Newsosaur: Publishers Need To Focus On Facebook

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By: Alan D. Mutter

Facebook is perhaps the most disruptive of the many powerful forces to rock traditional media since the Internet burst into the collective consciousness in the mid-1990s.

So, stop thinking about Facebook as one of the many projects on your endlessly expanding digital to-do list, and start focusing single-mindedly on ways you can turn this captivating medium to your advantage.

The addictive appeal of the leading social network is shifting ever-greater numbers of readers away from the traditional media channels. Facebook now claims 750 million “active” users around the globe and attracts nearly 1 billion page views per month. In mid-2010, Facebook surpassed Google as the most-visited site on the Web, according to the Quantcast analytics service.

Being the rational business people that they are, marketers – the folks formerly known as your advertisers – are following the crowd to Facebook by establishing their own direct relationships with customers. Coca-Cola, to pick just one brand, has more than 34.4 million Facebook fans. A recent survey by Duke University found that corporate marketing officers expect to allocate no less than 18 percent of their budgets to social media within five years. That’s triple the amount they spend today.

Although Facebook is privately held and does not report its financial performance, the company is widely believed to be on track to double its advertising sales this year from $2 billion in 2010. Shares of the company have been valued in excess of $70 billion in the private equity market, and many analysts believe Facebook could be worth more than $100 billion if it goes ahead with an expected initial public offering next year. Google at press time had a market cap of $170 billion.

Facebook’s power is not that it is about big ideas, world affairs, shocking crimes, important government actions, or even the lives of the rich and famous. Facebook’s appeal is that it is all about You and the Things You Care About: your friends, your love life, your family, your faith, your school, your job, your hobbies, your shopping, your games, your music, and your movies.

The objective proof of Facebook’s emotional pull is that it is, by far, the “stickiest” site on the Web. Visits to Facebook average 26 minutes per session, as opposed to 6.7 minutes for Twitter, and 3.6 minutes for Yelp, according to Alexa.com, the Web analytics service.

In contrast, the average visit at newspaper websites is about 3.5 minutes per session, according to the Newspaper Association of America. If you add together all the visits to all the newspaper websites in the United States in a given month, the total is barely 10 percent of Facebook’s traffic.

Although the bad news is that Facebook has the capability to divert readers and advertisers away from newspapers and other traditional media, the good news is that this format is still young enough and malleable enough to allow traditional media companies to elbow into the action to leverage the medium to their own advantage.

Unfortunately, the main thing publishers have done to date about Facebook is to contribute to its exponential growth by:

  • Providing abundant free ink to not only Facebook but also the popular movie about it – “The Social Network” – that came out last year. While the company, the social-networking phenomenon, and the movie are all legitimate news fodder, the coverage unquestionably contributed to a major surge of interest in signing up for Facebook.
  • Plastering Facebook “share” logos on nearly every page of their Web and mobile applications. While this practice may or may not draw a material number of additional eyeballs to publishers, it most certainly generates a ton of traffic for Facebook.
  • Increasingly adopting the Facebook system to authenticate individuals who want to leave comments on newspaper websites. While some publishers believe people behave more civilly in forums when their Facebook identities are known, a byproduct of this new service is that it produces a rich new stream of viral content and page views for Facebook.
  • Devoting scarce newsroom resources to building, tending, and promoting newspaper-branded pages on Facebook. While a Facebook presence can be an important way for publishers to extend the visibility of their brands, a well-run newspaper page on Facebook has the added advantage of producing more traffic, more page views, and more ad inventory for you know who.

There’s nothing wrong with news papers participating in the Facebook ecosystem, if those activities are part of a thoughtful and strategic plan to benefit the publications. Because such plans to date generally have been in short supply among editors and publishers, newspapers at the moment are doing more for Facebook than they are doing for themselves. And that’s not good for newspapers.

In this space next month, I will discuss ways you can go from working for Facebook to having it work for you. Meantime, please pay close attention to Facebook, so You can see how it potentially will affect Your Business.

Alan D. Mutter is a newspaper editor who became a Silicon Valley CEO who now is a consultant to media companies on technology and technology companies on media. He blogs at Reflections of a Newsosaur (newsosaur.blogspot.com).

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