By: Alan D. Mutter
Last month, we discussed the generous contribution publishers have been making to the dramatic growth of Facebook, a wondrously addictive medium that seems to be commanding ever-greater amounts of time from an ever-larger number of consumers.
Today, we’re going to talk about how newspapers can get Facebook to work as effectively for them as most papers have been working for Facebook.
With roughly half of the U.S. population having at least a passing relationship with Facebook, it is understandable that publishers not only have scrambled to cover the social network’s swift rise but also scurried to create their own environments on Facebook, which they faithfully promote on each and every one of their Web pages. Several publishers even have outsourced to Facebook the authentication and publication of comments on their sites.
To date, however, all the free ink and all the free links provided by publishers have produced much more benefit for Facebook than for newspapers. Even though the viral nature of Facebook undoubtedly has boosted Web traffic for publishers, the financial return in this relationship has been stacked decidedly in Facebook’s favor.
Because newspapers have done almost nothing to monetize their investments in Facebook, Twitter, and the various other social sites they nourish with links and content, the social-media revenues realized by the newspaper industry this year will amount to no more than a rounding error in comparison to the $4 billion in keyword ad sales that Facebook is expected to book in 2011.
This lopsided arrangement has got to stop, for two reasons. First, the social media have such large and deeply engaged audiences that newspapers must find a way of making money off this disruptive new media ecosystem. Second, newspapers need new revenue sources, because their core businesses are shrinking.
Fortunately, publishers already know how the media business works: Produce valuable content. Assemble a desirable audience. Sell access to the audience. Make a profit. Repeat.
The way to do this with Facebook is by doing Four Things at Once:
• Discover audiences and their interests. This involves continually searching for Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, YouTube videos, blogs, and other media that are operating in the big, wide Web beyond your Newspaper.Com site. Leverage the socialness of the social media to ask open-ended questions and run polls to discover what’s on the mind of people in your communities.
• Acquire content and audience. This includes not only promoting the content you produce, but also encouraging user-generated content and aggregating content from other digital publishers. Because links are the sincerest form of flattery on the Web, the people you link to often will link back to you. You also can build your following by following the people who follow you.
• Share news, videos, contests, offers, and more. The magic of the social media is their viral nature. Leverage that behavior by producing a continuous stream of engaging activities that encourage friends to invite friends to read a story, respond to a poll, register for a sweepstakes, or share a free music track.
• Make money. While publishers generally have demonstrated some facility with the three previous activities, they have failed miserably at making money off their efforts. The direct ways to monetize the social media are to use them to run ads on your Facebook page for your clients (it can be done without running afoul of Facebook rules, but read them carefully) and to create an e-marketplace for selling everything from merchandise to movie tickets.
The most intriguing and perhaps most productive approach for making money off Facebook, however, is for newspapers to take over the social-media marketing and advertising campaigns for businesses in their markets.
Fortunately for publishers, this happens to be one of the primary pain points for local businessmen. A recent survey by Forrester Research, the market research company, found that 77 percent of the managers of small and medium businesses are concerned about building their social-marketing presence. But nearly all of them say they are so bewildered about what to do and so overwhelmed with the ordinary chores of running their businesses that they want someone to help.
Following the steps discussed previously, publishers rapidly can become the trusted social-marketing sherpas that local businesses want. Because social marketing is a never-ending chore of discovering and acquiring audiences and content, such services represent a rich source of new and recurring revenues for newspapers. Social campaign management can be combined with additional services, including direct marketing, Web and mobile site hosting, and ad placement on such third-party sites as Google and Facebook.
The few newspapers that have moved wholeheartedly to this so-called agency approach are diversifying their client bases and strengthening their revenue streams at the same time they are reducing their dependence on the sagging print-advertising business. It has made Facebook their new best friend.
Alan D. Mutter is a newspaper editor who became a Silicon Valley CEO and now consults with media companies on digital technology. He blogs at Reflections of a Newsosaur (newsosaur.blogspot.com).