Facebook seems to be confused about the message it actually wants to send to publishers who use their platform.
"If anyone feels that this isn't the right platform for them, then they should not be on Facebook."
'Go', Facebook seems to be saying, 'leave if you want, we don’t care'.
But maybe, they actually do?
This week, The Social Network has outlined its plans for a new, $3 million program to help metropolitan newspapers boost their digital subscription efforts, while they’ve also unveiled new, full-screen subscription ads for publishers using Instant Articles, in order to increase take-up.
So Facebook does want publishers to remain active on the platform, and they’re going to effort to strengthen their publisher partnerships - while at the same time, their algorithm shifts underline why publishers should avoid building any significant reliance on Facebook traffic, if they can avoid it.
In some respects, this underlines what may be a fundamental misunderstanding from Facebook about the evolution of their platform Or maybe not a misunderstanding, but a trend they’d prefer to avoid, as it doesn’t extend their business interests.
When you go to Facebook these days, what do you go there for? Is it to engage with friends? To read the latest content? To see what people are sharing?
Chances are you’re not looking to converse with close friends on The Social Network, as you’re probably doing this through Messenger, WhatsApp or Snapchat. You can see the latest viral clips and posts on Instagram, real-time news updates on Twitter, which leaves Facebook, primarily, as a place for passive consumption – checking out the latest photos from your friends’ holiday, reading the latest links people have shared, seeing updates from the Pages you follow.
Passive content is what Facebook doesn’t want – they need you to engage more often, to spend more time on site, they want you to discuss everything on the platform. But with the rise of more private social sharing, Facebook really isn’t the place for that these days. There’s still groups, of course, there are still comments on posts, where you can share jokes and tag your friends, but the latest usage trends suggest that when people are looking to engage, person-to-person, they’re not looking to do so on Facebook.
That means that for Facebook, it may be in its interests to keep pushing content into people’s feeds, particularly through shares. Maybe, Facebook actually needs that content more than it thinks, or more than it would like to admit. While Facebook would get more value out of you sharing your personal interactions on the platform, the reality is that there are now better options to do that, and people have moved away from the initial allure of broadcasting their thoughts on everything, to everyone, at any time.
The evolution in the way we use social apps has changed Facebook’s purpose – so while passive consumption may be bad for us, that also could be what Facebook is. They can work to change this, of course, they can seek to boost engagement by re-jigging the algorithm. But there’s no guarantee that will work.
No matter how they approach it, Facebook does still need publisher content, as evident by these new initiatives. They’re slightly different to the News Feed focus, sure, but they show that Facebook isn’t abandoning publishers just yet, that they still need that content on platform to draw in maximium audience.
But as social media engagement habits shift, it’ll be interesting to see how, exactly, Facebook moves to counter the trends, and get users to remain more socially active on their main platform.