We need to talk about Facebook, its mass media model, Medium and the comeback of RSS.
This is a long read. I expect you to bear with me and please leave your comments below. It is really important for me to get feedback on the two main issues treated in this text.
The first thing is about Facebook and why we should get out of that space
Even though Facebook is supposed to be a social place, its model is identical to the one we are used to see on mass media. Facebook operates within the same logic. The mass media logic. The model in witch only by paying we can get our message spread and have our audience reached. The mass media logic is based upon finance power. Those with more money can grab the best spots in the best TV, printed media or radio stations time slots and reach their audience. On Facebook, those with money can make their posts reach their audience. This is bad and not what we expected about social media.
When we (as a society) discovered social media, we saw that we really did not need that mass media model at all. We – brands and the people (pun intended) – could reach our audiences using social media and money power didn’t seem to be as determinant as before when talking about efficiency in our communication initiatives. All we needed was to grab the attention of those who are in the process of finding a solution we have and offer. This is clear as cristal when we read the ZMOT book and also when we take a look at what Vanessa Fox has to say. We are all in a lot of parallel processes of finding solutions to our day to day problems. We are constantly looking for information, news, products, you name it.
And when we discovered that social media could be very useful for us as individuals and also for our brands, the gates of heaven opened to us all. The mass media logic where the audience attention struggle was a zero-sum game was finally overridden. We begun to understand that we did not need (as brands) to monopolize a given medium nor a mass media channel to talk to a large number of people only to reach a handful that were really interested on our products or in the process of finding a solution we could provide.
With social media we begun to understand that the principles of one to one marketing presented by Peppers & Rogers in the 1980s (and others, of course since the term relationship marketing began to rise in the 1970s) could become a reality. We were beginning to live in the bright age of social media. The Cluetrain Manifesto paved a way and Seth Godin helped to open the eyes of those in charge of taking care of brands communications efforts. Of course, later on the guys at HubSpot reheated these concepts and “inbound marketing” was born.
These are very interesting and beautiful principles. We can act (both as brands and as individuals) in a more democratic way with social media. We all can be solution providers and seek for solutions to our problems via social media. This can happen in a peer to peer way (individuals looking for solutions that other individuals offer via content, services or tangible products) or be brands providing information, services or tangible products anyone could be in the process of searching for.
With social media, mainly blogs, this was a reality. Kevin Kelly showed it to us when describing the benefits of social media in 2005. We could act as information providers of a certain type of specific content news outlets were not interested on investing to provide. With social media, we could do it.
And then came Facebook.
By the time Facebook rose as a platform, people were struggling with the apparent complexity of RSS feeds. We were experiencing a boom of multimedia content and, in spite of the solution provided by RSS feeds and aggregators, it was a struggle for most of us. Facebook came to be a solution for this. Better than Twitter because there were no character limits and no media restrictions. It was (still is, in fact) promised to be a place where you can have it all. Beautiful. In theory.
As brands and individuals rushed to this nice place called Facebook we all became rapidly overwhelmed with content. It was clutter all over again. It was madness. People and brands shouting all over our newsfeed fighting for our attention.
Of course Facebook found the perfect solution for that. Organic reach would be lowered down so brands who want to reach the majority of the audience they fought so hard to build, could only be reached when Facebook got their money. Pay to reach. The very same logic we are used to see in mass media. This solution is considered perfect here because it is the perfect solution for providing money to the platform.
Facebook dismantle the disintermediation envisioned by Dave Winer in 2005. It is yet another middle man.
In a sense, this summarizes Facebook: we all work for Mark Zuckerberg. On one hand, people using it every day tell Facebook about their preferences via clicks and engagement metrics. It is the perfect illustration of the “the machine is us/ing us” theme, remember? On the other hand, brands pouring content on the platform struggling to get more followers and build a greater audience are also working for facebook. And they also pay big bucks to get Facebook let them reach a large portion of their sweat earned audience. It is a win-win game. Only for Facebook, of course.
It is easy for anyone involved with any brand communications efforts to see this. And, on the consumer side, there’s always the filter bubble question. Facebook gladly helps inflating this bubble in order to provide people with what they (Facebook, of course) consider a good experience, ignoring what could be good for the people.
Since we are note all receiving a paycheck from Facebook every week or month, we need to get out of there. I have no other way to say this: Facebook is evil. It is bad for us as individuals, and worse for us as brands. As soon we get passed this and let go of Facebook, we will be in a better way.
