Beware Facebookers bearing gifts…

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth


There’s a fascinating piece from David Carr on the New York Times website today, looking at the relationship between Facebook and news publishers. But it needs to be read with caution. Some parts of it make me uneasy. It’s very much filtered through a “news publishers are important” view of the world, and it makes me question whether Facebook is as committed as Carr suggests. For example:

The social network now has over 1.3 billion users — a fifth of the planet’s population and has become a force in publishing because of its News Feed, which has been increasingly fine-tuned to feature high-quality content, the kind media companies produce.

That misses the point, I think. The News Feed is fine-tuned to show photos and videos from your friends, and a small selection of high quality content items – and that value of “quality” can vary hugely depending on the social neighbourhood of the Facebook user. See what I mean about a news publisher-centric view of the world?

Still, the intersection of Facebook, mobile and news publishers is an interesting one. Facebook is a huge traffic driver – Twitter pales in comparison – and publishers have been terribly slow in adapting to mobile publishing. Will publishers end up handing too much power to the big blue giant is a rush for Zuckerberg’s users?

One possibility it mentioned was for publishers to simply send pages to Facebook that would live inside the social network’s mobile app and be hosted by its servers; that way, they would load quickly with ads that Facebook sells. The revenue would be shared.

Giving people one less reason to leave Facebook will not be good for any of us, I suspect.

Some advice for publishers:

  • Anything Facebook is doing is about preserving Facebook, not the news business
  • Never rely on one traffic source. Facebook makes sense as part of a search/social/e-mail/app mix
  • Always look at how you can bring Facebook readers back to your site at some point
  • Take any advice you can on improving your mobile experience from them.

Some other points of note:

A few other things worth commenting on in Carr’s piece:

For traditional publishers, the home page may soon become akin to the print edition — nice to have, but not the primary attraction.

Any traditional publisher that still thinks that the homepage is the primary attraction is in a world of trouble already. This has not been the case for a long time.

In the last few months, more than half the visitors to The New York Times have come via mobile — the figure increases with each passing month — and that percentage is higher for many other publishers.

Further evidence that we’re right at the mobile tipping point. So many publishers have now crossed the 50% mobile threshold, that if you’re not, there’s probably something very wrong with your site.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.