How to Strike the Right Balance Between Social and On-Site Communities

Mar 21, 2018

Article ImageSince its inception, Facebook has been a (sometimes mixed-) blessing for publishers. The company established itself as a third-party distributor of publisher content by bringing a simple, effective solution to audience engagement concerns. This all changed about a month ago, however, when Facebook rewrote its news feed algorithm to de-prioritize publisher content. Facebook experienced a makeover, recapturing the pre-monetized elements that have made it a cultural touchstone over the past 15 years ago.

In the last month, digital advertisers who relied heavily on the platform for content distribution have scrambled to adapt to the algorithm change. Some publishers have clearly hitched their wagons to Facebook and now find themselves struggling to survive. Little Things and Cox’s Rare recently experienced precipitous declines in revenue and social media traffic. Little Things has since folded entirely and attributed its failure to Facebook’s algorithm tweaks.

Now, the remaining digital media outlets must figure out how to drive traffic without the help of world’s most influential social media platform. For those publishers, here are three tips to consider. 

Recast Third Parties to a Supporting Role

There’s been plenty of debate about the future of publisher relationships with third-party distribution sites since the Facebook adjustment. And only time and data will tell the full story. That said, publishers have already become skeptical of third-party investments in any capacity. A recent Reuters Institute survey indicated that 44% of news executives are worried about the power and influence of these social platforms, while only 7% are less worried than they were last year.

Does this mean the struggling media publishers must now rely solely on building their own communities from the ground up? Not exactly, but they’ll have to devote significant resources to their own audience engagement infrastructure. While 36% of publishers blame themselves for not changing with the times and innovating their on-site community building efforts, they’re now taking steps to build a healthy balance between on-site and third-party investments. For example, nearly 75% of publishers plan to experiment with AI to drive efficiency on-site, and more than half say they will invest in building podcast series. Publishers are prioritizing the creation of compelling content and investing in innovation. This will allow third parties to fall back into the support role where they belong. 

Keep a Finger On the (Social) Pulse

While on-site communities should be the primary focus for these publishers in the wake of the Facebook algorithm changes, third-party distribution platforms still present a number of advantages. Publishers must understand ongoing trends within the social universe. They’ll also have to monitor the business models of these platforms to understand which are more publisher-friendly, and which are taking steps to dial down publisher content. For example, Snapchat made recent changes to its UI in an effort to both attract new users, and to make the interface more publisher-friendly. Snapchat’s UI changes come at the perfect time, as publishers who were left behind by Facebook are looking for other third-party sites. The company’s publisher-focused Discover Channels are central to the platform. They’re now front and center in the UI, and designed to draw users toward them and drive as much user traffic as possible.

But why even invest in third parties after being let down by Facebook?

Building an on-site audience is more difficult than it may seem. Third-party distribution platforms -- like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat -- help identify and grab that audience, making it easier to build communities back on your site. Issues arise when publishers are too reliant on the platforms. There will always be somewhat of a middle ground, however, where third-party platforms play an important support role in helping build communities back on-site. 

Invest Heavily in Owned And Operated Properties and Emerging Tech 

For many publishers—especially smaller ones—establishing an on-site community for the first time may seem like a lost cause. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. Owned-and-operated properties (O&O) are a great solution for publishers who want to generate buzz on-site. By investing in strong, unique content and a sleek user experience, O&O properties can deliver users with a unique experience that’ll keep them engaged for longer and more likely to come back.

For some publishers, investments in emerging tech—like VR and 360° video—can propel owned-and-operated properties forward. Studies show that 360° video advertisements have a higher click-through rate than standard ads. Not only is the click-through rate higher, but these videos can also help increase shares and subscription rates. If 360° video ads are welcomed with open arms, the sky’s the limit for substantial, high-quality narrative content when paired with 360° video tech.

Moving forward, it’s critical for publishers to understand how they’ll be affected by Facebook’s recent update. And a good place to start is by devoting fewer resources to third-party distribution and spending more time building on-site communities by taking advantage of innovative tech and social trends.

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