It is not clever for us, as individuals, to let someone else decide what we can or cannot see. This is what mass media have always done and it is what Facebook does. As brands it is not clever to invest so much money on content and everything else to build an audience that we can not reach because the platform controls this via algorithm.
The latest news about Facebook is even scarier. The company is trying to act as the intermediate also in financial terms between users and content (http://adage.com/article/digital/facebook-s-subscription-plan-publishers-hope/309819/). This could only end badly for content producers (big or small) as they give up control of the eventual billing process to users web adopting a paywall.
What is the solution, then?
We need to understand that no good solution for us can come when we give up control and a big company assumes it. We need to regain control. Even if people love to shout that RSS is dead (Ryan Holiday explained this in a simple way in his “trust me I’m lying” book), it is a very live and useful tool.
Today we use Facebook as a way to attract people and put them on the top of a marketing funnel. We only need that place in order to get people to our website and then begin communicating with them. We need to understand that Facebook is not necessary in this equation. We can use other kind of paid media (Adwords) or, recommended: our websites and the content we publish there. After all, everyone is searching for something all day. Every day.
We have to fully use our websites again. Both as business and as content platforms. RSS is not dead. Every publishing platform generates an RSS feed for content distribution. We can use this to make the change.
A proposal for a content distribution tool for WordPress sites
One thing we can all agree on is that a great number of sites use WordPress as a publishing platform. It is said that nearly 30% of the web is powered by WordPress. A lot of websites use this publishing tool. I think it is a great tool because it gives the publisher full control of the site (when using the .org version). WordPress has enormous personalization capabilities and it’s extensive list of plugins and community is great. It is also open source, witch is awesome and – as said – gives publishers complete control.
Lately WordPress have been losing market share due to the adoption of Medium. One thing I have noticed about Medium is that people love to discover new stuff to read based on the platform recommendations. Publishers tend to like it because of the ease of use, but mainly because what they write can be found by people based on this recommendation system set up on Medium. But Medium is also a closed platform that does not give control to publishers. It is not open source and not customizable nor extensible.
Medium recommendation system is based on content and – mainly – tags. When you publish a piece of content on Medium, it is highly recommended that you choose up to five tags or keywords that will help users / readers locate your content and. – of course – recommend your content based on other stuff that people are reading. This is interesting because it is different from what we have on WordPress. In WordPress sites we (publishers) choose what to recommend to our readers based on our affinity with the recommended site. Link lists are manually built and mostly does not represent user / reader interest. They represent publisher affinity. Of course there are plugins that recommend further reads within our own sit to our readers. But it is not about this that I am talking about. I guess you are aware of this right now. This kind of plugin that aims to keep the reader on our site indefinitely operates in the same mass media logic that the more, the better. As I have said before, we need to rethink this.
Medium lacks a ton of features WordPress has. But the only feature Medium has that WordPress lacks is this: reading recommendations based on content. We can combine RSS feeds and the plugin logic that we have on WordPress to enable this. What if we could enable further reading on other sites that could be relevant to our readers based on the same medium system (keywords)?
I think this could be very positive for both publishers and users. This could probably free publishers from platforms such as Facebook and Medium. This could also enhance the experience for users / readers because will potentially provide good content in a much larger network than the one there is on Medium.
As I am no developer, I can only imagine this could be done via scraping the RSS feeds of a lot of sites that ping when they publish new content using WordPress. I would love to see this happen and I think this could be really helpful to free us from platforms like Facebook. I suppose advertisers could benefit from this as well because more relevant content could be found to associate ads and new advertisement platforms could be brought up based on this.
So, if you have anything to talk about this, please leave a comment. If you think this can be done, let me know how can I help you on making this become a reality. If you want to discuss about the need for us all to abandon platforms like Facebook, I am here to talk. Let’s chat!
GILMOR, Dan. We The Media: Grassroots Journalism By the People, For the People. O’Reilly Media, 2006
GODIN, Seth. Permission marketing: Turning strangers into friends and friends into customers. Simon and Schuster, 1999.
HALLIGAN, Brian; SHAH, Dharmesh. Inbound marketing: get found using Google, social media, and blogs. John Wiley & Sons, 2009
HOLIDAY, Ryan. Trust me, i’m lying: confessions of a media manipulator. Penguin, 2013.
KELLY, Kevin. We are the web. Wired Magazine, 2006
LECINKSI, Jim. Winning the zero moment of truth. Zero Moment of Truth, 2011.
PEPPERS, Don; ROGERS, Martha. A new marketing paradigm: Share of customer, not market share. Journal of Service Theory and Practice, v. 5, n. 3, p. 48, 1995.