The shifting Facebook sands

In the latest of what’s become a series of stories – some featuring solid reporting, some anecdotal experience and some based solely on speculation – reports are emerging that Facebook is getting ready to cut organic reach for Pages down to somewhere around the 1% mark. And shortly after that Adweek published this story about how some publishers were seeing massive dips in traffic coming from Facebook.

I asked on Twitter the other day if, given all these changes, people would start a Facebook page for their brand if they didn’t already have one. In other words, has the value proposition shifted enough to make putting work into building a Facebook audience not worth the potential return?

Honestly it’s a question worth asking. If know the return you get from reaching 1% of of five millions fans is going to be less than the return from reaching 25% of 100,000, what’s the incentive to keep working at acquiring new Facebook fans?

If you ask me, the winds just changed and they’re no longer in Facebook’s favor. This is the kind of huge shift that makes brands (including those that provide the advertising revenue Facebook depends on) reevaluate their publishing strategy. How’s Google+ looking these days? Is there an upstart waiting in the wings? These are the kinds of things brand managers are researching right now. I know. I’m one of them.

Medium needs to decide which side it’s playing on

Medium-LogoThere’s a lot of good discussion about journalistic practices and so on in this CJR piece about a story that recently appeared on Medium, the long-form writing platform founded by the guys behind Twitter. Here’s the conclusion, though, which also serves as the nut of the piece:

 …until Medium clarifies which pieces contain the full weight of their editorial judgement and which pieces are just hosted on the site, they’re leaving room for a whole lot of confusion and gossip.

That gets close to what has always been the problem with Medium for me. It’s tried to have the best of both worlds but has, by virtue of that, kind of fallen through the cracks and failed to fully do either. If it was just trying to be a cool platform that surfaced, through a mix of algorithms and some human editor curation, some interesting and important community-contributed stories and articles it could be really cool. If it was just a platform for high-end commissioned content from a series of top-tier writers (and maybe paid articles from brands) that would be great as well. It could be a cool platform on which to rethink the traditional magazine format in a way that established media brands – I’m looking at you Newsweek and others – haven’t been able to.

Instead it’s decided to have feet in both worlds. And while that’s made for an experience where the reader often doesn’t know what it is they’re getting – a fully edited story or someone’s random op-ed – there are opportunities to clear things up and eliminate confusion.

The first and biggest step would be to spike the “all content is created equal” mindset and create clear sections on the site that differentiate one type from the other. Right now the “collections” that content within Medium is pushed into are great if you know what you’re looking for, but this needs to be expanded a bit so that, for lack of a better phrase, the professional is divided from the amateur.

The best rest example I can think of is how Buzzfeed a while ago opened their platform to content from outside writers – including brands – that was then vetted by someone on the editorial staff and which had the potential to then be promoted more fully on the site. Those different types of articles were labeled differently so the audience (at least those who were paying attention) knew what they were reading and could judge accordingly.

Medium doesn’t need to abandon both models/services. But it does need to more fully figure out how it’s going to differentiate between the two, not just for the sake of the readers but also for its own sake, so it can decide what it’s going to be accountable for and what it won’t. That doesn’t mean there should be content that it’s alright with taking down because of some complaint or another. Quit the contrary, it should adopt the model used by Twitter, WordPress and other “dumb” platforms that it won’t remove material published there unless there’s a damn good reason to do so, a damn good reason that’s accompanied by a court order.

Most urgently, Medium needs to be clear about what its plans are. Only then can it can get down to some serious innovation, which I remain convinced the platform is capable of, despite my frustrations to date with it.

Some sites just aren’t meant to see search engine success

A week or so ago, Buzzfeed shared the following chart that shows how traffic referrals from Facebook have spiked over the last six months while traffic from Google has remained relatively steady, dipping slightly. The usual caveats around making broad assumptions based on one use case are firmly in place here, of course.

facebook-google-buzzfeed-referral-traffic

Mathew Ingram at GigaOm has his own take on the data, including a second chart that shows which publishers are faring best in terms of content being shared on Facebook. In this case Upworthy holds a massive lead and I’m going to stop myself from using any sort of “and you won’t believe why” joke here because it’s been done to death.

