‘It’s all powerful and it knows it’: Publishers reveal their biggest challenges with Facebook

It’s Facebook’s world, and digital media companies are just living in it. At the whim of capricious algorithm changes and vague avenues toward monetization, publishers have no shortage of gripes with the social network. And yet, the allure of terrific scale remains undeniable.

At Digiday’s Publishing Summit in Nice, we rounded up top-tier digital media executives in the room to ask them what their biggest challenge is with Facebook. Their answers, edited for space and clarity:

Robert Hodges, head of audience development, Sky
We’ve been a Facebook Live launch partner, and we’ve had good success. But the problem is monetization. It doesn’t really feel like Facebook understands the business challenges. I believe Facebook Live is a good product, but we will have to rethink how much content we put on Facebook Live if it doesn’t bring in revenue. There is so much live content, and I don’t believe people are consuming it because that’s what they want. It’s because that’s what’s being served. We spend a lot of money with them and we have a good relationship, but Suggested Video doesn’t work. We’ve not made any money on it to justify the views. Instant Articles has also been difficult to get money from. Partly, that’s because there’s not enough data from it, but partly because our internal teams aren’t focused on selling it. Facebook is all powerful, and it knows it.

Kate Day Politico, editorial director, growth, Politico
The starting point for us is slightly different to other publishers because we’re interested in building a community of people interested in politics and policy. We’re not a mass-market publisher. We are very much in a growth phase, but want to be very targeted in how we manage that relationship with them. We’re more interested in who is reading us rather than increasing total audience. Facebook’s relationship with publishers is about driving traffic, but the new products it releases or the amount of energy that goes into relationships with publishers is just less relevant to us. When you’re on someone else’s platform, you play by their rules.

Jeff Moriarty, chief digital and product officer, Johnston Press
Responding to Facebook algorithm changes is a particular challenge, especially when you have thousands of journalists spread throughout the country like we do. But last week, we saw our traffic from Facebook exceed the levels it was before that change. Partly, this is because we’ve embraced Instant Articles particularly and are encouraging our writers to find new ways to engage with Facebook followers — focusing on giving readers something unique and relevant to their lives and worth sharing.

Martin Ashplant, digital director, The Metro
The big challenge with Facebook is knowing what it is going to prioritize next. First, there was a focus on the “I’m reading this story” Facebook app. Then, it was pushing traffic to publisher sites, then Instant Articles and now Facebook Live. Facebook, quite rightly, will always put what it considers its audience’s interests first and publishers’ interests second. And that means its direction can change at any point — which makes it rather risky to go all in on what they are interested in right now.


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