Thursday, January 18, 2018

How publishers can overcome loss of Facebook traffic

Now that Facebook has made clear that it will not be promoting journalism to its users, all of the publishers who were getting much of their traffic there should look elsewhere. (Frederic Filloux of Monday Note has one of the best analyses of the company's announcement.)

What now? Well, there are several tactics and strategies that publishers can take to replace what they have lost (and will lose) from Facebook's pivot away from news. (I have also written about such strategies in Spanish.)

1. A tactic: start an email newsletter with links to your content. Think of it as a walled garden that protects you from Facebook.

Daily, weekly, or monthly newsletters create a more intimate relationship with users. Some publications have several on different topics, such as technology, business, public safety, or politics that users can select from. Local news sites in particular can benefit from daily newsletters.

The links to your content send users directly to your site, and any ad revenue goes to your business rather than Facebook. Many digital news publishers report higher response rates from email subscribers to offers of subscriptions, premium content, or memberships.

2.  Focus on the quality of users instead of the quantity: relationship rather than scale, engagement rather than volume.

The metrics of the "attention web" focus on showing the value of the audience's relationship with the media brand rather than with an advertiser's product.

Some of these metrics are:

  • duration of user's visits per month
  • frequency of visits per day or per month 
  • time spent reading or viewing a piece of content
  • user's path in scrolling through a piece of content (to see if more than the headline was viewed)
  • comments on content
  • shares through social networks
Engaged users are the ones who become loyal users. They develop an emotional connection with a media brand.

3. Identify your loyal users and tailor special offers and services to them.

In Analytics, the loyal users are the ones who return to your site many times a day, week, or month. Media researcher Alfonso Vara-Miguel, a colleague of mine at the University of Navarra, has written (Spanish) that obtaining reader loyalty is the most important objective for journalism brands, and that this loyalty translates into economic value:
"A loyal reader will repeatedly buy their paper, will better tolerate price increases, will be more inclined to buy other products from that brand, and is much more likely to recommend those products to other people . . . In the new digital communication marketplace, the loyalty of audiences is much more relevant than it was in the pre-internet era".
Users of the Washington Post, for example, who visit the site at least three times a month are the ones most likely to buy a paid subscription to digital content.

4. Focus most of your editorial resources on content that differentiates you from competitors--content that is available nowhere else.

When your content is different, your users feel like they are members of a special club who get privileged information. This makes them loyal (Point 3), which has economic value. 

Also, this strategy frees your editorial team from chasing stories that may produce clicks but distract them from the differentiated editorial mission of your publication. If all the media are chasing the latest scandal involving a political figure, your team can investigate the how and why of that story to give it context, meaning, and added value for your audience.

5. In a time of distrust of media and misinformation, credibility is the new currency. It is the most important asset of the publication.

Here is my take about the importance of credibility and trust for media 2018.
Independent media--those based on serving the public rather than turning a profit---will grow in importance through revealing corruption and holding authorities accountable . . . [M]edia that serve the public first rather than political or economic interests will gain credibility by challenging the powers that be. That credibility will have economic value that will be monetized . . . 
Major brands have been abandoning Facebook because their ads have been delivered next to misinformation and hate speech on that social network's platform.

Now is a good time to approach brands with the message that they gain credibility for their products and messages when they are surrounded by credible content--yours. 

6. Focus on native advertising or "sponsored content" rather than targeted advertising.

So-called "native advertising" can help publishers move on from Facebook in several ways. In the first place, it gets past ad-blockers because it appears to be editorial content, not an ad. This makes the content load quickly, which is especially important to mobile phone users, now the majority of news consumers.

When it is done right, native advertising--also known as advertorial or sponsored content--will give readers valuable information that complements a publication's editorial content. It will feel less intrusive than targeted advertising of the kind used by Facebook, and will keep users engaged. And it will identify the brand with the values and credibility of the publication.

7. Take advantage of what Facebook doesn't know about your users and their friends.

While Facebook's uses its vast storehouse of information on individual users and their networks to send them targeted ads, journalists in a particular town, region, or country know much more than any algorithm about local customs, traditions, language, expressions, personalities, power-brokers, history, and much more.

Publishers can take advantage of this specialized knowledge to offer highly differentiated content (Point 4) and attract a different kind of sponsor or advertiser (Point 8, to follow).

8. Talk about ethical values and public service with potential sponsors and contributors.

Facebook is a business designed to get people's attention and make money. Ultimately it serves the investors first, the advertisers second, and the public comes in last.

People want to be part of an organization whose mission is to search for answers and attempt to inform rather than serve vested interests.

9. Monetize the social capital you create. 

 Social capital is a value that media entrepreneurs generate through their ethnic, social, professional, and business networks. The prestige and reputation that a media organization gains through public service enhances its social capital.

Social capital is not as concrete as financial capital, but it can be monetized, as many digital media organizations have done around the world. Crowd-funding, partnerships, collaborations, grants, sponsorships, and donations are some of the ways to convert social capital into support.


Facebook is a monopoly and it does have vast resources of data and the personnel that have enabled it to maintain a stranglehold on digital advertising. But its algorithms have promoted and distributed  misleading, racist, and divisive messages that have alienated both advertisers and users.

Publishers who depended on Facebook to gain reach can use some of the strategies above to replace what they have lost. They have lost reach, but they can gain loyalty and an emotional connection with their users, which are more valuable than mere eyeballs in the long run.

Also: From The Drum: Goodbye Facebook: How publishers can survive and thrive in 2018).
The audiences are in charge: Are publishers listening?

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