Last week Meta announced that it would cut funding for news publishers on content that was pushed on the News Tab of the Facebook platform. The company introduced the program in 2019 as it enhanced efforts to partner with news media prior to the 2020 election. The Meta News Publisher funding program offered a way for newsrooms around the globe to monetize news content on Facebook, with funding coming directly from the platform and through advertising from incoming traffic.
Distancing from controversial news headlines and cutting costs…
…are likely the primary motivators for this move. Meta appears to be distancing itself from the increasingly unpopular image it has earned as a ‘news distributor’ and ‘fact checker.’ As it aligns its goals with independent content creators — aka those fueling the Creator Economy, which is estimated to generate $104.2 billion in 2022 — Meta decided to cut funding on the portion of the program that rewarded professional newsrooms directly.
“A lot has changed since we signed deals three years ago to test bringing additional news links to Facebook News in the U.S.. Most people do not come to Facebook for news. As a business, it doesn’t make sense to over-invest in areas that don’t align with user preferences,” wrote a spokesperson for Meta in a statement. Newsrooms can still earn traffic-based advertising revenue from content boosted on Facebook’s News Tab feature.
And yet, Facebook is one of the most popular news sources in the USA (even if they don’t want to admit it).
Futuri’s nationwide audience research and social media monitoring confirms that people do actually use Facebook to consume and share news. In fact, hyperlocal news is shared more on Facebook and Instagram than any other platform. At the same time, according to our most recent research study conducted in collaboration with SmithGeiger, it is among the least trusted news sources despite being the most used.
Nonetheless, Meta intends to shift its focus away from funneling traffic to mainstream media news platforms, instead driving traffic to content creators making native content for the Facebook app. Media companies who have come to depend on Meta’s platforms for a large percentage of their inbound traffic are going to see a more urgent need to invest in creating compelling content and developing new traffic sources for their own platforms.
The creator economy, and what it means for media
With a decline in media continuing into the expansion of the creator economy, tools that allow newsrooms and media companies to mimic the strategy that content creators have developed will be essential in the coming years. Additionally, after the 2020 election debacle, it’s no surprise that social media companies will attempt to distance themselves from political ties ahead of important elections in the coming years.
Apps like TikTok and Twitter have grown in popularity for content creators who post their content natively on the apps, and Meta has been evident in its attempt to compete with TikTok in recent months after bringing significant changes to Instagram. (Changes that, incidentally, incited celebrity backlash, including a post that Kylie Jenner re-shared that said, “MAKE INSTAGRAM INSTAGRAM AGAIN. (stop trying to be tiktok i just want to see cute photos of my friends). SINCERELY, EVERYONE”.)
Other privacy-related changes to the data landscape have triggered more interest in the creator economy from d2c companies in recent months. With fewer options around data and social media advertising and more content creators eager to advertise on behalf of these companies, content creation has only expanded across the board. In the media industry, this will mean that content creators and social media platforms will only become bigger, more important competitors in the coming years—unless media companies and newsrooms see those content creators as opportunity rather than competition. (At my company, Futuri, we delve into this topic in our webinar What Broadcasters Can Learn From Social Content Creators.)
AI for content discovery and creation (TopicPulse) just got more important.
Futuri’s TopicPulse, the AI-driven story discovery and social content system that monitors Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more than 250,000 other sources of news and information to deliver demo-specific insights on trending stories, become more important in the face of these Meta changes. While Facebook’s News Tab will still serve as a segue into news content and media websites, it will no longer prioritize newsroom content. Without funding or traffic driven from prioritized placement in the News tab, it becomes that much more critical for newsrooms to harness technology to ensure the content they produce is relevant to their audience — an audience that is increasingly consuming content developed by independent content creators.
Meta also recently announced it will sunset its CrowdTangle tool, which gave newsrooms and media companies the ability to track trending topics on social media. CrowdTangle had its flaws — while free to use, it required journalists to use a personal Facebook account to access it, and it monitored a relatively limited set of social media data — but it was still relied on by many newsrooms to give them some level of insight into audience data that journalists used as an editorial tool.
Now, real (organic) traffic will drive news media traffic more than boosted (paid) traffic.
A benefit to Meta’s change is that there will likely be more transparency on what content users are actually interested in. With a financial incentive to boost newsroom content, Facebook’s algorithm boosted topics that were relevant to its media partners — perhaps even if those topics weren’t relevant to the audience. With that factor removed, users may naturally gravitate toward topics that are of interest to them rather than what Facebook’s media partners are suggesting.
Social media is not going to become less important to broadcasters and media companies in the future just because those platforms are shifting away from boosting their content. With the rise of the creator economy, which is rooted deeply in social media, these platforms become more important. Media companies that see social media as a real editorial tool and wise way to reach and retain audiences are well-positioned to thrive in this changing landscape, and tools like TopicPulse are vital in that process. Social media platforms will continue to change, but newsrooms can work around these changes by shifting their strategies and adjusting with the tools available to them.