As both Ingram and Kafka note, Facebook has been making a big play recently for the attention of publishers, showing off how they can make their content more successful, promoting new tools to encourage sharing and discovery and more. The launch of Facebook Paper is all about that, with mainstream news publications – including ones an individual hasn’t Liked or otherwise followed – getting the same (maybe more) emphasis in the app as a user’s network of friends.

Much of the analysis around all this data has included commentary about how it’s just as likely that at some point Facebook will tweak it’s algorithm in a way that will benefit some and hurt others in the same way Google has done over the years. But, and it may be an over-simplification of the issue, no one has really looked at how it is the most obvious thing in the world that these publications benefit more from Facebook (and Twitter to a lesser extent) while seeing only marginal results from search.

The short and simple answer is that the content that’s published on those sites is about as un-search friendly, at least in the traditional sense, as possible.

In the old days of SEO (read: 2000-2009), content optimization was about making sure there was a date structure in a post’s URL (so search would easily know it was new content and rank accordingly), that the headline and top two paragraphs were keyword-rich without crossing the line and more. You were basically writing for how you wanted people to find it. So you had to think like a searcher. If your article was about banana-shaped fish in the Pacific Ocean, you can be “banana, shaped, fish, pacific” and other keywords were going to be at or near the top of that page.

This is, in fact, an area where the “new” media was trumping the “old.” Newspaper and magazine editors continued to try to out-clever each other in their headline writing while bloggers and nascent brand publishers learned real quick what worked and what didn’t by tracking Google Analytics numbers and adjusting accordingly.

But content on Upworthy, Deadspin, Buzzfeed and others are back in the headline game since their discovery is so dependent on social sharing. They write provocative headlines that feature leading questions because yes, I do want to know why that dog wasn’t allowed in the pets-only area of the local park because that’s outrageous.

And no, that’s not something I’ve ever clicked on or thought to myself.

No one is going to search Google, Yahoo, Bing or anything else for 16 Parks and Recreation GIFs that Summarize the Sochi Olympics or similar stories. It’s highly unlikely that anyone has thought that was something that was missing from their lives. Other than that writer, of course. But it’s something a fair number of people will click on from Facebook because it’s low-calorie content and will take all of 90 seconds to consume.

Buzzfeed and it’s ilk are essentially so uninterested in search it’s kind of startling. Sure, they still get some traffic that way, but it’s not their bread and butter. And that’s almost a 180-degree flip from the old days, when the emphasis was on search while social sharing – done largely through Stumbleupon and the original version of Digg – was secondary.

For people like me who made our bones in old-school SEO (not specifically but as a subset of our skills in publishing) that means one of two things: We can either keep doing what we’ve been doing in the belief that by emphasizing long-term discoverability and value we are continuing to build a better web by not giving in to the latest cheap fad, or we can do the other thing. You can likely guess from how I’ve completely biased the two sides of the argument which side I fall on.

That’s not to say there isn’t a place – a valuable one – in listiicles, occasionally over-wrought headlines and stories that are just GIFs with the bare minimum of context. But, like that Snickers bar I’ve been craving for the last three days, it’s just one small part of the overall picture. And that’s the same advice I give my clients. My career will be decided by whether that works out long-term or not.

On a related note, Upworthy has come out and said they will moving away from page views as a measure of success and instead looking at something call “attention minutes.” They make a fair case as to why some traditional metrics don’t work in all cases and it will be interesting to see if other publishers begin to follow their lead on this in the same way they have on headline writing and so on.

Flipboard looks to the past to guide the future

Interesting changes coming from Flipboard:

Flipboard co-founder Evan Doll said the new features — which launched today and will start rolling out to everyone gradually over the next few weeks — are designed to give users a way to scan the top headlines or items in the major content categories they might be interested in — whether that’s content on specific topics, or from specific sources they have chosen, or articles recommended by Flipboard’s human editors and algorithms.

via Flipboard wants to tame the unruly stream by becoming more like a traditional magazine — Tech News and Analysis.

Tumblr bests

Mary Gaulke on the PNConnect team has a great post that looks at some great Tumblr blogs and how they serve the brands who publish them. The post comes from the PNConnect Trends Report, a monthly overview of what’s hot and interesting in the social publishing world. If you’re interested receiving that let me know.

