Facebook: We don’t encourage publishers to build their brands off our platform

Facebook has told a room full of publishers that it doesn’t make sense for them to build their businesses off the platform and insisted that it never encouraged the practice.

When pushed by Mumbrella on whether Facebook was rewriting its narrative in the wake of changes to its algorithm which deprioritised publishers’ content in users’ news feeds, the company’s news partnership lead Andrew Hunter said he’d never seen evidence of Facebook peddling its wares in this way.

Hunter tells publishers not to be reliant on Facebook 

“I think it’s about not being reliant on us,” he told Mumbrella’s Publish conference this morning. “We’re not encouraging any publisher to build a business purely off Facebook reach. It’s about finding one or two ways that we can work together to hopefully really move the needle on the publisher’s business and either help them with connecting to their audience, or helping them make revenue on the platform.”

On the accusation that perhaps Facebook had previously encouraged the practice and spruiked it to publishers, Hunter pushed on.

I’ve been here for 10 months. I do represent Facebook. I’ve never seen any encouragement from Facebook to publishers to build their business entirely off the back of Facebook reach,” he responded.

“I think that it doesn’t make sense for publishers to do that. It’s certainly not something, like I said, it’s not something we encourage. It’s not, we’re not retro-fitting that to the algorithm changes. I think it makes common sense that we are part of the distribution ecosystem. We’re one part of the distribution ecosystem. So I think it’s important that everyone understands that, acknowledges that and recognises that as publishers.”

Hunter speaking to publishers at Mumbrella Publish

Facebook’s users, he said, come first – something for which he will not apologise.

“The audience, the people on Facebook, come first. So, we make no apology for that. They’re the ultimate stakeholders and constituents. But like I said in the presentation, news has an important role to play here – and publishers in general – and that is that they are helping to create an informed community and make the conversation on Facebook, the interactions on Facebook, more effective and more meaningful,” he said.

This belief informed and motivated the algorithm change, he said.

“I think the key to that change is that our audience, or the people on Facebook, were having fewer opportunities to connect with each other due to the proliferation of public content in news feed. So, this is something that is effectively a response to our audience who have been asking for this for a long time. And so, when you prioritise friends and family content, public content has a lower share of voice. Part of that is news content.”

It was not, however, all bad news, with Hunter insisting publishers could work with the platform to get more worthwhile engagement with consumers.

“The key for us, and I think the key for publishers in this question, is in us being able to prioritise and elevate high-quality, credible news from trusted sources, and that’s what the Breaking News pilot is all about. It’s what Developing Stories is about, and there is a whole program of product development around that, which is designed at increasing the overall share of high-quality news in news feed.

“So, we expect, and we have expected and have seen, it [engagement with publishers] to go down in aggregate, but for the quality to increase.”


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