Why Facebook and Google aren’t the answer for publishers

This past fortnight has seen Facebook and Google hitting out at the Australian competition watchdog’s proposed news and advertising controls. But whether you think further scrutiny is required or not, Outbrain’s managing director for APAC, Andrew Burke believes there’s clearly a need for publishers to rethink their media strategy.

It’s a figure you’ve no doubt heard before from marketers if you work in the media world. That is, the mighty duopoly of Facebook and Google gobble up over 60% of digital advertising dollars worldwide.Often repeated yes, but it’s a statement that has enduring relevance. That’s because according to research from US web analytics company parse.ly, barely 25% of publishers’ traffic is accounted for on Facebook. Via Google it’s below 45%. And that’s a significant disconnect when compared with the advertising dollars they haul in.

The upshot is that the publishers of rigorously researched and curated content are not reaping the rewards for their craft from advertisers, who are instead chasing fast returns at one of the big two.

Worse still, despite Facebook dialling up algorithms that promote so-called social content over publisher content, many have decided that reliance on these two giants is better than the alternative. It’s the business equivalent of cuddling up to the ex who treats you poorly because loneliness is too terrifying to contemplate.

Outbrain’s global co-CEO David Kostman recently provided even more granular detail on the battlefield that publishers face today. “Premium sites are now forced to compete for clicks on those platforms [Facebook and Google] with third-, fourth-, and lower-tier publications. As the duopoly takes charge of content traffic, publishing is becoming a rapidly commoditising business,” he said.

David’s counterpart, Outbrain’s co-CEO Yaron Galai, expounded further. “Over the past few years, most of the industry drifted in the exact opposite direction [with content curation] – preferring more revenue extraction on each visit, while handing people’s loyalty and habits over to Facebook.”

And despite it being something of a Faustian contract, it’s not hard to see why this has happened. For advertisers and publishers alike, the impressive audience and revenue numbers of Facebook and Google can be seductive.

I have little doubt a feeling pervades among marketers that they should be putting their money where everyone else is. But this strategy, while providing short term gains, can be damaging in the long term for publishers.

For those in this particular bind, the first thing they need to do is to acknowledge there is a problem.

But to truly move the needle, publishers should put their focus on two things. Firstly, their greatest assets – their content and the intimate knowledge they possess of their audience. Secondly, as I’ve alluded to already, they need to be bold, stop relying on Facebook and Google’s algorithms for deliverance and instead invest in their combined strength.

The most powerful long-term driver of publishers’ business is people’s trust. If a person that reads something today comes back tomorrow for another serving, that creates a sustainable, return audience that contributes over and over to the bottom line.

So, in order to arrest this cycle, publishers need to back themselves to be better curators of content for their audience than either Facebook or Google. This means serving viewers with their own bespoke offering as well as being a gateway to other relevant content from trusted sources.

One further comfort for bona fide publishers should be Facebook’s own stance on the role it plays in disseminating information. The company has been very vocal since the beginning of last year about its intentions to de-prioritise content from businesses and media sources, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg described as “public content”, in favour of posts from friends.

If that’s the case, then it only strengthens the argument that premium publishers of news and information should take their destinies back into their own hands, reinforce their own credentials, and partner with those who will make them stronger.

Couple this with evidence that shows people are growing frustrated with being seen as a mere advertising target, and instead are craving genuinely personalised content, and what you have is a good, old fashioned opportunity.

As part of the wider publishing industry, Outbrain encourages the growth and proliferation of quality journalism and premium, brand safe content. Today, with powerful incumbents dictating terms in this realm – and often falling short – this commitment is more important than ever.

Publishers are faced with difficult decisions, but also a golden opportunity. It’ll take courage, but a change of strategy today will ensure a robust tomorrow.

Andrew Burke is the APAC managing director at Outbrain.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.