I’m no stranger to the gut-punch sensation of ghostwriting a piece and watching it make its rounds on the Internet under someone else’s (or nobody’s) name, as I stand by helpless, contractually obligated to not take credit for it. I’m just a guy with a very small personal brand who wants to take credit every now and then for a good one-liner or some useful knowledge. But with the new business strategy being implemented by many social networks, soon it won’t just be individual writers publishing content without getting proper credit; large news and entertainment outlets will be quoted and embedded with minimal credit to their names.
This is a bummer for major media conglomerates, but it could be a boon to the enterprise looking to blend its native content more seamlessly into the social media user experience. Understanding what’s happening and why is essential to staying ahead of the changing tides in social media advertising.
The main reason platforms like Facebook and Twitter are making the move to publishing external content without external links is to keep eyeballs on their pages as long as possible. Once you click on a link to The New York Times or Buzzfeed, it’s easy to fall down an Internet wormhole and find yourself reading about the best Christmas cookie recipes 45 minutes after you clicked a link to read more about last night’s debate. This is every website’s dream come true—traffic and clickthrough rates out the wazoo—but it’s a nightmare for the site that directed traffic there. All that time you spent transfixed on videos and images on someone else’s site could’ve been time spent on your News Feed—if only there was an equally sprawling set of content to browse without the easy links to follow to the full article on its native page.
David Erickson, VP of Marketing at Karwoski and Courage, a PR firm, notes, “The social channels get to control their audiences for longer periods of time, keep them from leaving, and accumulate more and more behavioral and social data.” It’s not that social media platforms have beef with media outlets (although, maybe they do!), but they know that once users leave, they can’t track their behavior or use their visitor statistics to bolster their own brand value. By bringing everything from full-length articles to buy buttons on advertisements right into the News Feed, Facebook can effectively “absorb the internet,” meaning it can provide you the full range of Web functionality without ever leaving its endless stream of status updates, advertisements, news, and videos of sloths eating human foods.
The real reason Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat are all scrambling to integrate outside content into their feeds while stripping it of opportunities to link viewers away has less to do with making the user experience more streamlined or reducing loading times when clicking external links (although these are nice side benefits) and everything to do with keeping users inside of their respective channels. The value of a social media channel to advertisers and investors is based on its user base and user engagement; handing those users off to external sites is like giving away the very thing that makes your business valuable.
Speaking of what makes your business valuable—for all the brands that are advertising in major content sources that are now being stripped of their external links by new native browsing experiences—this news about more integrated feeds is a wake-up call. Instead of looking to advertise in publications, the time could be nigh to make a big push to publish directly in the endless streams of linkless content that are poised to rule people’s Internet time even more than they already do.
Social platforms’ push for more native content could prove to be a positive for advertisers tired of trying banner, in-line, and popup ads on various websites. David Waterman, Senior Director of Earned Media and SEO at The Search Agency, described the ad fatigue that viewers experience: “Today’s Web-savvy consumer is becoming ‘banner blind.’ They are almost unaware of the banner advertising framing the articles, videos and general content they are consuming.” What’s more, brands have to advertise on every website they believe their target consumers frequent, or find themselves at the mercy of ad distribution services and their respective client lists. As social media networks push for native content, content marketing and brand storytelling will become more valuable than ever. High-value, entertaining content can live harmoniously with other forms of content on news feeds, bringing original content to the limelight alongside feature pieces from major publishers.
For brands seeking business transformation through storytelling, the value of placing multimedia content directly in News Feeds with links hidden or removed is an intriguing blurring of the lines. I love the way The New York Times brought an ad agency in-house for its native content and saw incredible results. That should be a model for businesses seeking to create content that will work on Facebook.
Facebook and Twitter may be building the best homes yet for native-style content marketing. Studying popular integrated content will pay dividends for brands that want to fit into news feeds as well as autoplaying cat videos.
It’s easy for big publishers to panic and feel that social media outlets are stealing all of their opportunities for revenue. Still, any ads published through the original outlet are featured in the embedded story in addition to the story on its main page. For advertisers, there have never been more opportunities to place more different types of advertisements. Social media platforms and big publishers will clamor for advertisers, which should drive price per exposure down and alter the structure of the funnel. Spencer X. Smith, a digital marketing consultant who has worked with a number of Fortune 500 brands, points out the reality of publications and social platforms alike: “They want to accommodate whatever it is you’re looking for at that time to earn both your attention as well as the ad revenue that will keep them in business.” So, no matter where the content is, that site wants to keep you there.
This battle between various publishers and networks will lead to increased content and ad quality. The consumer will undoubtedly benefit from more streamlined browsing experiences, but as long as brands are prepared to navigate the new multiplatform environment and change their business strategy accordingly, they may be the biggest winners.
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