One of the most popular debates in the media industry these days is whether Facebook is friend or foe to publishers. And if it's both (a.k.a. your frienemy), how are you supposed to fight it and leverage it at the same time?
A debate about the topic ensued at the Digiday:Target conference in New York between Michael Lazerow
, chairman and CEO of Buddy Media
, and Todd Sawicki, chief revenue officer of Cheezburger
(home of Lolcats).
As the head of a company powering tools for Facebook, Lazerow is unsurprisingly pro-Facebook. His main argument: Even if it's not perfect, can publishers really afford to ignore it? Sawicki, on the other hand, said publishers need to recognize that they don't control the Facebook experience ― and publishers should've built their own engagement tools rather than relying on an external platform.
Facebook should be your friend
Lazerow's argument is a popular one: Publishers should tap into Facebook's currently unmatched opportunity to engage a mass audience. “It's a huge opportunity that you either try to get in front of and get run over, or you try to leverage,” he said.
“As we know, Facebook has about 500 million people; half of them log in every day; the average user spends about a half hour every day on Facebook,” he said. “So the idea that you as a publisher aren't going to be a friend with Facebook to me is crazy ... You can use Facebook in many different ways: to drive traffic, to engage your audience, for sponsorship sales.”
He also pointed out that Facebook shouldn't replace a brand's site, but it offers the ability to tap into the social graph of the Web (e.g. personalized commerce
). Also, the number of “likes” on a fan page is only one metric; publishers shouldn't re-engineer their customer acquisition department around engagement, he said.
“I think the like is a measure, not necessarily the measure,” he said.
Facebook is your enemy
Sawicki offered some valid criticisms of the social networking services, some of which we've touched on before. One downside he did not mention is that publishers don't have full control over content distribution (the news feed
) on the platform — though he harped on Facebook's general lack of publisher control.
First of all, Sawicki pointed out that Facebook's goals are not the same as a publisher's goal. “If you're a publisher, you have to realize Facebook is competing with you for ad dollars,” he said. “They have every incentive to move eyeballs from you to them.”
Furthermore, he noted that Facebook doesn't always make moves that would benefit publishers.
“When Facebook forced you to move from 'share' to 'like,' that reduced traffic for publishers by 40 percent,” he asserted. “Publishers adopted this Like button and they didn't really ask the question: Am I getting more than I'm giving?” (Not to mention how the Like button
can cause headaches for publishers.)
He pointed out that Facebook can and does change the rules, and if publishers look at the terms of service, Facebook can terminate a fan page at any time (and own the data).
“You don't own Facebook pages,” he said. “Is it sane to invest in something where you don't control the rules?”
So which is it: friend or foe?
Lazerow sums up the decision publishers need to make about Facebook: Do the benefits of working in The Facebook ecosystem outweigh the negative? “Most people believe that the benefits far outweigh the negative because of the traffic you can drive ... the ability to expose your content to the social graph, and, most importantly, the ability to get people to connect with you as a publisher and message them with your content whenever you want,” he said.
But Sawicki reminded publishers to be cognizant of Facebook's stake in the game. (Even if the audience overwhelmingly sided with Lazerow, I give Sawicki credit for taking the less popular stance.) Like Google, Apple and all of the non-publisher digital media companies out there, publishers can't just ignore Facebook ― but that doesn't mean they can't also push back.