Three Facebooks: One Future

They announced a lot of interesting stuff at F8 2016. Interesting, exciting stuff. I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to get into the details on that from Facebook’s F8 Day 1 post.

But after a day I spent focused primarily on the “Media” track of the conference, it’s now pretty obvious to me that there are three “Facebooks”, unwinding and evolving over the next 12–18 months. Here’s why that matters.

#1. News Feed + Instant Articles
Will continue to be designed for people sharing anything with anyone else, and for media publishing content to the masses using Instant Articles to allow for content loading speed on even the slowest of devices (and thus de facto internationalization).

After a shaky start, Facebook has made huge in-roads into monetization on Instant Articles to placate the needs of modern media organizations. But, nonetheless, Instant Articles is another closed system — mobile first, and optimized as Facebook sees fit.

Prediction: Use of IA will eventually be mandatory for content to rank anywhere in News Feed. This will reduce the spammers and gamers over time (How? Simple. Facebook needs to approve your IA application to turn it on).

This SHOULD make the News Feed experience better for most people, but could present ethical questions about controlling of the news by a single source.

#2. Messenger
Designed first for human to human interactions (you know, like chat), but increasingly for human to robot interactions for organizations to display when humans are too expensive for the tasks they are asked to do. And, make no mistake, Messenger is growing fast.

Prediction: People will build lots of bad robots before they build good ones.For isolated cases of tasks that are largely mundane and repetitive, Bots will be effective. But, as we saw with Tay and Microsoft, Bots have long way to go to inspire absolute confidence in critical tasks (especially customer centric ones) with little human control (other than what your developers can dream up). Key here — trust and ethics are more important than ever.

#3. Video
It will develop into entire new ecosystem of Facebook. Video becomes the solution for three big problems Facebook is now facing:

1. The regular News Feed is so jammed, it’s starting to fail regular users of Facebook, who just want to connect with content and have stopped sharing personal details about themselves (the hook for many people to keep coming back to Facebook at all) and even leaving less likes and comments on other friend’s content.

2. Video monetization is much higher for everyone involved — publishers, creators and Facebook themselves. Video ads fit the bill of many TV spends in creative, and (at least) it’s a more measurable equivalent(especially when it comes to concurrency of users).

3. They are free to explore more typical ways of content discovery(a new Video News Feed tab, video search, and topic level subscriptions), and build them on a clean slate not tied to the News Feed discovery mechanisms of the past.

The Live API allows an ecosystem of broadcasters, software companies and direct publishers to broadcast at scale to audiences they’ve already built on Facebook (something that brands have largely failed to build other places – see Google+ Hangouts, and using YouTube — clearly “influencers” have done much better in this regard.)

But with that, becomes the reality that everyone becomes a TV network of sorts, and a lot of publishers just aren’t ready for that. And a lot of the hardware that’s available now, or in the long term will not be adequate for professional level broadcasters to do professional level broadcasts (Facebook will claim the unedited, ad hoc nature of FB Live now allows it to be more personal. But there are limits to that.)

But let’s be clear, Facebook has placed its biggest bet since the original Desktop App platform here, and they will not go lightly into the night if it struggles. Too many people have vested interest in its success. Video will evolve over time, but it will take a few years for it to make complete sense for everyone.

Prediction: Video will work in the short-term for people who are particularly good at storytelling, and willing to think outside the box. But like every other content type before it, the implicit News Feed benefits of Video now will go away, so building beachheads within the Video tab will be critical. Having a long term plan to do that will be key.

The way forward

If you’re not a developer or someone accustomed to making videos; I’m sorry to say, it’s time to learn at least the basics of this. Cross-functional content teams, which already exist in many newsrooms, will continue to expand. You’ll need on this team subject matter experts on:

    • Video
    • Branded content
    • Editorial
    • Analytics
    • Development
  • Monetization

As a publisher, developers will need to be your best friend and you will need to build good relationships with them because with Bots, ethics and trust will matter. Your video team will evolve to make videos based off of data and topics that matter to audiences. Your analytics lead will need to translate stats to less technical folks. Editorial and creative folks will need to evolve to understand data, and make sure that data isn’t the only consideration in good content.

If this isn’t how your social / audience development team is structured and you’re a media company, I’d be concerned.

In summary, the most exciting and horrifying thing about digital media is that it continues to evolve. There’s one prediction that will never go away — a year from now, things will look completely different then they do today.

This post originally appeared on Medium.  Follow me there

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