For years, brands and publishers in particular have been warned of the dangers of wallowing too far into Facebook.

The rationale was that if brands didn’t prioritise their own publishing platforms (apps and websites), they would be vulnerable if Facebook decided to shake things up.

2016, to my mind, has seen the old argument finally put to bed, as Facebook steams into new features and publishers realise the art is in hedging bets and learning as they go.

Facebook forges ahead in 2016

There are several features that Facebook is currently prioritising that promise value for publishers. Here’s a quick summary.

Facebook Live

Facebook’s live streaming feature was made available to all users in January of 2016, initially for iOS but now also on Android. 

There’s a lovely article in the New York Times discussing the potential of Facebook Live, including WSB TV’s recent use of the functionality during a weather forecast.

The broadcaster saw nearly 9,000 live viewers with nearly 80,000 views since (a big increase on typical online viewing figures).

It’s clear that Facebook Live, which may be spun out into its own app, could increase engagement with live video.

Currently, many companies are dipping their toes in the water using Periscope and finding users difficult to find, or are put off by the investment (time, tech and resource) needed to host live video on their own websites.

Facebook looks set to push live video high up user timelines giving further incentive to publishers.

Instant Articles

Instant Articles is opened up in April, allowing publishers’ content to load quickly in the Facebook app.

The quick loading articles are likely to give publishers favourable view figures as Facebook prioritises this improved user experience.

Traffic from Facebook to media sites is already more than that from Google. If publishers want even more eyeballs, they should focus on serving these users in-situ.

instant articles

Messenger for Brands

Though at face value Messenger for brands was seen as a channel for retailers and service deliverers to update customers, publishers have been experimenting, too.

Bild has already used Messenger to update users on football transfers and reality TV news (just the important stuff, then).

Alongside improved functionality within Pages for Business (response times, changed inbox and commenting), Messenger makes Facebook a personalised comms tool, rather than simply a network to broadcast over.

Perhaps Facebook may eventually be an important platform for publishers to serve paid subscribers.

VR

360 video is supported in the Facebook Timeline. With its hegemony on mobile and ownership of Oculus, Facebook seems supremely well positioned to become de-facto VR partner for brands and publishers.

Yes, Google and YouTube are in this space, too, but with standard video views on Facebook far outstripping YouTube, isn’t Facebook the video platform du jour?

However, some people point to an unrealistic definition of a video view (three seconds) and much ‘stolen’ content on Facebook (often from YouTube) as issues that need addressing.

The social monetisation battle has been fought

One advantage for publishers on Facebook is, I believe, that the monetisation battle has already been fought on social.

As publishers are mired in the debate about ad blocking, ad fraud and user experience on their own websites, social media users are, on the other hand, resigned to monetised platforms.

The control that Facebook has over its walled garden helps to ensure that the ad experience doesn’t get bloated by the involvement of too many parties.

Instant Articles is held in front of publishers with the promise of a share in advertising revenue. 

Facebook has only recently announced that video ads will be appended to Instant Articles, too, increasing further the opportunity for those that open up their content.

Whilst the results (revenue-wise) for Instant Article publishers are yet to come out in the wash, the opportunity for ads within Facebook may be an additional revenue stream for big publishers (rather than simply cannabilisation of on-site success).

ad blocking growth

It’s still that user base

The bottom line is that Facebook has 1bn daily users and is continuing to learn more about them and expand the very idea of a social profile online.

For all the uncertainty for content creators, getting in front of these users, learning what works and what doesn’t, alongside Facebook, feels like the only safe option.

Friend or enemy, brands know they must keep Facebook close. 

Simplifying marketing infrastructure

The last point I want to make is a comparison between Google and Facebook.

As Google expanded its ecosystem, many companies found life in bed with Google a lot simpler. Using Gmail, Google Apps, AdWords, Analytics etc. suddenly meant that infrastructure could be streamlined.

The journey with Facebook is no different; it wants to make its own products easier to use and more effective than alternative routes to market.

Ultimately, the rewards for brands and content creators should outweigh the costs.

So, it’s all rosy?

Of course, this is just a skip through the current state of Facebook for publishers. While I’m arguing that it’s a promising picture, there are still many concerns.

  • Will Facebook’s algorithm mean quality articles lose out at the expense of clickbait?
  • Will all publishers be allowed in? How democratic can a walled garden be?
  • How transparent will Facebook be with its audience data?

Let us know your own thoughts below.