Facebook and Google rule because the news inddustry is a hostage

Aug 25, 2016
Facebook and Google dominate the news industry as publishers struggle with declining reach, traffic, and engagement, leading to an urgent need for collective action.
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Every time someone sneezes on Facebook, the publishing world breaks out in a cold sweat. The platform, based in Menlo Park, California, is currently the most sensitive stage for the overwhelming majority of publications due to its ability to generate traffic. Recent changes in the algorithm that chooses what you see in your timeline have generated uncertainty and catastrophic predictions. But what seems certain is that publications and publishers are hurting themselves. Without realizing it, the content offering decided by the publishers is turning into spam without Facebook having anything (or almost anything) to do with it.
Didn't get the hint? Let's go: a study done by an analytics company, Parse.ly, tried to verify the impact of changes announced by Facebook a few weeks ago. The social network reported that traffic generated to sites could decrease due to prioritization that favors personal content.
The result of Parse.ly's analysis on the sites it monitors was at least unexpected. Contrary to the seven trumpets of the digital apocalypse, the traffic generated for the sampling had imperceptible changes (see graph). The study also pointed to another possible trend: the relevance of homepages, which so far are considered in the tech environment as 'dead men walking'.
A second study, done by Social Flow (a social network publication manager), brought information that fits in with Parse.ly's assessment: SF concluded that the reach - the number of people who see each post you make - average of the publications in the sampling remained more or less at the same level. Here comes a second conclusion from the Social Flow study which is a significant drop in the individual reach of each post.
In short, the primary strategy of publishers to combat a possible performance change post-algorithm change was to post more to compensate for any loss. With the exception of a few sites, everyone started to work more to earn less, because in addition to the drop in reach and traffic generation per post, engagement levels also plummeted.

Where's the scapegoat?

Publications and publishers have reasons for the apparent confusing strategy for social networks. Organic traffic is decreasing in 9 out of 10 publications, the behavior of mobile device users is still forming and several other restrictions are decreasing the system's oxygen and this is not easy to deal with. If the basics are already difficult, imagine then thinking about acting collectively. Unfortunately, this may become necessary.
More popular publications like Fox News and Daily Mail have posting rates that border 2,000 per day (yes, 2,000). It is true that both pay the practice with low engagement levels, but the most relevant here is not the performance of both posts, but what they represent for the scenario as a whole. These grotesque amounts of content have turned Facebook into a box full of 'junk'. Perhaps the strategies work for these publications in the short term, but they will erode these performances over time. Spam is not just unsolicited content. These uncontrolled publishers are that annoying, attention seeker friend who enters all discussions and never stops talking.
As I have suggested here, publications, agencies and advertisers need to have their 'Breton Woods summit' to redefine the rules of the game regarding the advertising market. The current system is detrimental to media outlets, which receive less due to an infinite inventory of advertising space and for advertisers who buy large parts of their media made up only of digital garbage. The behavior of the media on social networks (most notably Facebook) will also have to go through a reformatting. The amounts of content being pumped into the platform make the game bad for all sides (except the platform itself).

Attention is the real currency at stake

There is a finite amount of 'attention' available and the current scenario leaves in the hands of Mark Zuckerberg practically all the power of decision over who sees what. Yes, the algorithm (or the algorithms) act according to people's preferences, but the control room of this is in a comfortable position for Facebook itself. The platform is fundamental for the survival of the media for at least the next decade and if there is no agreement between the media players, the result will be similar to that of a fiscal war between governments that, in the end, erodes the profit of all governments and makes companies increase their profit and capitalize alone. This agreement has to go around the social network and, if it doesn't happen, they will maintain the bloody battle that exists today.
Photo by James Kovin on Unsplash

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