Pay to play on Facebook: A view from four Asian publishers on the news feed changes

Following last week's announcement that Facebook will now prioritise user posts in its news feed, Mumbrella Asia editor Eleanor Dickinson asked a number of Asian media owners for their take on Zuckerberg's latest overhaul

It has been less than a week now since Mark Zuckerberg announced the most radical change to Facebook’s algorithm in years – one that could spell the end for online publishers’ dependence on the site, at least as far as organic posts go.

For years, media players have enjoyed drawing vast swathes of freely available traffic from Facebook. The feed allowed new media start-ups like Mashable and Buzzfeed to soar and established players like The Guardian to find new audiences.

But as with all good things, there is usually a lifecycle that ends. Recent tweaks to Facebook’s algorithm over the past two years, plus its recent experiment with the Explore feed, show the clock has been ticking for some time. Media houses will now have to pay to play.

And as the below conversations with four Asian media players show, publishers have to adapt quickly or die:

Bryan Choo, founder and managing director of The Smart Local

“If this is implemented, it’s not just the publishers that will be affected. How people use Facebook is going to change drastically as well. Right now most people use Facebook as one giant website, treating publishers as indiscriminate content providers that just make up this “website.”

“There’s only so much ‘friend’s status updates’ you want to see a day.

“Downgrading content in favour of social interactions will take us back to the days of early Facebook, where wall posts etc. dominated feeds without much other ‘content’. I don’t know if it’s a good thing for Facebook as my hunch is people will then move towards other news aggregators to get their content, as relevant content is the main reason most people continue to use Facebook.

“As for how publishers will be affected, it will hurt those who solely on Facebook to reach their audiences – and there are many of them in Singapore. We never wanted to be at Facebook’s mercy, so we have set out to be a multi-channel publisher from day one. Many traditional news outlets have close to no YouTube or Instagram presence and these are massively huge companies. They’ll be affected the most.”

Byron Perry, founder and chief executive officer of Coconuts

“We aren’t super concerned about Facebook’s algorithm change. For the last two years we’ve been working relentlessly on diversifying away from the platform, and in 2017 Facebook accounted for about 40 per cent of our traffic.

“If anything, I welcome this change because I think we are better positioned than many other publishers due to our strong brand and loyal audience.

“My main hope is that this change helps brands and agencies realise that it is very difficult to generate organic buzz on Facebook, and that it’s only going to become more difficult. At the same time, paid reach on Facebook is only going to become more expensive. So it’s a money suck, and there are other options out there.

“With growing fatigue from fake news and clickbait – two Facebook-fueled digital media phenomena – I think 2018 will be the year of return to quality and originality. It’s certainly what we will be focusing on.”

Gary Liu, CEO of the South China Morning Post

“Admittedly Facebook has become an important platform for most publishers, but as South China Morning Post grows in global reach and engagement, we have been investing in many distribution channels. Relying on single platforms is critically short-sighted, and our commitment to a multi-channel approach means that we’ve mitigated that risk.

“Additionally, SCMP continues to build direct relationships with our users through the credibility of our brand and the quality of our digital products. We will continue observing Facebook’s announced changes and react where necessary, but we do not anticipate any material effect on our business.”

Jacky Yap, managing director of GRVTY 

“Facebook has hinted that they will be making changes to the newsfeed for a while now, so this isn’t entirely new to us. In terms of content wise, we have not made any big drastic changes with regards to our content on Facebook.

“For all our platforms, we have been focusing on both social and search traffic – so we believe that as long as we continue to produce quality content, we will be ok.

“In terms of diversification, whether or not Facebook made the announcement, we would still need to constantly customise our content and distribute it to where the digital audience are. That said, we think that with the change in the news feed, all publishers will have to work even harder to win the attention of the digital audience.”


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