For our latest season of the Media Voices Podcast, kindly sponsored by Poool, we’ll be publishing ten episodes exploring the biggest trends of 2022 and how they affect publishers; from podcasts and newsletters to advertising, subscriptions, emerging technology and more. Our eighth episode looks at the major social media platforms, and how their relationship with publishers has fared after yet another tumultuous year.
The story which has dominated much of the latter half of the year has been Musk’s botched takeover of Twitter. Following months of will-he-won’t-he, the billionaire finally completed the $44 billion purchase of the platform in late October. Since then, he has unleashed an unprecedented amount of chaos at Twitter HQ, from mass layoffs to badly thought-through verification plans. Publishers who are reliant on Twitter – or other products like their newsletter platform Revue – are now having to face the very real prospect of there being no Twitter left by the end of 2022.
Twitter aren’t the only ones to be struggling with layoffs and mismanagement this year. Meta – the umbrella company for Facebook and Instagram – suffered the biggest one-day loss in history for a US company in February, wiping $230 billion off the value of the company. In a number of firsts, Facebook reported a drop in daily user numbers, and their first-ever drop in revenue in July. By the end of October, Meta’s shares had tumbled 24% to their lowest level in nearly four years following a ‘train wreck’ earnings report. Its bet that the metaverse will be the future is proving costly; Meta lost $9.4 billion on its metaverse unit Reality Labs, and expects to have significantly wider operating losses next year.
Meta’s rocky relationship with publishers is categorically over. As well as ending support for Instant Articles and pulling its new newsletter platform Bulletin, the company began telling news partners in the US that they no longer had plans to pay publishers for their content to run on the News Tab. Legislation looks unlikely to force any further movement on this. In response to Canada saying it would introduce an Australia-style bill to force payments to publishers, Facebook said it would simply block news content on the platform.
But as some platforms fall, others rise to take their place. TikTok has cemented its spot as the biggest platform for young people, and is expected to reach 1.8 billion users by the end of 2022. But it has yet to make any serious attempts to grapple with misinformation or data concerns that are frequently raised. Nonetheless, a growing number of publishers are exploring the platform as a way to connect with younger audiences.
This week we’re joined by social media consultant and industry analyst Matt Navarra. Matt has over 15 years’ experience in the industry, and also has first-hand knowledge of the publisher perspective, having been Director of Social Media for The Next Web. He runs the Geekout group, podcast and newsletter for social media professionals.
Here are some highlights:
Why Meta is the more interesting platform story
Esther: I’m going to put the slightly controversial opinion across now that I think what’s happening with Twitter, people in the industry care more about them the general public. I actually think the more interesting story this year – partly because I think the last decade, it’s felt a bit like Facebook, or Meta as it’s now known, was invincible. It just kept growing and growing.
We had advertiser boycotts, the Cambridge Analytica scandal, we’ve had so much news break around Facebook that should have brought it down. And it just continued to steadily grow, its users grew, its revenue grew. And we were just thinking, is this is this ever not going to grow? This year has shown that it is most definitely not too big to fail.
Is this an economic downturn? Or has Facebook actually just got as big as it’s ever going to get, and it’s almost inevitably going to contract now?
Matt: It’s just a perfect storm for Meta that has been brewing for some time. The company has rolled its luck for many years in terms of its relationship with users and with the patience of twitchy investors, particularly this year. And it’s always had a tempestuous relationship with the media and with news publishers particularly.
They’ve made this big drive towards the metaverse, and switching the company name was the pivotal moment in doing it. But there is such a gap between now and when that will become a reality that makes it very hard for people to feel confident in what that future might look like. But also conceptually, it’s very challenging for both investors and the average user of Facebook and its products to understand what will that even look like?
The wrong focus for the metaverse
Chris: I used my Oculus earlier today, and during the pandemic I have been experimenting with it as a sort of virtual work environment. It’s not there yet, and I think Meta’s mistake is focusing on it from a business perspective. What they should have done is spent a few more years building up the entertainment side of it, making it a viable entertainment product, and then brought in some of htese commercial activities as well.
As a piece of tech, it’s totally unbelievable. It’s fantastic. It’s not perfect, but it’s the source of some of the best entertainment I’ve had in years and years. The problem is, they’ve tried to yoke it to what was previously Facebook’s bread and butter, which was advertising. There are a lot of commercial models that don’t suit it yet. So we’ve seen some absolutely shite brand extensions into what people think of as the metaverse.
Matt: They have very little choice but to focus it on enterprise because the people that are going to be able to afford to spend some budget on it are going to be enterprises, and that will help them figure out what works and what doesn’t work while they go through this phase.
I think whatever it is we’re seeing in the metaverse, or what people mean when they talk about the metaverse now which means VR and AR, what we imagined it will be like and what it will actually turn out to be I think will be very different. We will laugh about our concepts of what we thought the metaverse would be.
Who’s doing well on TikTok
Matt: There are a large number [of publishers] now if you’ve looked at the beginning of the year and compare it to now, that number has fairly rapidly escalated. News publishers are leaning into individual characters and presenters and personalities and have realises that people want to be entertained as much as they want to be informed. And they’re scrolling through content that mostly on TikTok is not news. It’s about people doing different challenges and funny things that have gone viral and all sorts of other clips, and to jump from that to a serious news piece doesn’t often work.
So I think that that’s where the skill is. And the publishers that do particularly well, like Washington Post is very good at doing it, BBC has been late to it, but the quality is very good there from them, and I think it tends to be some of the younger orientated news publishers, in terms of that, and the ones that are familiar with that audience are unsurprisingly very effective on TikTok.
The outlook for Twitter
Matt: Definitely we’re at the beginning, rather than the middle or end of the drama of the Twitter takeover. And I think that the impact of the decisions that Elon has already made, and we’ll call it probably continue to make, some of them will take some time to really fester and then mutate and start to be dangerous and toxic to the platform. But other other decisions we’ll see very quickly will make a quite a significant change to the platform.
We’ve already seen advertisers pull back. The mood and the vibe and the troll-like activity I think will increase as people test the boundaries. I think it will see a rise up with Twitter in terms of usage and engagement, which will be used as he already is as a ‘Hey, look, what I’m doing is working. There’s lots more people downloading Twitter and using it and engaging.’ But that will just be because it’s the Trump effect. It’s the crazy person that’s screaming loudest who’s doing crazy things. It’s like watching a car crash. You kind of love to watch it. But I don’t want to.
This topic will be one of the chapters we explore in detail as part of our Media Moments 2022 report, launching on November 30th. Find out more and pre-register here to receive the report.
This season of Media Voices is sponsored by Poool, the Membership and Subscription Suite used by over 120 publishers from around the world. The team behind Poool are industry experts who have put everything they know into the product, ready to respond to your ‘how’ of launching & developing a reader revenue strategy.