Publishers becoming ‘beholden’ to social traffic and being ‘tricked’ by Facebook, warns Slate boss

The president of online publisher Slate has warned publishers to not allow Facebook to steal their voice and individuality after suggesting they are being “tricked” into creating the same style of content.

keith-hernandez-2-keynote-publish-2016Keith Hernandez told the Mumbrella Publish conference this morning that too many publishers are “beholden” to traffic from social media, while Facebook is telling firms how videos should be made. This is leading to the creation of homogeneous content, he said.

Hernandez said Facebook’s Instant Articles is a danger to publishers. While a story may be well written, readers are often unaware of who produced the story.

“Half of our audience comes direct to, in my prior life at Buzzfeed it was 20-25%, and when you talk to other publishers it’s in the low 20s or high teens,” he said.

“They are beholden to Facebook and Twitter traffic. They are churning out headlines and salacious photos to get people to come to their site and not thinking about how they attract and keep them there.”

Such traffic is “hollow”, he said, and rarely drives loyalty to a brand or leads to a lengthy stay on the site.

Hernandez continued: “When you look at the Facebook News streams and Twitter it starts to become the same, it becomes harder to understand what publishers want in that area.

“Look at Instant Articles. You can read a great, fascinating, smart and well-researched article and walk away from it saying ‘I have no idea what publisher actually wrote that.’

“What we at Slate are are trying to do in this world of distributed content is to make sure our voice is heard and that our voice is distinct and unique.”

Turning to video, Hernandez said Facebook has effectively instructed publishers as to what style videos they should produce. The result is virtually identical content, he told delegates.

“Facebook is saying your video should not have audio, it should have subtitles, it should be under two minutes and if you do that you’ll get 60m views”. And people say, ‘okay, I’ll do that’.

“People are thinking they are masters and church of the trade but in reality they are being tricked into creating the same stuff.

“I worry about that because it’s hard to differentiate between video on Facebook because everyone is producing the same style.”

Hernandez said Slate has around 1m Facebook fans and 1.5 followers on Twitter but said its strategy is not about driving traffic but how to make audiences interested in the Slate brand.


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