For all their expertise and acumen in the media industry, publishers have a disadvantage when they plan their strategies: theirs is an insider’s perspective. It’s impossible to view the outside of a sphere when you live on the inner surface, so publishers do occasionally need to seek advice from those who live outside the bubble.
Jan Řežáb is one such individual who is fortunate enough to have oversight across numerous social platforms and has a global perspective on the trends shaping the media world. We caught up with him at Socialbakers’ Engage conference in Prague to pick his brains on where he thinks it is all heading.
Snapchat’s future is limited
It will be surprising to few people that Řežáb is not optimistic about Snapchat’s future in its current form. “Their international growth has been cut down to its knees,” he explained, and although he describes himself as a “big believer in the story format they’ve invented,” they simply don’t have what it takes to fight Facebook’s aggressive cloning.
Řežáb is also sceptical about Snap’s decision to reposition itself as a company with both hardware and software arms.
“Snapchat have said that they don’t ever expect to be in the positive. Not in the green…they’ve stated that they don’t ever expect it to even be in the black. They’re not a hardware company, they’re a software company: a social network.
“Snapchat are a great one for a new type of generational content, and they should focus on that…perhaps work with media companies to open a public part of Snapchat which is easily accessible, easily commentable, easily engageable. It might lose them the war against Instagram, but they’ll keep their core audience in that engaged and fun way.”
Snap’s foray into wearables has so far been a loss-making exercise, and the 6 percent share of overall revenue that Spectacles are responsible for this quarter says more about the disappointing advertising revenue than hardware sales doing particularly well.
Don’t underestimate the mobile web
The narrative over where people will spend the most time and attention has been constantly shifting over the past decade, with apps earmarked as the future of content consumption. But with app downloads slowing to an average of zero a month, Řežáb has other ideas about where publishers should be investing next:
“Web is growing three times faster than mobile apps. What will that mean for networks like Snapchat? Take Imgur for example. They’re one of the top 100 websites in the world, and 90 percent of their traffic is from mobile web. Not their app… it’s from mobile web.
“There are some things which we don’t yet know; there might even be a social platform with 100 million users in the next couple of years which will end up just being on the web.”
Android’s Instant Apps will accelerate this trend. After a year in development, they have finally been released into the world so developers can offer lightweight versions of their apps in search, which will no doubt start appearing to general users soon.
“Instant Apps for me is the biggest thing since social media. I think apps will become the equivalent of bookmarks. So we’ve got to completely change our thinking now and say ‘Okay…this is all going to work very differently.’
“I think marketers and publishers would be stupid not to embrace instant articles and apps fully. That’s the only format that will be shared. You can’t sit there and say, ‘Let’s ignore that, it’s going to fade away’. It’s not! If you don’t have it, you’re going to end up not being relevant.”
You had one job…not any more
Something which has been reflected through our own editor-at-large Peter Houston’s ‘You had one job’ series is that media people have had to swap their ‘simple, single-track careers for multitasking, multiplatform media ninja-ism’. For Řežáb, the marketing world is facing similar issues, with roles crossing over into publishing and editing space.
“The complexity of the job is really increasing. What is a social media marketer? Is he a publisher? Is he a content creator or editor? Is he a strategist? He’s all of that combined.”
Řežáb argues that the ‘head of social media’ role is one that everyone in an organisation should have, including the CMO and the CEO. It should drive everything the company does, like the not-so-subtle content marketing efforts of the Lego movies.
“If we look at companies that have been successful in organic social media like Red Bull and Lego…Lego has a huge show on YouTube watched by hundreds of millions of kids, and they’re all organic. Kids watch what is basically an ad for 30 to 60 minutes, and then they demand the product. That’s clever.”
On top of this is the increasing demand in skills to deal with the fast-changing world of content production. As well as companies coming under pressure to produce videos and images in portrait mode, social network support for 360, Live and other new formats is making it difficult to keep up.
“Live video, 360 video, 360 photos and spherical content…this is all very difficult to produce and very difficult to stage, so we’re going to see a complete shift in production and in both production studios and actual quality.
“The old guys that know really well how to work the camera and make a camera frame, they have no idea how to do VR and how to do spherical content.”
Although Řežáb isn’t convinced VR will properly take off in the next two years, he is concerned about the skills shortage and the consequential high cost of innovative content.
The duopoly is here to stay
The short-term impact and long-term future of the Google-Facebook duopoly is the primary concern for many senior figures in the media industry. Řežáb believes that the companies have got to this stage because they are so good at what they do, and it is only because they aren’t a legacy company that they are painted as the enemy.
“If a newspaper company managed to pull off what Google and Facebook have pulled off, they would have been very successful. Facebook is bringing in more revenue than the entire newspaper industry.
“So where does that leave these traditional channels? Probably a sub-channel…now media don’t like to hear that, but that’s a fact and the new reality.”
Řežáb is still dependent on Facebook’s goodwill to keep Socialbakers relevant, but he is more prepared to put his trust in them than in media’s clickbait culture which he pointed out as being a real issue on social platforms.
“I look at trust of any entity by their past actions. Facebook has always proven over time that they’re doing things in the best interest of their users. My question is, have media companies? Or are they doing articles for the sake of clicks?”
“The big trend to watch is if Facebook close down any open, public data streams or API’s. That’s when, for me, that would be the ‘pure evil’ moment. They have to keep being transparent and open with their metrics.”
The future is personal
The power of the individual brand is what Řežáb sees as the biggest opportunity over the next couple of years, and social media will play a deciding role in their longevity.
“The new journalists are people that build up their own communities and channels, or can really master the art of social. There are many examples growing in influence, even of serious journalists.”
This view was reflected by Emma Gannon, who discussed the power of the personal brand in a recent podcast:
Řežáb identifies social media as being an enabler for these individuals who can build their own communities.
“Before, there were big obstacles to becoming a media company. Printing presses, production, distribution…millions of dollars of overheads. But all that’s going away. Build independent communities. Build your own audience, as a journalist. You can launch your own instant articles on your own microblog…and you’ll monetise.
“And then the only thing is that the maths has got to work. So you’ve got to be able to build enough to make a solid living in a predictable way, which means making twice as much because there will be bad months and amazing months.”
Apart from questions over the sustainability and longevity of the ‘personal brand’, Řežáb’s outlook for the media industry echoes that of many other experts. Companies which adapt, experiment and innovate will reap the rewards, and those that choose not to will become irrelevant. As he concluded, “It’s going to be very simple.”