Digital media disruptions XV - Overcoming Facebook's algos and media monetization woes

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed November 15, 2016
In this edition: What enterprises can learn from Facebook's post-election fake news maelstrom. Plus - Twitter's redemption and how to squeze out some value. Also: the sudden decline of print media, and the monetization lessons of digital media.

It's time for another gut-check of digital media disruptions - the enterprisey review. Rules: I pick the impactful stories from my media disruptions channel and give them a hard look from the enterprise side - along with a course of action. This series is NOT geared for the media industry, but for enterprises looking to win audiences.

Lead story - Fake news and Facebook's post-election fallout

Mark Zuckerberg’s delusions regarding fake news on Facebook
by: Josh Bernoff
key excerpt: "Mark Zuckerberg defended Facebook this weekend regarding the role of fake news in the election. It’s way worse than he says, and he has a lot of work to do to fix it. Ignorance is the biggest problem in our democracy, and Facebook is making it worse.'"

more context - Facebook's fake news controversy has dominated media headlines since the election. Facebook regularly faces algorithmic scrutiny, but this blow-up feels different. Writers like Bernoff are cutting deeper, questioning Zuckerberg's superficial responses. Our own Den Howlett raised further questions for enterprises in Friday rant – Facebook and falsehoods. What about advertisers?.

Howlett extends the fake news problem into the fake fans many advertisers have paid for: "I’ve argued on occasion that Facebook is an advertising fraud. To me, sending me false fans is no different to spreading false stories." Despite Facebook's media dominance, this is an uncertain deer-in-highlights time. See: Facebook's about-face on excluding ad demographics: Facebook Restricts Ads Targeting Specific Ethnic Groups.

enterprise relevance: Medium. Part of this story extends into our cultural lives, but there is an enterprise context. Facebook is too big a media platform for enterprises to ignore, either for advertising or content, so these flaws must be well understood. Enterprises can also learn from Facebook's algorithmic envelope-pushing as they explore their own automation projects. That includes legal consults to avoid the rash of discrimination lawsuits Facebook is now faced with on targeted ads.

best course of action:

  • Develop a comprehensive plan for how your brand will engage on Facebook (for some brands Facebook will be a core marketing focus, for some B2B brands, it may be lower tier).
  • Hedge Facebook investments with other platforms to protect from algorithmic changes.
  • Take advantage of Facebook's targeted ads in controlled experiments. Exercise caution about accumulating "likes" that may not be core to the brand audience.
  • Pursue engagement strategies that bring conversations live to your public page - such as Facebook live video and online events. Avoid being dependent on conversations hidden behind Facebook's privacy walls.

Despite Business Mess, Twitter Is At Its Most Vital
by: Alex Kantrowitz
key excerpt: "Twitter is living a fascinating contrast. Its business, following a botched sale, is in a state of terrible mess. Its product, now at the heart of a number of major world events, is more influential than ever. The company’s business troubles are driving yet another cycle of deep pessimism, but in the big picture, they matter little to its centrality on the world stage."

more context - Twitter is in an odd predicament. Even as its business model flails, the insular problems of Facebook underscore Twitter's essential openness. Twitter has a habit of hurting itself. Its slow-motion response to abuse and harassment finally turned a corner yesterday, years too late (Twitter Finally Answers Critics, Adding Tools to Curb Abuse and Harassment).

Twitter re-asserted its civic prowess again in election season, leading Ben Thompson of Stratechery to write Why Twitter Must Be Saved on election day. Twitter's openness favors outspoken individuals and renegade brands over bigger operations. Still, a savvy brand can extract multiple use cases from Twitter. Our Barb Mosher Zinck explains how in Three ways to use social media other than as a megaphone.

enterprise relevance: Medium - the integral aspect of Twitter is cultural. Enterprises must be careful about over-investing in Twitter-based marketing due to its uncertain future, indifferent to broadcast marketing, and echo-chamber effect. There are plenty of so-called influencers on Twitter, but a limited number of service buyers and corporate end users.

best course of action:

  • Diversify use of Twitter as per Mosher Zinck's views on social service, competitive intelligence and analytical insight.
  • If it works for your company's culture/industry, free up employees to express themselves openly on Twitter, with minimal guidelines. Open expression earns followers and changes engagement for the better.
  • Focus on best users of Twitter during online and on-the-ground events. This is where Twitter can excel for companies via hashtag tracking. Some hashtags get extremely noisy - invest in curators and curation tools to create consumable narratives on platforms such as Storify.
  • Make a distinction between influencer marketing/engagement - a useful pursuit on Twitter, versus customer engagement and advocacy, which make take place primarily in your own online community, or on LinkedIn, etc.

News Corp takes digital beyond the headlines, but warns of ‘hip’ ad tech abuse
by: Stuart Lauchlan
key excerpt: "The company shut all of its content behind paywalls, but over time has adapted this principle when and where appropriate. For example, News Corp Australia operates what Thomson calls a “premium hybrid model”, which essentially allows limited free access along with a paid for premium subscription."

enterprise relevance: High - I picked this one from my colleague Stuart because it lays out News Corp's willingness to experiment with different digital and monetization models. That practice of experimentation is essential to digital media pursuits. Also check out: this revealing Poynter interview with The Information's Jessica Lessin which explores their subscription-based business model.

best course of action:

  • Take note of News Corp's willingness to re-invent. Experiment with models that capture opt-in data, from newsletters to paid data/information services.
  • Serving value for opt-in data is a core approach for digital media - especially when you are targeting a narrow niche of buyers by industry. In that case, value of web visitors is less valuable than opt-in members.

Media Disruption Accelerates As Paper Ads Plunge
by: Tom Foremski
key excerpt:

  • Digital advertising is not the answer because it continues to decline in effectiveness and revenues per unit.
  • Subscriptions are not effective because they limit the reach of the news stories.
  • And a combination of many revenue streams such as conferences, has failed to created a stable and predictable business model.

enterprise relevance: Medium - As big names in newspapers show their weaknesses, media analyst Tom Foremski has been rightfully howling about the future of journalism. Here's more on declining revenues impacting the biggest news titles (Bad News on the Doorstep). Tom Foremski's also posted an eloquent missive on the lost generation of journalists.

best course of action:

  • Learn from the monetization struggle of pure play media players. By necessity they are experimenting with alternatives like hybrid firewalls and content micro-payments.
  • In most cases, enterprises don't need to monetize all content - if they can convincingly tie that content into lead generation. As I noted, turning every content program into a profit-and-loss center can be limiting. Still, every enterprise is faced with content ROI.

Bonus content - a few more for the road:

How Bots Are Changing The Future Of Journalism - Why should writers feel secure in the automated era? They shouldn't, as per this piece: "There are specific types of writing where AI will replace writers almost entirely."
Responding to objections to "Writing Without Bullshit" - As good a primer on edgy business writing as you're going to find.
Here’s How Much You’re Worth To Facebook - Between $4 and $62 bucks a year, depending on where you live :)

These pieces were picked from my curated channel, enterprise media disruptions. You can also view the entire digital media disruptions series.

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