media companies can do is post content on social and hope people engage and click back to the originator site. But hoping to monetize referral traffic in the remorseless world of declining CPMs and ad blocking basically relegates media companies to the kids' table. And worse, when a single company is responsible for a quarter or more of your traffic, that’s a really vulnerable place to be.
Seriously, is it out of line to ask whether a major media brand with a major dependency on Facebook might think twice about writing a report that is critical of Facebook?
But you still create the content the audience consumes (even if it's on social media), so there’s hope. Unless Facebook (and Google, etc.) develop in-house content-creation operations, the relationship is at least somewhat symbiotic.
It’s hard, though, because with the platforms, it’s one company against many competitive companies. The advantage is with Facebook, which, with a tweak of the algorithm, can make your content disappear.
But there’s a path forward. It just hasn’t really emerged fully. Maybe Instant Articles and Accelerated Mobile Pages offer that path toward you regaining control of your advertiser relationships. Maybe solutions are out there that haven’t been adopted yet.
The one bright spot for media companies is that their advertisers are in a much worse position on social media. When it comes to the kinds of content people engage with on the platforms, it’s not marketer content, it’s media-company content. That’s a big opportunity.