Forget Facebook, Publishers Should Invest in Email

Apr 03, 2019

Article ImageThe other day I went to the supermarket with the specific task of buying a roast for dinner. As I walked through the store I noticed a sale on cheese. Cheese with truffles! Manchego! I kept wondering which cheese would go best with the roast. When I got home and unpacked, I realized something: I hadn’t bought the roast. 

As I drove back to the store, it struck me that this is how marketers must have felt when they wantonly threw money at social media that they couldn’t control, forgetting the meat of their marketing success was in front of them the whole time.

The Siren Call of Social

For a few years, the de rigeur move for marketers was to chase the shiniest, most buzzed-about medium in a move to acquire customers and market to them. Facebook, Twitter, OTT, hell, even VR. If it sounded hot and exciting, it demanded a budget.

Obviously, marketing across these platforms is essential and they shouldn’t be ignored. Yet, too often, brands have adopted a social platform as a cornerstone of their strategy rather than a component of it. Some have given over entire budgets to social media, pushing all their content, media buys, and marketing to the platforms. 

The Problem With the Walled Gardens

Brands are now realizing the risk they run in handing over all of their efforts to different platforms.

Many have had great success locating and acquiring customers on Facebook or other walled gardens but the thing about them is: They have walls. You can’t continue your relationship with the audience you’ve built on Facebook outside of Facebook. What happens when a social media channel becomes less popular? This isn’t theoretical; it’s already happening. As Facebook loses users, what happens to the brands who have invested everything in it or other social channels?

As many reassess their marketing, there’s one performer that never faltered, even during the buzziest days of social media: email. Email, of course, continued to:

·   power a 122% Return on Investment

·   be a channel where people spend 5.4 hours per day

·   be the most preferred communication channel for US consumers


Despite knowing all this, brands back-burnered email marketing. It became their forgotten roast.

In recent months, brands have woken up to the risks of creating customer relationships they can’t own. Many see the value that companies like Dollar Shave Club built by creating relationships that only it has. With email, DTC brands aren’t at the mercy of fickle users who may change where they spend their time. Instead, armed with the workhorse of CRM and a direct route to their best customers’ inbox, brands have broken out of the walled gardens, investing instead in email. In doing so they’ve developed an asset (email and identity data) that will survive independently of intermediaries.

As Go Brands, so Go Publishers

Like brands, publishers have also handed over much of their content to platforms, placing them in a precarious position. Concern peaks every few months, like when Facebook rolled out changes to its algorithm. Anxiety and doubt spread among publishers. It always seems to be that the walled gardens can punish those publishers who don’t supplement their feeds with paid strategies.

Publishers are right to worry, especially those who rely on Facebook for their audience. As Casey Newton tweeted so pithily: Publishers on Facebook think they have audiences when what they actually have is traffic.

Facebook Can't Be Your Only Friend 

In 2017, a report from Digital Content Next (DCN) was leaked to the press. It showed that digital advertising has huge disparities in wealth that threaten to upend the entire ecosystem.

The documents revealed that the average publisher doing the very real and important work of journalism in this post-fact era generated just 14% of their revenue from Facebook and Google. Yet many publishers get as much as 40% of their traffic from Facebook, as Vox did in 2015. Many premium publishers derive 20-25% of their traffic from Google. That’s a lot of valuable real estate sitting within platforms that aren’t giving publishers their due.

These discrepancies emerged even as publishers were under pressure to load their content onto Google’s AMP and Facebook Instant Articles. There’s obviously a better way.

Publishers Should Follow Brands's Lead

Brands pay a premium to Google and Facebook because Google and Facebook have logged-in audiences. That means brands can reach a known person, with relative security about the Identity of the person they’re reaching.

It just so happens that publishers own another logged-in channel of their own, without a gatekeeper: email newsletters.

The email address has become central to identity, and therefore to marketing in our mobile-first world. As a logged-in channel wholly owned by the publisher, it’s a powerful marketing resource that can be used as a bulwark against the walled gardens, especially if publishers can act in unison.

Imagine if publishers could work together to share the data they own through email channels and newsletters, expanding the value of the logged-in channel to their websites and beyond through Private Memory Graphs. This would mean give them an avenue toward people-based gold mines paved by the email address.

Now is the perfect time for publishers to leverage their own assets. There’s a resurgence of interest in what they offer: access to real people outside the walled gardens.

Education is Key

As 2019 rolls forward, Facebook will remain under pressure to repair public opinion damaged by its many data scandals. It might well do so at cost to publishers who rely on the platform. Publishers should educate themselves about the Facebook and Google alternatives.

The more they give away to them now, the more they give up in the future. But by thinking like a technology company instead of a newspaper, a publisher can not only preserve the main meal of its marketing, but get stronger and grow by doing so.

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