The weekend update: Facebook, Medium and the #hashtag

Well, hasn’t it been a busy week?

We’ve finally learned a bit more about what’s happening at Facebook as a result of their Journalism Project, Biz Stone took to Medium to remind us this week that – #funfact – the Hashtag is now a decade old and , speaking of that blogging platform, big changes there too as they announced a new operating strategy that sees them moving towards a membership model to better secure their financial position.

First up: [more] changes at Facebook for publishers

Twenty years ago when people talked about the future of journalism, it’s fair to say that social media platforms weren’t generally part of the discussion.

In July, the number of Facebook users crossed the billion mark. A report out this week from Recode revealed (not unsurprisingly) that Americans spend 57% of their ‘digital media consumption’ time in apps, and 81% of users use Facebook. If news is being digitized, which of course it is, what’s happening in the Silicon Valley HQs matters to anyone with an interest in the news, as much as one might will it otherwise.

Sure, other platforms like Instagram and Snapchat are proving more appealing to a younger demographic (indeed a recent report said Facebook had lost 3.4% of its 12-17  year old user base to those more youthful social media platforms). But with those kind of numbers behind it, for the time being, Facebook (and what news outlets do with Facebook) matters.

However idealistic you want to be, however wedded you are to the idea of print, the chances are that Facebook – and other emerging social media and networking sites – form at least a part of your distribution strategy.

So, let’s start with subscriptions…

Yes, why not? In June, Facebook confirmed it had been developing a new way for publishers to monetize their content via the platform. What this means in practice is that it will apply to articles which appear through its Instant Articles section of the platform. Once a user has read a given number of articles from a single publisher they’ll be redirected to that publishers’ paywall, much like you would at any other paywall-operated site, like The Washington Post or Financial Times.

Why now?

Well, that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? Some look favorably on the announcement as a final admission that Facebook is starting to take its role  as publisher a little more seriously (even if that role may have been an unintentional consequence of Facebook’s success). The more cynical may rightly point to a  correlation between this idea and the fact that publishers had been skeptical of Instant Articles because of its poor monetization.

What’s this I hear about Logos, then?

Aha. If you cast your mind back a month or so ago, there was a report from Reuters Institute revealing that “people are more likely to remember the platform where they found the content (e.g. Facebook), rather than the news brand that created the content”. These findings are understandably troubling for publishers. Facebook’s solution is to display the publisher’s logo more prominently on news articles. It’s a move that’s sure to be welcomed by publishers, but it remains to be seen if it’s anything more than a token gesture: if users have fundamentally shifted their consumption behaviour we may not see much of a change from the cry “I found this really interesting article on Facebook…”

#Hashtags

It was a user-based suggestion that triggered the development of the hashtag, and it’s perhaps significant that one of the most important organisational news devices of the last decade was conceived in this manner. Hashtags have been instrumental in connecting the world during this social media-driven era, but it’s their ability to connect users with the exact content they are seeking at the moment they are seeking it that’s perhaps one of its most significant achievements. Whether you’re looking for information about #BlackLivesMatter, #Brexit or #ACupForBen, the hashtag has been able to bring users together around shared interests, geography be damned.

#HappyBirthday

And, on another platform, not a million miles away… Medium makes membership changes

From one Ev Williams/ Biz Stone creation to another:

Earlier in the year Medium announced it was undergoing that wonderfully euphemistic process of ‘restructuring’ and last week the grand reveal proved that this mark #2 version is indeed organized around the idea of a membership system, with additional content available for members to view (free access allows up to 3 of these articles to be viewed per month). In addition paid-up members can ‘clap’ articles (a term that feels clunky, unless – much like the Facebook ‘Like’ – you somehow articulate it wrapped with quotation marks), and authors will be paid according to how much positive feedback they receive in the manner.

The idea seems predicated on the belief that the Medium demographic somehow represent a higher caliber of readers: people who appreciate ‘good writing’ over easy-pickings and clickable news stories. Perhaps this is the case. In any case it will be interesting to watch what happens in the coming months as the initiative rolls out.

So, what can take from all this stuff, then?

Simple, really. Technology is refining the way news travels, but the content it transports must be worth transporting in the first place.

Shifting behavior of news consumption makes it difficult to get a handle on how to deliver content most effectively, a problem made more complex by the real-world need to make news financially sustainable.Medium, Facebook and Twitter – to name just three – make it possible to reach audiences in increasingly specific and targeted ways, and whether you’re trying to reach a readership united by geography or social issue, the invitation to read is only one part of the puzzle: the content itself must continue to be worthy to do so.

As ever we’re keeping a keen eye on how this tech is working out, all the while trying to think of the best hashtag for the process… We’ll have to keep you posted on that one.

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