Forget privacy. The main concern media companies should have about Facebook is how the social site's news feed manages content distribution, according to Dave Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect.
“When you tie something into Facebook you are at the mercy of their algorithm,” Kirkpatrick said, speaking at the OnMedia conference this week in New York.
For instance, do we really understand how and why Facebook decides what's relevant to show up in someone's Facebook news feed? At any time, they can tweak the feed in a way that affects the content that media companies are putting into the flow.
“At some point they're going to have to explain more about how this thing works,” Kirkpatrick said, adding that regulators might even eventually take interest in Facebook's process.
Publishers shouldn't neglect Facebook as a distribution channel, but it's a good reminder to ask questions ― especially as Facebook continues to schmooze content distributors, hoping they'll share audience data and integrate more Facebook features into their sites. The next Facebook-for-media initiative will be to launch a third-party commenting system (which many media companies already employ to some extent).
Privacy concerns have already kept the media industry on its toes about Facebook, which is smartly working on making its image more privacy-friendly. Ron Mwangaguhunga recently advised publishers to “greet any overtures from Facebook with a healthy dose of skepticism as well as some serious questions about security.” He notes that publishers can't ignore Facebook, but they shouldn't take sharing audience data with Facebook lightly.
But Kirkpatrick reminded media companies that security concerns aren't the only thing to be skeptical about; content distribution shouldn't be taken lightly either.
Acquiring Facebook fans and engaging a Facebook audience are essential for many publishers. Facebook integration with media sites has been positive for many publishers, making it easier to house communities while also keeping a Facebook presence. Nevertheless, media companies have to keep perspective that Facebook (and any social network, for that matter) is an ancillary channel — one which they can't fully control.