Year of reckoning for Facebook, Zuckerberg and social media: 4 insights for communication professionals
Have you noticed the world spinning a tad slower since the Facebook algorithm changes?
My feed has more personally relevant posts now and less noise from those outside my inner circle.
That was the intention when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that users’ posts and engagement would gain greater prominence at the expense of “public posts from businesses, brands and media”.
Facebook wants to favour content that prompts conversation and users’ active participation rather than stuff that just gets liked for the heck of it, including previously popular video. Sounds like less cats and more discussion touchpoints.
Already, time on Facebook has dropped marginally - and Zuck seems fine about that.
At times, my news feed resembled more an eclectic mish-mash of news and product information than a space for personal interactions with buddies.
But these changes have challenged the approach of many content marketers who had crafted strategies for clients around social media, especially Facebook, as well as media players who embraced distributing news via the platform. To be fair, though, users will be asked to indicate media they trust, which may improve the ranking of those outlets.
Facebook has found it is subject to some of the same ethical responsibilities as other mainstream media, which it is today
Zuckerberg appears genuine in trying to right some of the wrongs that Facebook has caused.
Facebook’s mission is to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together”.
But that has been ringing hollow.
Governments, academics, media and the wider community have become increasingly critical over what social media has done to the planet - from propagating fake news and amplifying the views of extremists to frying our brains.
Facebook executives are conceding publicly that, hey, Facebook has got some issues to address. Cue the reset.
Two things spring to mind.
One is that as much as Facebook tries to put the genie back in the bottle, it will undoubtedly remain a potent force. With 2.13 billion monthly average users, Facebook is the world’s largest content platform.
And lest anyone forget that what Facebook giveth it can taketh away. Algorithmus, the God of Social Media Traffic, is all powerful.
Secondly, aside from being a social phenomena, Facebook is a business.
Facebook has aggregated micro-communities across the world to form a global audience it has leveraged for ridiculous profit. The algorithm changes create a clearer divide between user generated content and promoted content.
Does this sound familiar? It is what traditional media has done for generations - build an audience and create an environment around that for advertising and other revenue opportunities.
However, Facebook has found from the fake news scandal that it cannot opt out of the ethical and moral obligations other media have faced. After all, Facebook is as mainstream a media today as the Times of London.
Creating shareable, niche content takes skill and energy. Anyone who promises a "simple" way is full of it ...
In the wash-up, what do these changes represent for those of us who spend time trying to cultivate and leverage audiences? How should those at the coalface of the communications industry, such as in education, local government and corporate, respond?
There are at least four big considerations for communication professionals:
This will a year of reckoning for the world's tech-titans and big players in the social media space
Of course, Facebook remains a highly effective social and business platform - superior to a lot of other media for its ability to simply target audiences and customers.
In its fourth quarter results announced in late January 2018, Facebook reported revenue of almost US$13 billion, reaping some $6.18 in average revenue per user.
But with such roaring success and reach into our lives comes scrutiny and accountability. That has been an anathema to any self-respecting digital disruptor.
I think this will be a year of reckoning for the world’s tech-titans - Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon - and the other big players in the social media space.
Governments, authorities and business competitors are only going to turn up the heat.
As for anyone in communications - who does that exclude today? - watch this space.
* Stuart Howie is executive director of Flame Tree Media and creator of the DIY Newsroom™.
Stuart Howie is a communications and media consultant. He runs Flame Tree Media, which specialises in setting up newsrooms for organisations wanting a better return on communications. Stuart has worked in media and publishing for more than 30 years as an executive, editor and strategist.