Facebook saga exposes why brands not only need to invest in content, but their own distribution channels too

The social media behemoth has proven to Shootsta's CEO Mike Pritchett the one-sided weighting of digital marketing, who says it's time to gain control.

The standoff between Facebook and the Australian Government may be over but there’s no doubt the whole incident left a mark on the psyche of the Australian marketing sector.

The social media giant’s actions have been nothing short of cataclysmic for publishers and social media marketers and even government and emergency services across Australia. But the pause in Facebook marketing activity also gave us a bit of space to breathe and triggered a lot of reflection.

For me, the saga underscores one of the biggest problems with modern digital marketing. Regardless of how much time, energy, or resources you invest, your entire go-to-market strategy can be upheaved by one decision from a tech giant.

This isn’t a new phenomena. Even the slightest changes to the way Google ranks search engine results sends SEO specialists and content creators into a spin. It does so with very little warning and sometimes very little explanation.

It underscores the need to invest in owned media – content that you control. But crucially, how to create engaging content that your audience actually wants to consume, and how to use that to build your own distribution channel. Essentially, brands are starting to ask the question: how do I get my content out to my audience without relying on a major tech giant controlled means of distribution?

Over the past few years, many brands have really built up their content strategies. This initial investment came from a desire to bump up their SEO ranking and draw customers to their website. That’s still a key driver for investment but that motivation has since matured.

Brands are now just as interested in creating engaging, educational content for their customers and stakeholders that positions them as thought leaders and builds trust. This could be blog posts, videos or podcasts. We saw an explosion of the latter two with our clients at Shootsta during the COVID-19 pandemic. It more or less started conditioning brands to look at content in a new light as a key means of general communication.

The next step here, and one that I think will be spurred on by Facebook’s decision, is to look at content distribution channels.

There’s a general over-reliance on channels that are curated or run by other technology companies such as social media, or video hosting services like YouTube. Brands have essentially followed the eyeballs, and as a result these services will continue to be invaluable.

I think we’ll start to see more owned channels emerge though. Facebook’s latest move will motivate brands to work harder to win their own eyeballs rather than rely on the audience of other platforms.

In digital marketing, the most common tool for this is a e-newsletter, which goes directly to inboxes. But there’s also other ways to surface this content in touchpoints that customers already use, like apps, websites and other portals.

The learning curve here though is that to grow a new channel from scratch and see them flourish, brands will need to think more like publishers and less like advertisers. They need to give their customers a reason to sign up to these channels, and a reason to regularly engage with them. A rehash of your key marketing messages in blog-post form probably won’t cut it.

Over the past decade many online publishers have started exploring new mediums like video and podcasts to better connect with and engage their audience. Brands will have to go through the same discovery process, and find a way to cost effectively create their own editorial processes. Creating these types of content at scale can be easy and cost-effective with the right strategy and partners supporting you.

The good news here for social media managers currently concerned about their future is that this idea really builds on the same kind of thinking that saw many brands build up their presence and profile on social media in the first place.

I don’t see this being some huge overhaul of marketing budgets. Change here will be slow and meaningful, but it will occur. As it occurs, Facebook will still be a valuable part of the distribution ecosystem. The number of users it has more or less dictates that. But by suddenly pulling the pin on all “news” related content, Facebook has exposed one startling truth: the only publishing platform you can have full reliance on is one that you own.

Mike Pritchett is the CEO of Shootsta.


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