Just a few short weeks ago, Facebook restricted the sharing of news content across its network in response to the ongoing dispute with the Australian federal government and traditional media companies, with other tech giants saying they will be forced to take similar approaches if an agreement cannot be reached.
With blogs, media and even non-news outlets like tourism, health departments and charities being affected by the ban, what does this mean for the way brands speak to their audience going forward? And with 1 in 3 Australians reporting to get their news from Facebook, what does this mean for how we consume our news if there are more bans in the future?
In 2021, how will social media marketers adapt to this changing landscape? How does this affect business's reach and exposure if they can’t utilise partner content effectively? We put these tricky questions to some of our social media mentors (wizards!) from our Content and Social Media Marketing short course.
Jacinta Manivong is an experienced brand manager and digital marketer who has worked for Kathmandu, Red Bull Australia, McDonald's Australia and the Australian Conservation Foundation. Julia Gregg is a content strategist and consultant to not-for-profits and arts organisations.
What do these latest changes to Facebooks policy mean for small businesses and agencies that rely on sharing news for their business?
This move restricts the reach of vital information for communities because of the media bargaining code’s overly broad nature, which is mostly targeting the giant media publishers. It is going to force you to review your tactical plan. Have you been relying too heavily on one platform, like Facebook? Have you put all your eggs in one basket to achieve your objectives? It’s time to review and diversify your content distribution plan.
There’s been a slow but consistent erosion in trust between small businesses, agencies and the social network behemoths, particularly Facebook. For small entities, and the world of consultants who work with them, Facebook has been a convenient means to reach their audiences but an increasingly unreliable one with a disproportionate role in our budgets, and our strategies. While the new changes weren’t intended to penalise small businesses specifically, they’re a vulnerable sector, often without the protection of established and diversified alternative marketing channels that will buffer larger organisations — like the policy’s intended targets, the news publishers themselves.
How will this affect your own digital marketing / social media content strategy?
It’s a timely reminder to prioritise marketing investment in owned channels, and to scrutisinise what we consider owned channels even more closely. We’ll be assessing the balance of channels in hand as well, trying to distribute the risk and prioritise owned platforms such as emails lists and websites. We’ve been planning for the eventuality that Facebook would restrict our access to our audiences in either content type or limits to cost-effective distribution.
It’s forced us to review how reliant we may be on high-reaching platforms. Essentially, we are now pushing to control our owned channels rather than the ‘rented’ channels aka social media. During this time, we are focusing on what we can control and improve to reduce friction in the customer journey.
"Have you been relying too heavily on one platform, like Facebook? Have you put all your eggs in one basket to achieve your objectives? It’s time to review and diversify your content distribution plan."
What higher responsibilities do companies like Facebook and Twitter have to their community of users? Or at the end of the day, are they just businesses, and we should view them as such?
This feels like a blanket manoeuvre to underhand Australia’s news media bargaining code. They’ve removed a valuable communication stream for pages including public health, emergency and support services, independent news, local and international news, however, have not limited smaller blogs encouraging conspiracy theories or hate speech allowing for inaccurate information and harmful opinions. As one of the largest social media networks, they have a moral responsibility to users to redesign their method in an ethical and fair way.
Companies like Facebook and Twitter have assumed greater roles in our lives than most businesses, more akin to a public utility than a corporation. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook actively courted news publishers and at times promoted strategies of sharing news to their business customers.
These companies do have an ethical responsibility to sustain the service that they have quite deliberately embedded as a basic communication technology, and vital source of news and public information.
However, we’ve known for some time that these platforms assume the power that comes with controlling information, without assuming the social responsibilities. Any brand or publisher that thought Facebook would look after their, or their audience’s interest, hasn’t been paying attention.
There’s often an underlying fear in brands and businesses to not voice an opinion for fear it will cause conflict with audiences. What advice do you have for social media managers who are trying to navigate these waters?
Firstly, these conversations shouldn’t only be popping up on the social media level - these are organisation-wide calls, and the responsibility should be shared by senior decision makers.
Secondly, know your brand, how it works and what it stands for - that might mean having uncomfortable conversations with stakeholders, asking difficult questions about your product or service and how you plan to address any need for improvements.
Finally, it’s a risk assessment. What do you lose by staying silent? What is the potential upside in voicing an opinion that is backed up by your brand’s values and track record? Audience reaction on social media is often unpredictable regardless of how considered a brand’s position is — the most important thing is for any opinion voiced to be sincere, sensitive and solidly based in your values and practice.
If your customers, clients, participants, members or community have been considerably affected then the opinion of your organisation should also reflect their concerns.
"Know your brand, how it works and what it stands for - that might mean having uncomfortable conversations with stakeholders, asking difficult questions about your product or service and how you plan to address any need for improvements."