News publishers, pre-eminently in the local space, have had a love-hate relationship with Facebook.
The love is when the giant social platform sends zillions of links to the publishers’ content. That’s great, except that the vast majority of the users clicking on those links bounce away almost as fast as they arrived on the publisher’s real estate. Actually, they’ve only arrived at the article, video or other piece of content that Facebook’s algorithms selected. To see more of what the publishers of the content are offering, the visitors from Facebook have to make a conscious decision to do some browsing. Which most of them don’t.
Meanwhile, Facebook is collecting $25 billion in ad revenue annually on its platform, thanks, in large part, to all those users and their socializing, including with their news feeds. For publishers, that’s the hate part of the relationship.
What makes at least some publishers see red and Facebook shareholders see green is this table. Produced by Jason Kint, CEO of the advertising trade organization Digital Content Next (from data generated by the Interactive Advertising Bureau), it shows Facebook and Google capturing 99% of the growth in U.S. ad revenue. News publishers share with everyone else the 1% that drops to the floor as crumbs.
After considerable agitation from news publishers, Facebook launched a Journalism Project earlier this year “to better support publishers’ needs.” A six-month update provided by Campbell Brown, the former CNN anchor who is now head of news partnerships at Facebook, and Fidji Simo, vice president of product at the platform, said the Journalism Project has met with 2,500 publishers around the world to get their stories (and, no doubt, grievances) first hand and offer help with an array of Facebook products.
One of the publishers in the original cohort of the Journalism Project is Kelly Gilfillan, CEO and executive editor of eight-year-old Home Page Media Group, which publishes seven local news sites in metro Nashville.
Here’s what Gilfillan is learning in the Facebook Journalism Project, she said in this Q & A:
Based on your early experience with the Facebook Journalism Project, how do you think it can help you and Home Page Media Group, looking at editorial, tech and revenue issues?
We are approaching this opportunity focused on all three issues.
For editorial, I am now using CrowdTangle [which Facebook acquired in November 2016 as a tool to let publishers track and compare their sites to a million social accounts globally] and plan on training the editorial staff once I return from NYC. The editorial staff is going through the Facebook Journalism Certification. We are using Facebook Live as a weekly “show” which we learned from Civil Beat, which is in our cohort.
Technically, half of our business staff is going through the Facebook Blueprint Certification.
We are seeking these certifications so that we can better help our customers with their social media. We have an agency arm, Home Page Marketing, and our goal is to increase the upsell of our marketing services to at least 15% of our existing customers.
We launched a new section on Aug. 1 called The Time Out which will serve content for moms and the modern family. Taking the sassy attitude seen in The Skimm, we want to help our female readership learn, laugh and connect. Part of our Facebook project is the social media development of this new product.
We are starting a new Facebook group and developing a dedicated email list for a weekly email product. We’ve had a very positive reaction from the readers and from the advertisers who are hungry for ways to reach this highlighted demographic.
Any demonstrable successes with the Journalism Project that encourage you, such as in revenue?
We are just now digging into our project so we have not had an opportunity to see a return. At this point, our success is the positive feedback from our team and from the market in general. I am dripping ideas on the editorial team and I see them going into use. We do see increased engagement on the sites’ Facebook page.
Are you open to as close a relationship with Facebook as possible, or do you see definite limitations?
We are definitely open to a relationship with Facebook. I think the biggest hope is that we have someone to turn to when we have questions. It can be difficult to navigate the business manager when you are inexperienced. We want to educate ourselves so that we can help our small-business customers. The customers, however, are all very different. You have to spend your most precious resource, time, to help that customer achieve their goals.
Many local merchants use Facebook to get their messages to consumers. How common is that for merchants in your coverage area?
What we see is our advertisers using their Facebook feed to speak to their customers without really having an understanding how far that reach can take their message. I don’t feel like the small-business owners we work with are comfortable at all with buying Facebook ads and that is our focus on part of our project.
We plan to be the local experts for our existing customer base and potentially beyond to tackle the implementation of Facebook Business Management.
Do you have any special marketing strategy for merchants who do use Facebook extensively for their advertising?
We are already servicing a small portion of our customer base with their marketing including social posting, email newsletter creation, content creation and in-store promotion. Our strategy with the new certification is to expand that base. Our customers trust us and we have a very high retention rate. We can just take these new skills and further help them grow their businesses.
News publishers, including local ones, have very mixed feeling about Facebook. After all, it does gobble up $25 billion in ad revenue annually. Do you see the Journalism Project leading to a better balance between Facebook and publishers, especially regarding revenue issues?
Our main goal is to grow our business. Facebook is one of my biggest competitors in regards to small-business clients. I think if Facebook can help us gain more market share because we have learned to utilize the tools provided, then we both benefit. If there can be a proven upswing for both Facebook and publishers, I believe there could be a strong future relationship.
Tom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) writes “The New News” column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of hyperlocal news network Local America, and is also working on a book about the history, present, and future of Charleston, S.C.