3 ways Facebook’s updates affect publishers and brands (plus why they should care)

In the world of digital media and content marketing, no other company has made waves quite as big as Facebook has in the past 12 months. From launching new ad units like Canvas to opening Instagram advertising and Instant Articles to all brands and publishers, the tech giant has certainly been hard at work when it comes to staying ahead of the curve in ad tech and media innovations. (Not to mention all the while making continuous improvements, updates, and upgrades to its existing suite of tools.)

With roughly 1.65 billion monthly active users, it’s hard for any marketer to not be impacted by an update Facebook makes, especially when it comes in the form of a News Feed algorithm change.

Given the enormous amount of influence Facebook has over a publisher or brand’s ability to reach their audience organically (which is arguably the life blood of any digital media business), it certainly pays to stay on top of your Facebook trivia. Both Facebook’s Media and Business blogs are updated on the regular with product-related announcements, industry reports, and other news regarding the company and its partners. However, to save you the time spent sifting through a year’s worth of blog posts, I’ve honed in on three key takeaways for both publishers and brands.

1. The future of digital media consumption is mobile

According to a study done by comScore, mobile now accounts for 65 percent of all digital media consumption time in the US and is now the driver of digital growth. Desktop consumption declined from 47 percent in 2013 to just 35 percent by December 2015.

Forget that number for a second. Even without the hard data to back up the continued trend toward mobile, Facebook’s focus on mobile publishing and advertising tools such as Facebook Live, Instant Articles, and Canvas demonstrates their intent to be at the forefront of a user’s mobile media consumption experience.

Why publishers should care

As desktop becomes a secondary touchpoint to mobile, publishers must ensure that their sites and content are optimized for smaller screens where real estate is limited and users are all too willing to exit a slow-loading or poorly designed page.

“In 2015, the average website page was three times bigger than it was in 2011, and slow load times are a top reason people abandon a website.”

Facebook Business

For publishers lacking the technological expertise or resources to completely revamp their sites, Instant Articles is seemingly the perfect solution to their mobile woes. After all, why not rely on Facebook’s engineering horsepower to optimize their content for the mobile-first world?

According to Facebook, Instant Articles has proven to be a “better reading experience for people [users] and [has given] a significant boost for publishers looking to reach their audiences,” resulting in 20 percent more clicks and 30 percent more shares. However, publishers should be prepared to experience a dip in their referral traffic from Facebook should they opt for Instant Articles as content is hosted within the platform (the tradeoff for a slick, customizable design and fast load times).

For publishers relying on ad revenue to keep the lights on, this is highly problematic. Using Facebook Instant Articles sacrifices a share of their mobile traffic that can drive programmatic advertising dollars outside of Facebook’s own ad network. Additionally, publishers lose out on the freedom to sell as many ad placements as they want, given that content must conform to the Instant Article format. (Although this may ultimately make for a better experience for the end user.)

Why brands should care

If publishers need to be optimizing their content for mobile, then brands should be concerned with optimizing their ad creative and destination landing pages for mobile. To streamline both processes, Facebook created Canvas, a new ad format that opens in-app as a full-screen, customizable experience once a user clicks on the in-feed ad. It’s designed to load quickly while looking visually engaging, so you can think of Canvas as Instant Articles for advertisers. Note: I don’t mean sponsored content—we’ll get to that later.

Just like publishers using Instant Articles, brands also sacrifice mobile web traffic when using Canvas. As the ad unit is hosted in-app, users must take an additional action to arrive at the actual brand-hosted landing page—be it an e-commerce product page or otherwise. For mid- or bottom-funnel conversion-driven campaigns, this extra step may deter users from actually getting to the target destination.

However, a Canvas ad may prove to be highly effective for marketers looking to drive top-of-the-funnel engagement and brand awareness. Given how customizable it is, Canvas ads enable brands to produce immersive and memorable ad experiences for users.

Regardless of whether a brand opts to use Canvas or simply stick to Facebook’s other ad formats, ensuring that the destination landing page is optimized for mobile is still mission critical.

2. Facebook is transforming the publisher-brand dynamic

In April of 2016, Facebook announced an update to their branded content policy on both of its Media and Business blogs. With this update, publishers and influencers with verified pages can now directly collaborate with brand sponsors in sharing branded content, given that the brand is tagged in the post. Once a brand is tagged, the brand-side marketer receives a notification to access post-level insights regarding the performance of the post, including “engagement and reach metrics, along with total spend and CPM on the tagged post.” Additionally, the brand is able to directly boost the post without needing access to the page of the publisher or influencer.

The increased transparency regarding what publisher or influencer content is sponsored will ultimately benefit page fans, as users are no longer left guessing which posts have been influenced by a brand or third party. However, whether this update will stand to benefit brands or publishers (at all) is up for debate.

Why publishers should care

Given the variable nature of site traffic and social reach, there is never a 100 percent guarantee that a piece of sponsored content will receive the kind of engagement or traffic that a brand is looking to produce (through pure organic means). As such, when publishers sell content sponsorship packages to brands, the cost of promoting the content is typically transferred to the brand. At a markup. Brands pay a premium for the creation and (the often undisclosed) paid distribution of sponsored content to publishers, who leverage platforms like Facebook to reach sponsored content traffic and engagement goals.

