One of the biggest trends in content marketing over the past couple years has been a move away from the open web to the closed walls of platforms. That’s a lot of jargon packed into one sentence, so let me break down what that means.
Previously, publishers would post content on a website and then push out a link to distribution platforms like Facebook or Twitter. But now, those platforms don’t want to be middlemen for links; they want to host the content directly.
We’ve seen this change with Facebook Instant Articles, Google AMP, and Snapchat’s Discover, each of which, to varying degrees, lets publishers run content right on the platform. The same switch has also happened in digital video, thanks to Facebook’s native video player (Instagram and Twitter recently allowed users to host videos natively in the platform as well).
The switch has huge consequences on the power dynamics of the publishing world. If you click an Instant Articles link instead of a referral link, Facebook has more control over the experience and data collection.
This trend doesn’t just affect journalistic publishers like The New York Times or BuzzFeed. If a brand produces an infographic, it needs to know the nuances of different publishing platforms, especially as more people adapt to the incredibly fast speeds and superior user experience of Instant Articles and Google AMP.
It’s more important than ever to understand how content flows across the digital landscape. Let’s start with Facebook.
Facebook beefs up its pages
When people use the cliché that Facebook is “eating the internet,” they’re really saying that Facebook, with its vast portfolio of apps, is in many ways recreating the open web within its own walls. The native video player (designed to kill YouTube), Instant Articles (built to colonize publishing), and new marketplace tab (modeled to recreate Craigslist) are just a few examples. Now, an under-the-radar change is reshaping one of Facebook’s oldest features: Pages.
As I covered in my Facebook e-book, Pages are the glue that holds Facebook’s News Feed together. It’s where companies and people pump out their content. Now, Facebook is positioning Pages as a replacement for the open web homepage.
According to an October 19 press release, Facebook offers four new features for Pages. You can order food, request an appointment, get a quote, and buy tickets through a company’s Facebook Page.
It’s a minor but important adjustment. Pages can now perform core sales functions for companies, particularly small businesses. Instead of sending a user through a maze of clicks from your company profile, you can put the CTA right at the top of your page.
It’s safe to assume that this is just a sign of things to come from Pages, especially given the financial upside of e-commerce.
It’s also worth noting that the appointment CTA works through Facebook Messenger, something that the company has talked up repeatedly as one of the most valuable business functions of the app. Facebook wants consumers to browse, buy, and chat with businesses through its kingdom of apps, instead of calling a company or visiting a brand’s website.
Pinterest jumps on the bandwagon
Pinterest has always been more of a niche player when it comes to content distribution, due to its smaller user base (100 million) and specialty appeal (fashion, home decor, and so on). But it’s now following the lead of the big players and building a native media channel for brands and publishers, according to a report from Ad Age. The feature is still in its early stages, though publishers will apparently be able to run a variety of media types while Pinterest places ads against the content.
Pinterest president Tim Kendall is clearly on board with the move away from owned sites, if an interview with Ad Age is any indication: “I think it is pretty clear that the world of the value being the click to your mobile website is going to eventually go away. […] What media partners want is for their media to be consumed, and I think they are open to exploring where and how that media gets consumed, whether it is on their website or within a partner app.”
The announcement comes shortly after Pinterest’s introduction of video ads, which explains a lot of this thought process. There wasn’t really a section on the platform suited for video before, but clips will presumably fit in seamlessly on the native media channel.
For brands, the calculus here is similar to publishing natively on other platforms: You may see more eyeballs, but you also risk losing control over the user experience and the data you can collect, analyze, and act on. Additionally, Pinterest’s e-commerce opportunities likely aren’t as sophisticated as what you can do on a custom website. For publishers, deciding whether to jump on the natively hosted platform depends more on whether Pinterest will share ad revenues, which is unclear thus far.
Snapchat as TV
For brands engaged in content marketing, Snapchat may be the hardest platform to penetrate. Unlike Facebook—which wants user attention of any kind and can make money on boosted, targeted content—Snapchat has always funneled brands into old-school advertising buys.
The platform’s latest move confirms that Snapchat hopes to replicate TV’s advertising model for the mobile world. Snapchat used to share advertising revenue with partners on its native Discover platform, but the company now sells sponsors flat licensing fees in exchange for complete control over advertising sales.
As others have noted, the model is an exact replica of how TV content licensing works. It’s unclear whether this is a blessing or a curse for publishers, who, depending on their success, may either hate or love the fact that they don’t need to chase clicks and sell their own ad space.
Snapchat has shown it is only interested in working with the biggest brands—namely, the NFL—on its Discover platform. Meanwhile, the only ads that run on the platform are either traditional, TV-like spots or ads made specifically for Snapchat.
Put simply, Snapchat is going in a completely different direction than platforms like Facebook or Twitter. For any brands still trying to make content work on Snapchat, it may be time to give up and look elsewhere.