Tumblr is a force to be reckoned with on the social Web, with traffic to the site increasing by 74% from 2012 to 2013. Still, for many brands it’s an open question whether – and how – to leverage the platform. Among the many brands already succeeding on Tumblr, we’ve delineated three broad types of blogs to help provide some insight into what’s working particularly well. (Although, of course, many brands blend elements of the different types.) Here’s an introduction to each of those types, with some illustrative examples of how different brands are making the format work for them.

via Three Species of Tumblr Brand Blogs: A Field Guide « PNConnect | Digital Marketing Services from Porter Novelli.

Yep, content marketing is hard

No kidding. As someone who does this every single day on multiple fronts, I’m not shocked by this at all. Which is why when people want to lowball content publishing budgets I have to shake my head.

But curation is not as easy as simply finding and sharing content. Organizations need a strategy, and a calendar, and most marketers report that every stage of content curation is still a struggle for them. Even a majority have trouble just sharing the items they do find.

Still, curation may be proving more attractive than content creation. While new, brand-created content currently makes up nearly one-third of the overall content marketing mix, according to the survey, respondents were hoping to tip that balance slightly closer to the side of curation.

via Content Marketing a Struggle from Start to Finish – eMarketer.

WordPress wins

Makes the Voce/PN Platforms team look very smart since WordPress is where we’ve placed big bets.

WordPress comes in at 43%, custom or bespoke systems at 42%, and then the others. When you take into effect Techmeme’s “presence” factor WP jumps to 48.8% of presence in the top 100 and all Blogsmith, Drupal, Blogspot, Tumblr, and Typepad combined are 8.4%. If you curious of the raw data, here’s the spreadsheet with the platforms.

via WordPress & Techmeme 100 | Matt Mullenweg.

Brands on Snapchat could do a lot of harm

I keep thinking about Snapchat and other messaging apps as platforms to consider for client program expansion. While there are certainly benefits to be gained in the short term (overlooking the complete lack of metrics available) I keep coming back to thoughts very similar to this:

As more brands — and potentially advertising — arrive on Snapchat, the service could start to resemble Facebook and Twitter in ways that users might not like. But that doesn’t mean users will start to disappear like the snaps.

via Brands Are Coming to Snapchat. Will Users Disappear?.

No, but I can’t shake the feeling that brand participation on Snapchat is similar to over-planting crops. Lots of short-term benefits when times are flush, but then you completely ruin the soil and nothing good can grow there ever again. I remain unconvinced, despite the random experiments from various brands to date. Until I read some case studies – impossible without the above-mentioned metrics – I’m still sitting this fad out.

Yeah, that’s what a corporate blog is for

I’m confused both by how this is necessarily news and why the article makes it sound like this is so unusual and controversial. A corporate blog is there for the explicit purpose of providing the company with a platform on which to respond to criticism and otherwise makes its case on various things.

With its earnings continuing to tank and its future called into question, Sears Holdings Corp. on Wednesday turned to an old standby for a company pleading its case to the media, analysts and consumers: the corporate blog.

In a post, Leena Munjal, SVP of Sears Holdings, head of the retailer\’s customer experience and integrated retail teams, addressed the conditions at its 2,000 Sears and Kmart stores, which had been the focal point of a recent online brewhaha.

via Sears Turns to Corporate Blog to Defend Itself | News – Advertising Age.

Success in the niche

This is also why blogs took off like they did around the turn of the century, because all of a sudden the thousands of hobbyists with information to share could suddenly do so.

Readers like Mr. Prucnal have helped hobby magazines become the darlings of the struggling magazine industry. For decades, the nation’s top general-interest publications, like Time and Newsweek, attracted millions of readers who considered those magazines to be household staples. But as readers increasingly turn to the Internet for news and information, niche magazines continue to retain and attract loyal followings, making them a bright spot in an otherwise dim outlook for print periodicals.

via Loyal Subscribers Keep Hobby Magazines Afloat – NYTimes.com.

Also of note is now niche publications turned to events to further their brand and create additional value for their loyal audience.