The world’s largest social media network, Facebook is acutely aware of the fact that its relationship with publishers is – often times rocky. But, says Patrick Walker, Director of Media Partnerships for the EMEA region at Facebook, they are working hard to ameliorate this into a love affair.
Walker was interviewed by FIPP President and CEO James Hewes during the first day of the 41st FIPP World Congress in London. Walker, who was appointed by Facebook 14 months ago as Director of media partnerships for the EMEA region, has been tasked by the social network to to guide media companies’ strategies across Facebook’s products. He admits he has been working hard to answer questions about Facebook’s role in the world, the future of journalism and challenges publishers face when partnering with the social media giant.
The first and fundamental answer to publishers is that Facebook is not a (rival) publisher but a platform, ready to partner with publishers. Walker sees his role at Facebook as one in which he has to arrange these partnerships with the media industry, working with publishers, broadcasters, journalists on issues such as how to build “a symbiotic relationship” and how to help publishers monetise through the Facebook platform.
As a former news reporter who diverged into roles at several tech companies, Walker agreed with Hewes, who - during his welcome message at the congress - described Facebook as “our industry’s best friend” but also “the most challenging one”. He said this characterisation might ring true of his employer but that it is also true that Facebook is working extremely hard at building a better relationships with publishers “to help improve things”.
To this end Facebook’s Instant Articles app is already used by more than 10,000 publishers worldwide helping them to reach the Facebook audience directly for content consumption and to promote these publishers’ own websites or apps. It also offers several value propositions that can be exploited by publishers to increase revenue streams.
But Facebook doesn’t want to stop there. It wants to offer much more, Walker said. His role is now to help take the social network beyond just professionalising and scaling relationships with publishers but also listening to the concerns of partners and delivering solutions. One example is the launch of the Facebook Journalism Project in January aimed at the collaborative development of news products.
“I think we invested a lot more than that in the nature of this relationship (with publishers) in the past months since I have started. We are starting to listen more to people in the news industry and have started to develop properties to really help journalism... “
He said some early successes have been putting logos in stories on Facebook for readers to recognise the source of the news provider and opening Facebook up as a vehicle for subscriptions to accommodate news organisations whose business model are built on subscriptions as the main revenue stream.
In addition Facebook will “quite soon” trial with a number of publications around the world a new subscription model facilitated by them. This will entail a process by which Facebook users will get a number of free articles from publishers. When users want to consume more content, Facebook will provide a seamless subscription to a specific publications that will actually transact in the publication’s own website backend. In the process the publisher will not only gain revenue but also the data.
Walker said the question publishers should be asking Facebook is: “How can I get into a relationship with you where I can both support my existing business and generate new audiences and revenue?” For those who already generate revenue through Facebook, the question should be: “How can I improve those revenues and audiences?”
On the topic of data, Walker said Facebook will be trialling “interesting tools” for users to monitor their own performance on Facebook as well as other platforms such as Twitter and Instagram. This will mean that publishers will not only be able to see how successful they are in engaging users on these platforms but it will also provide a transparent way to see how Facebook as a platform itself is measured. “Insights and data are the most important things in the industry for making decisions.”
With regards to fake news, Walker said the phenomenon has been around for a very long time. The problem has become more acute in the age of social media, no matter what the motivations are, whether this be to monetise or influence a political event.
During and after the US election, Facebook made a commitment to improve technology, invest in resources and employ more people to combat fake news. This includes third party fact checking and initiatives to inform the public in ways how they can identify fake news.
“People need to know how to identify dodgy sources. And this goes for advertising as well with regards to election and news integrity. We are working to get rid of the worse of the worst.”
He referenced the recent announcement - to coincide with the German Federal elections - by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlining nine steps that Facebook would take to protect election integrity. This was an attempt to ensure Facebook is “a force for good in a democracy" and included the delivery of $100,000-worth of Russia-linked ads to government officials and investigators to prevent future government interference with elections.
Responding to the news that the chairman of the UK’s media regulator Ofcom, Dame Patricia Hodgson, has told MPs at a parliamentary hearing of the digital, culture, media and sport committee that she believes internet businesses such as Google and Facebook are in fact publishers and should face similar - and more - regulation, Walker said “we are a new type of platform”. As such the platform provides an outlet not only for publishers but all people to openly communicate. This creates an important distinction (between publishers and Facebook) because with Facebook anyone at any time can publish anything. “This does not happen in newspapers, this does not happen in broadcasting. It happens on a open network for people to share.”
He admits that if such an open post is offensive or against the Facebook policy, it can be taken down. This model, he says, is the reason why he describes Facebook as a platform rather than a publisher. He adds that trying to apply “old world and traditional methodology” to a platform such as Facebook is not only “interesting” but “a conversation that should be had”.
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