Facebook’s new branded content tool allows tagged brands to view performance metrics on posts, which means that publishers can no longer hide whether or not traffic or social engagement was paid for and, if so, at what rate.

Numbers don’t lie, and perhaps brands will start demanding lower rates for sponsored content after seeing the numbers and doing the math. Maybe they will opt to boost the content themselves rather than pay publishers to do so at a markup. Either way, this update will effectively force publishers to be more transparent with both their reporting and rate breakdown.

It’s also interesting to note that Facebook chose to omit the exact metrics now available to brands in their update targeting publishers and influencers, but fully disclosed these metrics in an update targeted at brands. This tweak to the update messaging signifies that Facebook is tailoring its message to two different audiences. Still, since almost all of the language is used in both messages save for that one subtle detail, it’s hard not to speculate on the company’s motives.

Additionally, a recent round of Facebook News Feed algorithm changes that prioritize posts from friends and family of users rather than publishers will undoubtedly have publishers finding themselves in an even bigger predicament. Publishers who rely on users sharing their posts may notice a small decline in their organic reach. Publishers who solely rely on their pages for content distribution will be hit the hardest.

If brands are paying big bucks to access a publisher’s audience, then Facebook’s latest algorithm change may give brands even more of a reason to scrutinize their sponsored content deals.

Why brands should care

The real winner of Facebook’s transparency update is brands.

Thanks to Facebook’s branded content policy and tool, brands have the power to decide whether they want to maintain the status quo in their publisher partnerships or demand changes. Brands now have the leverage to negotiate new deals because they have better access to better data. They can see the ROI of their sponsored content deals and where the source of their traffic and engagement lies.

While brands may suffer a hit to their organic reach as a result of Facebook’s algorithm changes, it doesn’t matter the way it does for publishers. When was the last time you noticed a brand post organically surfacing in your feed anyway? The fact of the matter is that Facebook is a much bigger organic content distribution channel for publishers rather than brands. Change or no change to the algorithm, brands will continue to funnel their marketing dollars into Facebook, and a drop in publisher reach may just prompt brands to distribute sponsored content in-house. (Remember, the new branded content tool gives them the ability to do so.)

Of course, that’s not to say that anything will change, but brands can now make a more informed decision before committing to any sponsored content package. After all, perhaps it’s still marketers on the publisher’s side that truly understand their audience, who can promote sponsored content the most cost-effectively.

3. The future of mobile advertising is native

As the nature of digital media consumption changes so to does the way people consume advertising.

According to a research study from IHS Technology, commissioned by Facebook’s Audience Network, 75.9 percent of all digital ad spend will be on mobile by 2020, with native comprising 63.2 percent of all mobile display advertising. We’re not talking about your jarring, old-school banner ad here, but ads adapted to the native look and feel of the platform and/or site on which they are served. Think Facebook’s in-feed ads.

First-party, in-app native ads like the sponsored posts seen on Facebook or Instagram feeds will continue to dominate the game. However, it’s actually third-party in-app native (think ads served up via the Audience Network) that is expected to see the most growth going into 2020.

Given the upward trend in mobile digital media consumption, it’s not surprising that more and more marketers are shifting their advertising dollars toward mobile. There are certainly more than enough platforms out there to facilitate this pivot toward mobile ad buying.

Why publishers should care

Optimizing content for mobile is an even bigger challenge for publishers looking to maximize ad revenue. How can they incorporate ad units into content pages without compromising user experience? Additionally, smaller screens mean less real estate to sell ad inventory, despite mobile ads going for lower rates than their desktop counterparts.

Using publishing tools like Instant Articles can optimize a publisher’s content for mobile, but often at the expense of limiting their ability to use programmatic advertising platforms outside of Facebook’s own Audience Network. However, Facebook’s push for video may help to sweeten the deal for publishers looking to monetize their content effectively.

Why brands should care

Brands need to be able to deliver branded content—be it display ads, sponsored editorial, videos, or even landing pages—that is optimized for mobile consumption. To do this at scale, savvy brand marketers will know to stay up to date on the latest mobile ad tech, be it from third-party vendors, Facebook’s preferred marketing partners, or Facebook itself.

Facebook’s premium publisher and brand partners will undoubtedly benefit from being able to test out the waters before diving in with new publishing and advertising tools, but at the end of the day, it’s those who are willing to pivot and adapt their content marketing efforts for the mobile-first world that will come out on top at the end of the Mobilegeddon.

Whether you stand on the side of the publisher or the brand, it’s difficult to dispute Facebook’s growing monopoly over the state of content consumption and distribution. However, one thing’s for certain: as much as publishers and brands rely on Facebook to reach their audiences, Facebook relies on publishers and brands to keep its own ad revenue flowing. And as such, it’s most certainly in the media giant’s best interest to continue to offer powerful publishing and advertising tools to facilitate and support the content marketing activities of both brands and publishers.

Image: Kaboompics

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