Say what you like about Facebook (and God knows many publishers do), but they’re absolutely committed to their own profitability. As a side-effect of that, they’ve created a curious form of equality when it comes to publishing to their news feed. Only that which an audience deems worthy to be shared gets shared.
For publishers, used to being the gatekeepers of information and the agenda-setters for public discourse, not being given precedence over advertisers or their audiences’ own content can rankle.
That commitment to audience-determined meritocracy was only emphasised in the talk given by Zuckerberg, Sandberg et al. that accompanied Facebook’s Q3 2014 results. And while the company’s continued success was impressive – revenue for that period totaled $3.2 billion, monthly active users rose 14 percent year on year to 1.35 billion, and the percentage of ad revenue from mobile rose to 66 percent – there were some key points revealed of which publishers should take note.
1. Video growth
This was the quarter that saw Facebook break the one billion videos viewed per day mark, so it’s really no surprise that they’re continuing to push Facebook video as a platform for publishers. Zuckerberg explicitly reiterates that users’ news feeds will begin to be comprised of more video content – particularly short-form – than ever before:
“There’s definitely this trend over the last few years where, if you go back five years, most of the content was text. Now a lot of it is photos, and if you look in the future as networks get better and the ability to capture good video and share it in a good way improves, then I think that going forward, a lot of the content that people share will be video. It’s just very compelling.”
And that’s certainly in line with how we expect digital news consumption to develop, as supported by the sheer amount of ad money being rolled into digital video over the next few years. But even though news companies have the expertise and finances to ut behind high-quality video content, which should in theory be successful on Facebook, Zuckerberg’s definition of ‘news’ should give publishers pause:
“News is a very big priority, because a lot of people want to share that on Facebook already, and enabling public figures, whether they are celebrities or athletes or actors or politicians or leaders in different kind of communities, to get on Facebook and use the platform to distribute the content that they want.”
Publishers, then, will not get any preferential treatment when it comes to putting out video content over that of individuals, groups or brands. It all ties back into Facebook’s accidental equality – publishers have to compete with everybody else, no matter the form of their content.
2. Mobile exclusivity
1.12 billion people use Facebook on mobile every month, and the proportion of people who exclusively use Facebook on mobile has risen dramatically over the last year, from 254 million in Q3 2013 to 456 million last quarter. As with video, that in itself isn’t particularly unusual – after all, many news sites are seeing the majority of their traffic come from mobile – but it has implications for publishers in how they produce and push content to Facebook’s mobile users.
More than that, the vast majority of that mobile traffic is through Facebook’s apps – 84 percent according to some estimates. That means that publishers are just as – or more so – subject to the vagaries of Facebook’s changes to its mobile platform as they are on desktop. And as pointed out in this Digiday article, this ‘parasitic’ model of publishing content is extremely dangerous. But unfortunately, that’s what Facebook seem to want publishers to do, although publishers are extremely wary about the deal according to Digiday:
“Entrepreneur and blogger Anil Dash tweeted that publishers would be downright “dumb” to enter into such a partnership. Gawker editor-in-chief Max Read called it “a terrifying new development.” And New York Times media reporter David Carr, who first reported on the talks, wrote about how conflicted publishers were in pursuing the development.”
But based on the talk, Facebook’s motivation for this push to mobile is obvious – mobile ad revenue accounted for 66 percent of total ad revenue this year, compared to 49 percent the year before.
3. New platforms
Given Facebook spent $2 billion acquiring Oculus Rift, it only makes sense that Zuckerberg calls the virtual reality headset maker an integral part of their future plans:
“With Oculus we’re making a long-term bet on the future of computing. Every 10-15 years a new major computing platform arrives, and we think virtual and augmented reality are important parts of this upcoming next platform.”
That predicted impact s still a while off yet. The talk included rhetoric such as ‘early days’, and Zuckerberg noted that it would take large-scale adoption of the platform, on the scale of between 50 and 100 million units sold, before the Rift becomes particularly useful as a platform. So it seems that publishers have a while to get to grips with thit – and since there’s still no set-in-stone plans for exactly how Facebook plans to deploy it, doing so could be essentially taking a shot in the dark.
Instagram, too, was a focus – but only really when it comes to ads. Globally, users of the app are spending an average of 21 minutes a day on Instagram, and it’s a huge part of Facebook’s ad plans. COO Sheryl Sandberg noted that a Mercedes Benz ad campaign got 54 percent more visits to their website when using a combination of both Facebook and Instagram.
So why was the response to Facebook’s results – all of which appeared to be in the right direction – so negative? It is, as the Independent suggests, because Facebook has warned of increased spending on new platforms like Oculus and WhatsApp. But even its decision to do that is indicative of its sole focus.
It has a lot to do with Facebook’s unerring focus on revenue and profitability. Its every action is in service of increasing its ad revenue, and each new platform it adds only seems to increase the value of its highly-targeted ad model as a whole. Sandberg spoke about ‘lookalike-audiences’, by which brands find a new audience for their ads who share a similar profile to their existing consumer base, something only possible with the huge amount of data Facebook has on its users. That’s a huge boon for both Facebook, who command the ad platforms, and for the advertisers who are flocking to get involved.
But publishers don’t want to see themselves as potential advertisers, they’re looking to social media as distribution methods. And their goals are simply unaligned with Facebook’s revenue-driven approach – it’s like they’re trying to corral a car engine into also functioning as a printing press. The takeaway from the Facebook talk is this – publishers are holding the tiger by its tail, and that ride doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon.