Emancipation from Facebook

The editorial by Thomas Häusermann, Editor-in-Chief a.i., from Werbewoche 2/2018 of 26.01.2018.


The media response was considerable when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced two weeks ago that he wanted to change course with his social network. Not only the experts murmured - even Radio SRF news discussed the announcement.

In summary, as a result of these so-called "massive changes," the focus will once again be on people: Users will increasingly see posts from their real social environment in the newsfeed, instead of content from companies or publishers. In other words, more or less the way Facebook was originally intended. According to Zuckerberg, the time spent per user will be shorter as a result of the changes, but it will be of higher quality. Facebook feels a responsibility for the well-being of users. Passive reading or watching videos - even if they are entertaining - would not contribute to this.

So much care and goodwill on Zuckerberg's part for his (still) gigantic user base could almost bring tears to one's eyes. After his announcement, however, many places were dominated by tears of a completely different origin: media operators were lamenting because they were now completely deprived of their supposed right to organic reach. In other words, the entire readership and audience can now only be reached via Facebook in return for payment. Only selected, viral raisins are still granted access by Facebook's grumpy algorithm to the flock that companies and media have cultivated, nurtured, and cared for at great expense over the years.

The fact that these changes caused more of a stir than storm Burglind and Evi combined is somewhat surprising. After all, this is not really a change of direction, but the last step (for now) in a strategy that Facebook has been consistently pursuing for quite some time.

In August, for example, an analysis of 880 million posts by companies and publishers conducted by BuzzSumo showed that since January 2017 alone, the interactions generated have plummeted by 20 percent. While video posts got off relatively lightly, posts with links to external sources were hit particularly hard by the algorithm screw-up. It's a development that publishers have been feeling for some time. Even with articles that generated interest and interaction, only a fraction of users were reached in the recent past. Unless you paid for it.

Facebook is "streamlining" its users' news feeds. The aim is to make them more relevant and clearer. Anything that is not of above-average interest is dropped - or has to be paid for dearly. This artificial shortage of attention will presumably lead not only to rising advertising prices, but also to a definitive break with serious journalism. This can rarely be broken down to a 15-second looping video hosted on Facebook servers with "The moment when you ..." subtitles. It can't match the emotional feel-good programming of a vacation photo of Grandma Trudi with granddaughter Lea. And unless it's about Islamization or animal cruelty, it rarely clears the critical "viral hurdle" anyway. What's more, he relies on links to his own articles - the posts that Facebook punishes the most.

The "solution": Deal with it. Facebook did not set out to save the media, but to make money. With data and advertising. Topics such as fake news, political influence, hate postings et cetera were not foreseen. Far too elaborate, far too expensive, far too damaging to reputation. And above all: far too daunting for advertisers. So it's better to get rid of serious topics - regardless of whether they are fake or real. Regardless of whether they are populist claims or seriously researched.

Putting the fate of one's own reach in the hands of American IT giants - even if, as in the case of Google, they sometimes take an astonishingly constructive role vis-à-vis the media - is a bad idea anyway.

The online city magazine Tsüri owed around 70 percent of its traffic to Facebook in 2017 - an "unpleasant dependency," according to a circular on the subject. Three years ago, the magazine regularly reached more than 100 percent of its followers, but today the figure is only 20 percent. Annoyed, the creators write that they are tired of handing over their scarce and hard-earned money to an Internet giant ... you know. So they have to get away from Facebook. "Not immediately, but steadily."

Where the journey will take us is unclear. However, most publishers, especially the smaller ones, will probably start on this path. Instagram, for example, offers media and brands full visibility. For now. Because, as we know, the image and video network belongs to Facebook. But until they take care of the well-being of these users, Instagram is a safe haven. Have a good trip!

Thomas Häusermann, Editor-in-Chief a.i. Werbewoche




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