Mark Zuckerberg's announcements at the Facebook F8 conference, one thing is certain: newspapers can no longer ignore Facebook's impact and reach. Whereas publishers continue to scapegoat Google for many of their current troubles, they should be equally, if not more, wary of Facebook.Given
Whether they acknowledge it or not, newspapers are losing out to the social networking site on the fundamental fronts of community relevance, attention and information dissemination. Yet behind the perceived threat from Facebook, there is also a new opportunity for publications to achieve newfound audience relevance.
Facebook's rise to dominance has been astounding. It is currently the most visited site in the United States, and boasts 400-plus million worldwide users. We've seen it go from a dorm room distraction to now being larger than the combined population of the United States and Mexico. With the social network claiming that roughly 70% of its user base is outside the United States, that means that there are at least 120 million Americans on Facebook today.
Taken down to the local level, though, this means that Facebook might just already have more reach in the community than any other media outlet - especially local newspapers. With the unveiling of their Web-ubiquitous "Like" button and "social bar," as well as their Graph API, Facebook is now using its strengths to redefine how we interact with the Web in its entirety.
So what does all of this mean for the publishing industry and for newspapers in particular? A few very important things:
- Facebook is now a legitimate threat to Google. It has accomplished this by changing the game from search discoverability to social context, which wasn't doable with 40 million users but is with 400-plus million users. Facebook is trying to become the first place people visit when logging into their computers every morning. The site that leads this battle carries the most online leverage, at least until it is knocked off the pedestal.
- Facebook is attempting to become pervasive across the entire Web, and without permission. Like it or not, site owners are going to have to deal with social media, but now in a much more pervasive way than ever before.
- Facebook is a competitor for the attention of local audiences. One minute spent on Facebook is a minute not spent on another Web property. Facebook will become a more interesting place as it aggregates data on what people are doing and how they are reacting to the Web as a whole, not just Facebook's network. So it isn't just necessary for media outlets to build a better Web sites anymore - they have to build engaging content that can appear on Facebook and drive value to their paper. It isn't impossible, but it has to be a priority.
- All of these things impact discoverability of a newspaper's content, who monetizes it and how. Those that succeed in becoming a viral Facebook content commodity will grow rapidly. Likewise, the decline of those news sources that fail to realize the necessary potential of Facebook will be swift. A deep and complete understanding of social media is necessary for publishers of any kind to modernize, grow and ultimately survive. It's becoming a necessary core competency, and fast.
Yesterday, The Washington Post announced their "Network News" initiative, integrating Facebook into the paper's website. The Post's incorporation of activity from users' Facebook friends immediately creates a value of social relevance that trumps efforts like the New York Times' similar, though detrimentally insular, TimesPeople network.
More importantly, however, are the possibilities such integration might provide for local newspapers. Relevance is a central theme to both the content shared on social networks and the community publication. Facebook offers those newspapers a readymade audience that is already connected to their desired local demographic. Local publications need to recognize the importance of tapping into Facebook's community, because, first and foremost, it is precisely where their readers are finding, sharing and discussing the types of pertinent content that the papers seek to champion.
Newspapers no longer need traditional Web developers. Papers now need Facebook developers, experts who can partner with creative social-savvy businesspeople who know how to take advantage of the social graph. In the wake of Facebook's new features, it will not be long before newspaper and media executives are attacking and blaming Facebook for their problems in the way they do Google today. However, those publications that more progressively pursue the opportunities and value opened to them by Facebook's new tools will have a very different reaction.Photo by Michael Rogers.