Recently, an article was published on TechCrunch, featuring BuzzFeed's evolving Distributed Media strategy. The premise is to have users consume the content not just on the BuzzFeed site.
"On a simple level, that leads to a different publishing process, where there’s a core team of people making content, but they’ll publish that content to different places — sometimes to the web, sometimes to BuzzFeed’s app, and sometimes to distributed platforms like YouTube and Facebook," says BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti.
Content consumption is undeniably shifting towards large social media platforms that play a big role in getting users to discover new content. Where have you discovered news about the Nepal Earthquake? Very likely it was on Facebook or Twitter. Such is the modern reality of content discovery. A tweet that goes viral is exponentially easier to produce than a news article that is accompanied by relevant pictures and has to go through editorial staff. As a result, social platforms continue beating traditional large publishers and getting the information delivered faster and at a scale not even imaginable to their email list or print distribution.
So does this indicate that the future of publishing (and brand publishing for that matter) means creation of content across multiple platforms? Over the last couple of years, there have been cases where publishers actually chose to shut down their websites and move to a platform like Facebook to focus on building and maintaining an audience there. Did they rush into it without giving sufficient time for social platforms to mature?
Last week, Facebook announced changes in how they prioritize content from friends on the newsfeed. What this means for publishers on Facebook is that their posts will get a significantly lower reach with new audiences. This is very bad news if you are looking to actively reach new customers or readers. But frankly, these changes are expected. After all, social platforms like Facebook have a duty to their shareholders to grow revenue. That revenue comes from brands and publishers looking to reach new audiences. With the decreasing organic reach of every post, paid content amplification becomes almost inevitable.
Now here is the question: would investing in building an audience on your property be a more sustainable long-term strategy? We think so. Perhaps, if a brand approaches BuzzFeed to produce custom content and then amplify it across various channels, it makes sense, but as more brands look to bring audiences closer by building content hubs, this may not be the strategy for most publishers and brands for two reasons:
- Fragmentation of data across channels. This makes it difficult to compare the impact of content across channels. Is one impression on Facebook the same thing as one impression on Twitter? Definitely not. But how does it measure up? I doubt many marketers can answer that question.
- Absence of revenue from Distributed Media approach. That's the sad reality of not being Facebook. You can have an absolutely massive presence on Facebook (think HONY), but unless you have a secondary monetization strategy besides great content (Humans of New York sells books with photos), you will not see a dime from Facebook users being on your page.
BuzzFeed is an exception. What other publisher can raise $50M and build a technology such as BuzzFeed's Pound to measure virality of the sponsored content? We think that the Distributed Media approach can work for exceptionally large publishers, but it's a dead end for medium and small guys.