News organisations and the Facebook app – is it an equal relationship?

I’m very positive about Facebook. I have been for a while now. Working for a news organisation I see how it can reach new audiences, help journalists to engage with users and drive web traffic back to base.

In the past few weeks some of the world’s biggest news organisations have announced they’ve teamed up with Facebook to produce apps, which live within the social network’s walled garden.

This has obvious advantages for Facebook, which gets to keep its users on its site for even longer. It might also, eventually, be a good deal too for the user who gets to read content without being diverted to a third-party site (especially useful on mobile devices!). But thinking about this long-term, if it gains traction and users like it, news organisations may dig themselves into a bit of a hole.

What I can’t figure out here is how the news organisations are measuring success. Jump ahead a few years and assume the idea is massively successful, Facebook has become the place not only to find news but also to consume it, where is the benefit for the news organisation? People won’t need to come to news organisations’ websites for community either, they’ll have that on Facebook and (within reason) will be able to say more than they could on any news site in the world.

At best, news organisations will gain new audience and advertising revenue but the audience will be  loyal to a Facebook/news organisation partnership not to the news organisation itself. If for any reason the partnership were to break up, where would those readers go? In my opinion, if they have become accustomed to finding and consuming news within Facebook, it’s unlikely they’ll follow the news organisation out of the walled garden.

To me it seems like a more unequal relationship than it should be. I understand that news organisations are working with a behemoth, but are we not jumping the gun and surrendering. Do we need to do this right now or can’t we maintain the fairly successful strategy of collaborating with Facebook to guide its users to our content outside the garden? I’m sure news organisations think these apps are targeted at users who currently don’t consume content on their websites, but if the existing tools of sharing and linking are not achieving this I am doubtful an app will be that much more successful and instead will likely attract their current audience.

Perhaps I’m missing something (I know I haven’t discussed the new ‘read’ function etc, but while interesting, the greater value accrues to Facebook not the news organisation)? I am in favour of making news organisations as social as possible but within the context of building sustainable businesses.

I would love to hear more from news organisations about the long-term gains for THEM in such a partnership and how they see this developing.


2 thoughts on “News organisations and the Facebook app – is it an equal relationship?

  1. You’re right that the situation is less than ideal. But here’s your real problem: news organisations have no choice in the matter.

    News organisations have proven themselves to be pretty terrible at community-building, except perhaps The Guardian, who are right at the front of this Facebook app movement.

    The Guardian can’t maintain their expansion of their digital strategy without money, so they must surely see some financial advantage in this new platform.

    Since Facebook is clearly pursuing a content-driven model (we can see this in the addition of the new ‘watched’ ‘read’ etc actions in the new timeline profile), I’d be surprised if there isn’t a long-term revenue-sharing plan with those who create this content.

    Now, will this be in Facebook’s interests? Of course. But since the media failed to develop decent content platforms themselves long ago, they’re beholden to Facebook, Amazon and Apple. That’s just the way it is right now, and changing it will take half a decade of good strategy.

  2. I see where you’re coming from, however this move is not the start of half a decade of good strategy. By working within and thus strengthening Facebook’s platform they are failing to address their own strategic problems, which helps their competitors’ position (FB, Apple, Amazon) not them.

    Just because they were bad at building community in the past doesn’t mean they can’t learn or harness other communities to their own advantage.

    There are strategies to follow that enable news organisations to chart their own course. I don’t think this is one of them.

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