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Media companies: don’t give in to the Facebook temptation

Thursday, 21 May 2015 | By Jieh-Yung Lo

Like all digital media startups, The House of Media and our first publication, Sinoway, is working hard to build up readership and viewers on a daily basis. Moreover, like all new media companies, we understand that the value of our publications increases with readership and accessibility.


Obtaining readership across the world wide web takes time because a publication needs to build up quality and relevant content that presents a point of difference. To succeed, digital publications require a combination of breaking stories and quality analysis on issues of the day. For a process that usually takes years and decades to achieve, Facebook has the power to do it in months.


With over 1.4 billion users, Facebook has become the most popular go-to place for news, updates and stories across all technological platforms. In order to get more users to stay on its site, developing partnerships to host media articles is an innovative way to go. For media organisations, getting more eyeballs to their stories and content is an attractive option. To make this option more appealing to news publishers, Facebook has outlined initiatives for publishers to make more money from advertising that would run alongside its content on its site.


A few months ago, sources revealed that Facebook was in talks with a number of news organisations about hosting their content inside the social media site rather than making users tap a link to visit an external site. The initial news organisation partners interested in Facebook’s proposal are the National Geographic, Buzzfeed and The New York Times.


Facebook has announced publicly its intention to enhance the streaming experience of news content. Currently, news articles on Facebook link to the media publication’s own website normally taking an average of eight seconds to load. Facebook has claimed it can reduce the load time to quicken the delivery of articles to readers.


As a new digital publication fresh on the scene, it is difficult to break into a competitive market, a market dominated by only a few main media players in the Australian market. For a company like The House of Media, Facebook’s proposal is very attractive to build more readership and catch up to our more established competitors.


Facebook’s proposal does carry a number of risks for media organisations. The first and most obvious one is the loss of consumer data. When readers click on an article, analytics and tracking tools allows the website to obtain information on who they are, how long they stayed on the website, the topic they are reading, what device they are reading it from and how often they visited. For media organisations, consumer data is a valuable source of information to attract investors, sponsorships and advertisements. If news publications take up Facebook’s proposal, this valuable information will most likely go to Facebook leaving publications with the loss of a critical revenue stream.


Speaking at the 2015 International News Media Association (INMA) World Congress in New York, Australian futurist Ross Dawson warned publishers to be cautious in handing over their content to Facebook. By doing this, he warned publishers may well be “giving them your future.”


Dawson is right. While media publications may get a boost in readership and accessibility, they are giving away the two most important aspects that make them valuable and profitable: consumer data and content. For Facebook, it sees the long-term potential and benefit to increase visitation time by providing news content and stories. Unfortunately, it is unable to achieve this in the short run because Facebook does not possess the journalistic and media expertise within its operations to generate quality news and content. While faster online accessibility is a plus, established writers and journalists working in publications do have a strong following from readers. This is something that Facebook simply does not have.


Therefore, my advice to established and startup digital new media organisations is do not give in to the Facebook temptation. You should focus on developing your own strategic online platforms to involve readers, advertisers and investors. We have the expertise to develop independent quality content to keep readers and society informed on what’s happening around us. We do not need help from external platforms to do this, even if it does boast a membership of 1.4 billion users.


Jieh-Yung Lo is a new media entrepreneur and founder of The House of Media. Follow him on twitter at @jiehyunglo


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