Inland Key Takeaways

Why Facebook is Your Frenemy, and What to Do About It

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Download the presentation from June 2, 2016


Why you're tempted to depend on Facebook: Its Instant Articles is just the latest way that Facebook is inviting media companies to build fast, interactive traffic for their content on the social media site. The process can become addictive: You give Facebook your content. They share it. They handle advertising. They give you a piece of the revenue. 
 
Why you should resist temptation: Because, Mims said, you're giving Facebook the keys to your kingdom. The problem starts with Facebook's belief that content is free. "And for Facebook, it really always has been." They don't understand the hard work and cost that goes into building each of your stories and photos.
 
It gets worse: You are putting Facebook between you and your audience. "The more your traffic comes from Facebook, the weaker your relationship with your readers," he says. A growing number of people believe they are "getting their news from Facebook"--not the media providers posting the stories. "That fundamental disconnect is going to be how Facebook ends up taking more of your market." 
 
Rethink who you want to attract: Mims asks, "What kind of audience do you have? And are all people who read your articles created equal?" In other words: The anonymous readers on Facebook you cannot identify nor contact will ultimately be of minimal value because you have no way of building a relationship with them. Moreover, he added, advertisers will also begin to believe that your readers have a relationship with Facebook, not you--and will direct more of their money there. 
 
Facebook isn't your only frenemy: Think Twitter, Google, Pinterest, Instagram, and other social media platforms. "We have to figure out how to work with, and against, some of these very large and powerful companies--anybody else who believes that content is substitutable and believes, fundamentally, that they should have it for free."
 
Be your own best friend: Media companies need to recognize the value they offer, Mims said, delivering content that isn't "just about driving views. It's the information (readers) need to lead a productive life, and to be informed citizens in their community."
 
So what's the alternative to Facebook? Mims loves email as a way for media companies to connect with readers and build an audience. People rarely change their email address, and most look at their  inboxes throughout the day. "You can drive traffic back to your website, you can drive it back to Facebook, but really, you can put your content directly on email. It's something that you can control." Need more incentive? Eighty percent of Internet users use email on a regular basis, Mims reported; that's higher than the 71% who use social media. 
 
Inbox incentives: "Make sure you're putting original, high-quality content in that email so it can build its own audience and sustain its own relationships as well as its advertiser value." Adding new subscribers can be as easy as going to a local event, carrying clipboards and asking people to sign up. Contests are another way to find new e-readers. He recommends against buying a list: "It doesn't fit the standard of building a relationship with your audience."
 
Smartphone strategy: Reaching readers via text message "is brilliant," Mims said. "Most people read every text they get." Like email, few people change their phone numbers, and the average person looks at his or her phone 46 times a day. 
 
Everything old is new again: "Old-fashioned" home delivery of a newspaper isn't so old-fashioned after all. Mims cited Amazon Prime, Uber, Instacart grocery delivery and Seamless restaurant delivery, among others. "We like to pretend that some of these companies are really software companies. But the key to their success is knowing your location." 
 
Chat them up: Mims pointed to emerging chat applications like Slack (and even Facebook Messenger), which tend to function more like text messaging and email than as a social network. They allow companies to build a personal relationship with their audience. But it's still too early to predict their effectiveness, he said, and whether they, too, might become your frenemy in the future.