How to break out of Facebook’s content monopoly

New initiatives from Facebook suggest the social media giant is tightening its grip on publishers. What can content creators do?

First came the declaration that paywalls would be coming to Instant Articles. Then, Facebook’s engineers announced that slow-loading pages would be pushed down users’ news feeds.

Facebook argues this is part of their quest to enhance performance for both publishers and users as part of the Facebook Journalism Project. Launched in January, the project’s three pillars – developing news products in collaboration with publishers, tools for journalists and community-wide training – were designed to lift the social media giant out of its fake news quagmire.

Facebook loves talking about authenticity and collaboration. But its latest moves suggest a more sinister motivation – an attempt by Mark Zuckerberg to control the output and revenues of content creators.

So what’s the answer? Is this a logical step to improver user experience or a cynical grab for power? The answer lies somewhere in the middle – but content creators needn’t sink beneath the tide.

President Zuckerberg, editor-in-chief

It’s been a big year for Mark Zuckerberg. Pundits are suggesting it may culminate in a bid for the US presidency. Whatever happens, it has been characterised by increasingly assertive attempts to control content appearing on Facebook.

Let’s start with paywalls. “Our partners consistently identified support for subscription business models as a top priority,” insists Facebook, “and we made it a priority for our teams as well.”

Inside sources have offered some insights on the form this may take. Possible elements include 10 free articles per month to tantalise users, tailored support for a freemium model and a test period before a larger 2018 rollout.

For some, this will be welcome. As this blog has pointed out, big publishers like The Economist have seen engagement and revenues increase thanks to gated content.

But it’s certainly not for everyone. Small content creators may struggle to gain a foothold if big competitors have gobbled up the market for subscriptions. For B2B publishers, compulsory freemium models could eat into quantity of leads while doing nothing for quality.

The same is true of programming changes that prioritise the fastest loading content. These changes are all well and good for the 40% of website visitors abandoning their destination after three seconds of delay. And for the big publishers, whose servers can easily accommodate fluctuating traffic. But smaller operators may struggle to keep up as changes are gradually implemented. The result could be a more hostile environment for publishers and less choice for consumers.

Content comes up trumps

For content marketers looking to retain control, all is not lost.

First, it’s vital to note that adaption is necessary. Have you experimented with gated content? Is your digital offering as efficient as it could be? If not, your content could be doomed to underperform – Zuckerberg or no Zuckerberg.

Second, there are some overlooked techniques for grabbing the spotlight via social media. Small publishers will stay small if their content fails to entice. But minor tweaks to headlines, for example, are a proven way to take your content’s shareability to the next level.

Third, cutting out the middleman can get your content working harder. Custom made knowledge banks and even a print offering could be the missing ingredient when enhancing engagement and building relationships via content – without the interference of social media.

Facebook’s control over content on its platform – whether well intentioned or not – will continue to grow. But it can’t control what publishers create. This will always be the foundation of a content strategy that engages and excels.

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