Why Media Brands are Terrified of Facebook

fb-collective“I think we’re going to see a lot of old media brands do a lot of embarrassing things in an effort to drive clicks back to their websites from Facebook.”

There’s no escaping the truth: Facebook had an epic year, with revenue up 40% in Q4, and ~33% gains on their stock over 2014 according to Casey Newton and Nilay Patel writing in The Verge.

And that has media brands very, very nervous, with good reason.

“If you are a media company looking to grow, you have to contend with the fact that the biggest source of new eyeballs is Facebook, and that means you kind of have to do what Facebook says,” writes Patel.

For many brands, Patel believes, that translates into creating “terrible garbage designed to go viral.”

For brand that don’t take this route (and Patel is optimistic enough to believe that many brands will still publish content with editorial integrity and relevance), it’s tough sledding out there.

“There are so many publications fighting for attention inside Facebook that it often feels like we’re seeing a random sampling of all of them,” Newton notes. “How will publications retain their identities when their stories are all islands in the stream — and when traffic pressures mean that many of them are covering a much broader range of subjects than they might otherwise choose to?”

“I think we’re going to see a lot of old media brands do a lot of embarrassing things in an effort to drive clicks back to their websites from Facebook,” Patel answers.

Both agree that Zuckerberg shoulders a huge responsibility with all this power over brands. Will he opt to keep people well-informed about the larger world? Or will the Facebook audience be spoon fed one agenda? Will Instant Articles give Zuckerberg the final push into owning the news?

Given his propensity to dog-food it, there’s a lot of skepticism out there, as noted by Dillon Baker on Contently. He references Zuckerberg’s infamous response in his Town Hall Q&A to Stephen Hawking, who asked which big questions in science people would like to see answered.

Zuckerberg turned it back around and pondered “whether there is a fundamental mathematical law underlying human social relationships that governs the balance of who and what we all care about. I bet there is.”

Yikes. Or as Baker put it, “That’s some evil genius stuff right there. If Facebook solves the underlying formula of human relationships, it’s time to bow down and simply accept our social media overlords. Honestly, the answer sent a chill down my moderately Luddite spine—but that wasn’t the first time I’d found Zuckerberg and Facebook frightening.”

I’ve often joked that Facebook is just a gigantic grad school project, and they are all watching us behind the two-way mirror. It’s no joke anymore. The power Facebook and Apple are amassing is immense.

Meanwhile, publishers struggle to maintain their autonomy and access to their reader data, as Baker points out, as they give away control for the sake of eyes.

In the Faustian bargain laying on the table, publishers would be wise to consider their alternatives before buying in.