Thursday, December 01, 2011

Facebook apps: News brands beware

Facebook's "social news" strategy is just another way of sucking the remaining life out of news brands.

I posted some comments on the new Facebook apps recently. At the time these apps were so new there was no real data about useage.

Now there is some early stage information about take up and response.

Problem is, the data appears conflicting and the commentary is just plain confusing. Added to which Facebook users, when asked, say they don't like the apps. Yet effectively they are corralled into using them because of the way Facebook has deployed them.

The Next Web reports that The Guardian app has had 4 millions instals since its release. The article acknowledges that the app lets "Facebook’s 800m+ users read the guardian’s articles online without actually leaving the social network".

However, despite this the app generates "almost a million extra page impressions a day".

How does it do this if users don't leave Facebook?

The only way that I can see it does this is by promoting other Guardian Facebook fan pages alongside the ringfenced content within the app. So, it is possible to navigate from the app to, say, The Guardian Media fan page and from there to an article on

But that's an extra two clicks, and effectively another drag on user numbers heading off to the parent news site.

It's all enabled by Facebook's Open Graph framework, which is a clever way of connecting content with Facebook users and functionality through API's. It's a seamless user experience, but one that is actually encouraging news consumers to care less about the news brands they are engaging with.

So Facebook's claim of success here, on behalf of their news partners (Guardian, Washington Post, Yahoo!News, The Independent etc) is disengenuous.

It is a great success for Facebook, but it presents a serious dilemma for news publishers. In reality, Facebook's "social news" strategy is just another way of sucking the remaining life out of news brands.

Publishers should go there at their peril. And to my mind executives like Donald Graham (Chairman of Washington Post and board director at Facebook) have such a conflict of interest that they should remove themselves from any publishing decisions to do with Facebook.

Everybody else needs to get a lot smarter about how they manage their news partnerships with Facebook.

Right now Facebook is sending traffic to news sites, but after the feast comes the reckoning.

What would Facebook do with $10 billion cash? 

That's the number being bandied around as its initial raising target as it mulls an IPO. The answer, I suppose, is anyone's guess right now.

So, what would be the chances of them buying up news media? Mark Zuckerberg has been upfront about his interest in, even need for, content. Would he spend some of that change on buying a content generating organisation? Would his Chairman, for example, offer up the Washington Post?

Or closer to home ... would Fairfax be of interest?

A cashed up Facebook might well consider making a play for the newsroom of a traditional media company (or two). They'd have little interest in the production and distribution mechanisms, so effectively it would mean junking those assets and stripping out the journalism.

It's an unpleasant thought, but one that could conceivably happen.

All the more reason for news publishers to value their brands more effectively in their relationships with Facebook.

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