Facebook and Publishers: From ‘man bites dog’ to ‘who decides who bites whom’

3d illustration of a series of transparent blue signal waves radiating away from a metallic Facebook logo over a reflective blue surface

Since October 2014, there has been a great deal of speculation about the ”tectonic shift” in the world Media&Publishing Scene and Facebook. Seven months later, the new partnership between the SNS Giant and the NY Times is here, creating media stir and raising questions worldwide about the future of media in the era of social media.

”Tectonic shift” is the least we can say about this game-changing partnership, that soon expects more big players like The Atlantic, NBC News, National Geographic, The Guardian, BBC News, Bild and Spiegel to participate. In essence, we are actually experiencing the birth of a post new-media era, where we need to reconsider reality through a new angle: When Publishers’ content becomes an strong part of an SNS ecosystem, who is actually calling the shots?

Τhe NYT, (and the publishers that will partner as well) as it has been reported, will be able to keep advertising revenue at 100% within the Facebook platform and if Facebook wants to sell advertising within their own space in the platform, then it will keep a 30% of the ad-revenue. ”Better than zero”, as Jon Steinberg, North America chief executive for DailyMail.com said. Additionally, Facebook will allow Publishers to collect users’ data but with their own tracking tools (in case anybody had any doubt whatsoever).

Being still in the beginning of a global conversation about where media and social media are heading to, what I personally find extremely important is a) algorithmic visibility and b) editorial priorities. Soon, more partners will enter in what is so far considered as a ”no other option” deal. For example, The Atlantic, NBC News, National Geographic, The Guardian, BBC News, Bild and Spiegel. Each one of these publishers have different (and strategic) editorial priorities and Facebook has Edgerank. How these two worlds are going to work together is a very complex and challenging question.

A few days ago, one of the world’s top scientific journals, Science, published a study named “Exposure to ideologically diverse news and opinion on Facebook” by researchers already working for Facebook. It is very important to read what’s behind the study’s conclusive comment: “Compared to algorithmic ranking, individuals’ choices about what to consume had a stronger effect limiting exposure to [ideologically] cross-cutting content.” . To me, this looks as a Facebook ‘It’s not me; it’s you” moment, considering that algorithmic visibility will soon be the headache (if not already) of media publishers and Facebook partners.

Facebook undoubtedly plays a crucial role for most news sites as far as social referrals are concerned. Reports show that the SNS is on the top of the list, leaving its rivals far behind. Of course, a range of news sites and a considerable deal of media publishing houses will take advantage of Facebook’s popularity and traffic effectiveness. There is also no doubt that the advertising world -who has been actively supporting ‘platform agnostic’ strategies for a long time- will definitely grab the ‘Instant Articles’ opportunity. However, it is not yet clear whether the choice of Media Publishers to use Facebook as a fundamental part of their business development plans is wise. It is still early to draw conclusions, however a critical eye is necessary.

I believe that we are experiencing a drastic change on ‘what news is’ and especially on ‘who decides what news is’. If the New York Times -for example- had the lead in their own editorial priority decisions so far, their next step within the Facebook ‘ecosystem’ might challenge this leadership.

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