The recent announcement by Facebook promoting how the platform will open up branded content to publishers has been received with mixed reactions from the online community. The increase of sponsored posts has made wading through our timelines daunting, and somewhat cumbersome. Now posts of interest are buried in the muck of paid ads.
The Media Landscape Is Shifting
For some time now the incredibly thin line between news and advertising on our social media timelines has been skewing. We shielded ourselves under the aegis of Ad Blockers to deflect unwanted content and the assault of unsubtle messages demanding we buy buy buy. Well, every action has a reaction. Facebook and advertisers have created alternatives that bring them even closer to our doorsteps. We very well may have unwittingly given birth to sponsored articles, which for some are far worse than pop-ups.
So-called "branded content" is designed to look and feel like standard editorial content, but is financed by advertisers. For many, journalism's flirtations with marketing are the harbinger of selling out, and the biggest casualty seems to be the integrity of writers and their traditional idealism. Facebook Blog Post:
"This update is something that media companies, public figures, influencers, and marketers have been asking for, as branded content is a growing and evolving part of the media landscape."
Perhaps the media landscape is changing, but that doesn't mean that users will want to stay along for the ride. Clickbait is a pejorative term. People are intolerant to it. Maybe it's only a matter of time before sites such as BuzzFeed start publishing, "What character are you?" style quizzes sponsored by Hollywood studios promoting their latest release. How long until we are bombarded with videos of the latest viral YouTube star drinking Coca-Cola on our timelines that will do more harm than good to brands in the eyes of wary audiences?
Facebook Advertising Is Starting to Look Gimmicky
The other problem is that some content gets more traction than other content. And some content is far more invasive. Facebook has recently courted influential media outlets and celebrities offering them a cash incentive to use their Facebook Live product. Playing the game by their rules offers rewards for those publishing live video because the latest news feed algorithm prioritizes live video ensuring it appears near the top of everyone's feed. Is it any wonder that users are starting to feel like they are being played?
The attraction for verified users and influencers to legitimately sell sponsored posts to companies on their Facebook channels is glaringly obvious. This is at odds with the pathos that drove users to the site to begin with. Users still believe that this social network is a platform meant to facilitate connections with friends, family and colleagues sharing photos, videos and personal messages. There is now a clear disconnect between Facebook's users and the chimera it is becoming.
Some may suggest that users create security walls to prevent unwanted content from flooding their newsfeeds. The problem there is that Facebook frequently changes security settings and virtually stalemates efforts to erect barriers. Younger users are migrating to alternative platforms such as SnapChat, a visual playground far away from the prying eyes of their families.
These platforms and others have embedded privacy into their interface, so users are no longer sharing personal information or their stories like they used to. The introduction of features such as "On This Day" that use photo-based memories from the same day in previous years taps into the human condition: our fondness for looking into the past through rose tinted glasses should not be underestimated and compels us to keep hitting the share button. Then, that information is gone from public view.
Users Are Tired of Manipulation
The bottom line is Facebook want us to share more of our lives while also paying their bills by consuming a plethora of sponsored content. These goals are patently clear and antithetical to the reason users flock to Facebook. And, it is the reason young and old are starting to question the relevance of keeping the ghost of Facebook in their lives.
Users are increasingly self-aware. There are many things they just don't want to do anymore. They will not ignorantly fuel the pretense of fabricating an ideal version of their lives or digesting paid ads just because they appear on their newsfeeds. We are all aware the game and the rules. Zuckerberg's problem is that a growing number of his users simply don't want to play anymore.
Whether it's sharing more of our memories or viewing sponsored content by the bucket load, there is a sense that Facebook is showing early signs of losing its way.
About the Author
Anurag Harsh wears many hats. He is an entrepreneur, a public company executive, a digital guru, a blogger, a McGraw-Hill published author, an angel investor, and a classical musician who has performed two sold out solo concerts at Carnegie Hall. Follow him on Twitter.