One of the biggest arguments for owning your website, be it for your company or yourself, is the opportunity to engage and connect with readers directly, without being subject to the whims of algorithm changes by social media platforms.
As I’ve written before, with just a small tweak about a year ago, LinkedIn stopped automatically pushing posts to all of an author’s followers, which dramatically tanked the views and reach of writers on its platform.
Now, in the past few weeks alone both LinkedIn and Facebook have taken steps to vastly curtail the reach of some of their biggest users.
This post will review some of the biggest changes made recently by social media platforms that collectively reinforce the importance of owning your own site (or distribution channel).
LinkedIn Restricts Connections of Super-Users
On June 28th, the newly Microsoft-owned LinkedIn unilaterally reduced the connections of its most connected users to the stated limit of 30,000.
Steven Burda – who in 2013 received national press as LinkedIn’s most-connected user – had his list of first-tier connections culled from 160,000 to 30,000 without any warning. He writes about it (via LinkedIn, naturally) here.
My own view is that having more than 30,000 connections is ridiculous, as no one can actually know and keep up with that many people in real life – at that point your simply collecting email addresses and “connections” for other sales purposes, which isn’t LinkedIn’s purpose (or best use).
Further, LinkedIn converted those 1st degree connections in excess of 30,000 to “followers,” which allows users to continue to leverage those fans through publishing on its platform.
But that LinkedIn did not warn members of the change ahead-of-time, thus allowing them to back-up the massive amount of data lost, is bad form.
Click Bait No More
Similarly, in August 2014, Facebook cracked down on blatant “clickbait” articles pushed by such platforms as Upworthy.
You know the ones:
- “He Was Found Freezing and Dying, Yet Somehow the Last Photo Made My Entire Year.” (Viral Nova)
- “Everyone Should Know What This Cop Has Done.” (Upworthy)
- “If This Video Makes You Uncomfortable, Then You Make Me Uncomfortable.” (Upworthy)
- “I’ll Never Look at This Gay Actor the Same Way Again.” (parody website Upworthy Generator)
These headlines – by appealing to emotion, deliberately omitting information, and/or specifically highlighting the last part of a listicle (“These Photos Demonstrate True Love, But The Last One Broke My Heart.”) – worked.
They worked so well that Upworthy received 8.7 million visitors in its first six months, leading Fast Company to call it “the fastest growing media site of all time.”
But the best part of the rise of Clickbait?
Parody site The Onion got in the game with Clickhole, its spin-off that pokes fun at the whole genre (ex. You Have To Check Out Edison’s Earliest Designs For The Light Bulb).
And then Facebook killed it.
Apparently threatened by the massive success of clickbait articles that drew eyeballs away from Facebook itself, the social network dramatically penalized the appearance of such headlines in users’ newsfeeds.
After Facebook’s 2014 ranking change, Upworthy’s traffic dropped nearly 50% in two months. (source)
Facebook Increases Transparency in Native Advertising
Two weeks ago, Facebook announced that it would now allow publishers to share native advertising on their home pages but require that publishers tag the advertiser in the post.
This will have two immediate effects that could kill the native advertising market:
- The reason native advertising (i.e., ads formatted to appear the same as other posts on a social media site) has worked so well is that it effectively fools readers into engagement because they don’t realize it’s an ad.
Now that posts have to be identified as ads and tagged with the actual corporate sponsor, the fear is views and click-throughs will tank.
I don’t see this is a huge problem because readers are generally savvier than you’d think. We’re mostly aware of what’s an ad versus what’s not, even if the ultimate corporate sponsor is unclear.
And the identification of branded websites has not lessened their impact:
Example 1: Energy Tomorrow.org is an amazing resource for information on alternative energy. Yet a close examination reveals it is owned and produced by the American Petroleum Institute, the primary association for U.S. oil and natural gas companies, so it’s bias is clear.
Example 2: Energy drink Red Bull takes it one step further. The homepage of Redbull.com is filled with articles on extreme sports such as windsurfing, mountain biking and skateboarding.
Red Bull has thus positioned itself as a media company that sells the adventure lifestyle when really it’s true goal is to sell the energy drink that helps facilitate that lifestyle.
That folks (obviously) know the sports articles they are reading were produced by an energy drink company does not lessen their appeal.
2. Facebook’s change now allows the sponsoring clients direct access to the metrics behind the ad.
This is by far the more damaging change.
By allowing clients direct access to exactly how many people viewed and then engaged with their ad, the PR, advertising and digital marketing firms who act as intermediaries and sell their Facebook expertise and reach now have to reveal the exact effectiveness of these ads – which will drive down prices significantly.
Clients prefer transparency – and metrics give them cover to report to their bosses so that they can better justify their advertising spends.
I saw this a year ago, when a major client chose to buy a web banner for the website of a popular industry trade publication rather than a full-page ad in their hardcopy magazine.
The reason was simple – despite the large, targeted circulation of the magazine, the banner ad came with precise metrics on reach and engagement. Greater transparency equated to an easier justification of the dollars spent.
So overall, I don’t think the identification of sponsors for native ads will affect that market too much. On the other hand, the reporting of reach and engagement metrics to sponsors could well kill the native advertising market as buyers everywhere suddenly learn that their ad was seen by far fewer eyeballs than they’d realized.
Facebook Restricts News Companies
Last week, Facebook announced through a pair of blog posts that it was changing its algorithm to prioritize posts by a user’s friends and family:
“Our top priority is keeping you connected to the people, places and things you want to be connected to — starting with the people you are friends with on Facebook. That’s why if it’s from your friends, it’s in your feed, period.” (source)
While this may seem innocuous on its face, the implications are clear: fewer posts from news organizations and company pages, including those of news organizations.
This is a huge blow not just to the likes of traditional news outlets like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times but in particular to new media organizations like Mashable, whose informative and entertaining articles litter my feed.
Pew Research reported in May that 44% of adult Americans get news from Facebook.
This number is sure to plummet under the new newsfeed change, as is referral traffic to news outlets from Facebook.
These recent changes from LinkedIn and Facebook underscore the danger of depending on any social media platform the bulk of your marketing efforts and/or referral traffic.
It’s far better to focus on building your own blog, email list, and true fanbase on a platform you control.
For further reading:
- Pew: News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2016
- Contently: 7 Ways Facebook’s Big Algorithm Change Will Affect Marketers and Publishers
- Contently: Did Facebook Just Deliver a Crushing Blow to Native Advertising?
- Businesses Grow: The 6 Scariest Words in Digital Marketing