Paper: The Latest Step In Facebook’s Native Ad Master Plan

On Monday, Facebook introduced Paper, a ‘social newspaper’ app that feels like Flipboard and Facebook had a beautiful love child raised and nurtured by Apple. The internet is praising Paper like it just won the Super Bowl, while speculating about the motives behind it.

Paper isn’t about Facebook trying to screw publishers out of ad revenue, like during the 2011 summer of social readers. Nor is it the social kingpin’s midlife crisis, unveiled on the eve of its tenth birthday.

It’s much more than that. Paper is Facebook’s latest (and smartest) move towards controlling the flow of content, and all the native ad dollars that go with it.

In Paper, you consume full-screen, photo-rich articles through an elegant interface, organized by categories like Tech, Headlines, Lol, and Ideas. It uses a combination of algorithm and human curation, while also providing access Facebook’s core social functionality — News Feed, messaging, commenting, status updates and notifications — in a format far superior (and less obtrusive) than before. As many have said, it’s what Facebook would look like if it had been built in 2014.

Paper is the first of several standalone mobile experiences that are expected to come out of Facebook Creative Labs, the social platform’s ‘intrapreneur’ incubator. And it’s a calculated step in Facebook’s master plan to dominate the native ad landscape.

Want to place a native ad in someone’s social media feed? Facebook’s got you covered. Want to place a sponsored post in their go-to newspaper? If Paper takes off as expected, Facebook will have that covered, too.

Facebook has been moving in this direction for months, juicing their algorithm to favor publishers and creating Godzilla article units that dominate the Newsfeed. It’s easy to see why Facebook is making moves to control the flow of content on the web: social-referral traffic is becoming as important as search-referral traffic was a decade ago. Facebook — already with a Google-sized lead — wanted to cement their first-place standing.

After all, publishers and brands are hungry and willing to pay good money for social traffic, and they’re going to pump money into the platform that drives the most visits and shares. Right now, that’s Facebook, and Paper will only help them grow that lead. “As much of this content is links, Paper will drive traffic to publishers’ sites,” a Facebook rep told Digiday.

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If users embrace Paper as a way to consume content, it’ll solve a big problem that Facebook has had with their core product: as they’ve made moves to widen their social traffic lead, articles from positivity farms like UpWorthy and EliteDaily, or gossip news sites like Gawker, have been surfacing at an obscene rate. No one actually wants to read that much EliteDaily (or that many Gawker articles trashing EliteDaily) — it’s just that those sites have temporarily gamed the system with irresistible click-bait headlines. Paper, on the other hand, surfaces the best of the millions of articles shared by publishers on the site each day.

Ultimately, this is good news for brand publishers.

Attracting a large audience for their content is brand publishers’ biggest problem, and “native ads” on Facebook are one of the best solutions, capable of setting off a wildfire of social media traffic. If Paper takes off, Facebook’s referral power will only increase. No one yet knows what native ads will look like on Paper, but they’ll surely come into play. That’ll leave Facebook as a brand-friendly St. Peter, controlling the content consumption gate, happy to give cash-rich brand publishers everything they’ve ever dreamed or wanted.

What’s the deal with the Content Strategist? At Contently, storytelling is the only marketing we do, and it works wonders. It could for you, too. Learn more.

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