Marketing Industry Divided on the Complicated Relationship Between Facebook & Traditional News

At AMI we love a healthy debate.

In late February, tensions arose around whether social media giants like Facebook should be forced to pay publishers for the content shared across its platform under the government’s proposed ‘media bargaining code’. The move initially prompted Facebook to implement a widespread news media ban that was shortly after retracted.

For years publishers have argued tech companies are taking revenue by hosting links to articles on their platforms with display ads alongside. However, social platforms argue that people visit sites for a range of reasons, not just to be kept informed on current events, and they actually help by sending the public the media’s way.

For the public, scrolling through Facebook’s newsfeed is a common way to find news and access news content. However, Facebook holds strong that its platform is a social one and news content makes up a small percentage of what people see in their newsfeed.

With that in mind, AMI reached out to its large community of marketing professionals to gain insight into the complicated relationship between traditional news and social and search engines. Here’s what they had to say.

There was a largely balanced view when it came to whether Facebook and Google should be forced into commercial agreements with media companies.

Those against the move argued it was the publishing house’s responsibility to devise a process to financially capitalise on the flow of news from their owned platforms outwards, and that this type of governmental coercion is neither logical nor appropriate.

Additionally, it was argued media outlets are in fact using the Facebook model to actively promote its content for its own gain to increase views and generate additional revenue.

“There is a symbiotic relationship between social media or search engines and the media companies who are asking to be paid for content. Google and Facebook provide links to media sites, which in turn generate revenue for media outlets through ad gates, restricted content, and advertising (banners, in-stream video, sponsored content etc.). Both parties have generated revenue from this relationship. Google and Facebook have seen engagement improvements and revenue from advertising, and media outlets have seen revenue plus a likely expansion of users, who previously wouldn’t have visited the outlet”, commented a respondent.

Support for Australian journalism, concerns of misinformation and a rise in conspiracy theories were prominent and consistent arguments for commercial agreements.

“If a company creates a product then any organisation who wishes to use or leverage this product for their own commercial benefit should pay for the right to do so”, summarised one respondent, while another remarked “journalism is a profession, and writing is a skill and artform. Everyone should be recognised and paid for use of their work and protected from copyright and IP infringement.”

When the marketing industry was asked if Facebook could sustain its success in Australia had it continued to prevent the access of news on its platform, 75 per cent agreed it could but there may be a shift in behaviour around how people interact with the platform. Despite some knocks to its brand persona and younger audiences embracing alternative social platforms to engage socially (e.g., TikTok), it is believed the public still rely on Facebook to bridge the social gap between family and friends – particularly during periods of isolation when the world battles COVID-19.

In summary, the results and reasonings were compelling, with a robust debate representing both sides of the discussion. While there were too many wonderful opinions to share in one article, a few anonymous extracts ‘for and against’ can be found below:

  • “Let’s remember Facebook doesn’t create its own content, it’s a free, social sharing platform that allows its members to share information relevant to themselves”.
  • “If news was removed from Facebook, there would likely be new players to take its place, and life goes on. However somewhat optimistically, I hope we collectively realise the dangers of allowing a single platform to become a source of truth in our worlds”.
  • “Prepare for a less educated general public”.
  • “Polarisation and misinformation existed long before the ban was discussed and will continue long after it. An optimistic view would see Facebook feeds occupied by an increased share of genuinely social content (from family and friends).  Perhaps a more realistic view however, would see an increase in the share of a users’ feed occupied by ads making the platform more profitable (rather than less)”.
  • “If social platforms stopped sharing news, we should see a transition in marketing strategies and cash investment in advertising. It would be more prevalent for some brands to return to television advertising – the mediums for advertising will definitely change. The amount of time people spend on Facebook as a platform will decrease because news is being sourced from other providers”.
  • “News companies need to pivot, not current social media businesses”.
  • “It goes back to the notion of being mindful not to rely on ‘borrowed land’. There has always been the potential for the tech giants that we’ve come to rely on to do something like this. I think we (and the world) have learnt an important lesson, and many will be dusting off the social media strategy and reviewing how they acquire and nurture their customers / community”.
  • “’Old’ news platforms will need to innovate and not rely on generating outrage on social media to drive clicks. Perhaps news platforms will move more to Twitter”.

The team at AMI would like to thank all who participated in the survey.

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