Facebook: The Media Consumption Platform

Leveraging Facebook for content discovery is not a new concept for media companies. Virtually all media sites on the internet have adopted the Facebook ‘Like’ button and other social plugins that allow users to quickly and easily share and recommend content to their Facebook friends. For media companies, this means a new channel for content discovery and an increase in eyeballs from the viral referral traffic from Facebook. This type of content sharing, although successful, does come with its own set of challenges. Jumping to a publisher’s website outside Facebook breaks the usual flow for users, hence most users read only a single article before going elsewhere. Another issue is that a ‘Like’ is a very general form of recommendation and not expressive enough for most media content.
Today however, the potential of Facebook for media companies is much larger than this form of content discovery. Last September, Facebook introduced a number of enhancements to the Open Graph specific to the media and entertainment industries through which Facebook can now be utilized as a full media consumption platform rather than just a discovery platform. At Facebook’s annual F8 conference, Mark Zuckerberg introduced new Open Graph tools for sharing music, video and news on Facebook and laid out an ambitious plan that would transform the media world. Several publishers launched or announced products using these new Open Graph extensions at F8 including The Guardian, Washington Post and Yahoo News, and their results so far have exceeded all expectations. The opportunity is too big for any media company to ignore.


Image Credit: http://apps.facebook.com/theguardian/

Anatomy of a Facebook media app

There are several options for media companies to build enhanced interactions with the Open Graph within their existing web properties and within Facebook, and different companies have taken different approaches. The most immersive experience is creating what is called a Canvas app that runs completely within Facebook in the confines of the familiar Facebook chrome. All the content of the app is loaded within Facebook using an iframe, which gives the publisher full control of the content and UX within the frame. This is essentially a mini webpage loading HTML, CSS and Javascript content that is hosted by the publisher.

For the Facebook user, a Facebook app is an opt-in experience where they choose to ‘install’ the app to their profile. Installing the app allows the user to consume content without ever having to leave Facebook and at the same time seamlessly share the media they interact with. This ‘frictionless’ sharing feature is a key element for social discovery of media on Facebook. Users grant permissions to the app to share their interactions in the app through links posted across Facebook’s social channels including News Feed, Timeline and the real-time Ticker. When a user’s friend clicks on a shared link, they are given the option to install the app. If the user chooses to decline, they are lead to the publisher’s website to read the same content.

The core concept behind frictionless sharing is the idea of publishing custom Objects and Actions that every app can define around the interactions it creates for users. Previously, the Open Graph only allowed users to ‘like’ – an article, a movie, etc. With the new extensions of Open Graph, apps can define more meaningful interactions. For a news app these could be users ‘reading an article’, ‘watching a video’ or ‘listening to a podcast’. The interaction doesn’t necessarily have to be a positive recommendation- users can now ‘dislike’ an article, or ‘argue’ about a photo with their friends. These custom interactions not only create deeper context for the users for sharing but also provide more avenues for expression that was not previously possible using traditional channels.

How a user’s actions in an app are reported on their social profile on Facebook can be further enhanced through the concept of Aggregations. Along with simple link posts of a users interactions, Facebook also presents aggregate interactions in the user’s profile. For a news app, these aggregations could be lists of recently viewed articles, recently watched videos, or the number of articles read in the past month. Careful annotation of data can allow publishers to create more fine tuned aggregations such as popular authors, popular sections of content, etc.

The social experience of a canvas app, is not confined to just Open Graph sharing. Other social and discovery tools that Facebook provides for websites such as the Activity Feed plugin, Live Stream plugin, Like and Send buttons and Comment boxes can all be integrated in the Canvas app just like any website outside of Facebook. All in all, this provides a social-first media experience for the user with all the tools to engage, share and promote content.

Image Credit: http://developers.facebook.com/docs/opengraph/

The benefits

Media companies might be hesitant build a Facebook app and add another digital property to a long list of digital platforms and devices they already support. However the benefits are huge, aptly demonstrated by the results of the Guardian’s Facebook app that were publicly shared recently. The Guardian’s app was installed 8 million times in the first five months with 40,000 sign ups everyday and more than four million weekly active users. The biggest benefits of a Facebook app for media companies can be grouped into the following categories:

Reach and demographics

First and foremost, there is a vast opportunity for publishers to increase readership and gain a new global audience by leveraging Facebook’s 850 million active users. This accounts not only to new page views in the Facebook app, but also increased referrals back to their main website. The Guardian saw Facebook’s referral traffic increase from 2% to over 30% in the first five months, even beating Google search referral for a few days. Whereas search usually leads to single item content consumption, the users in Facebook are reading more content in each session without having to jump sites or ever leave Facebook. This audience is global, opening forays for publishers to markets previously inaccessible to them. Biggest of all, this is an opportunity to create a shift in the demographics of publishes’ traditional readership and extend their brand to younger audiences. The Facebook users are young, tech-savvy and heavily socially engaged. Over half of the Guardian’s Facebook app users are 24 and under; a demographic that has become increasingly difficult for news organizations to reach.


Facebook’s model gives the publisher full control of the content within the canvas app including the advertising. All the revenue generated from advertising with the content is for the publisher. Facebook serves its own ads in its frame around the app. This means that the same Ad Servers and Ad Networks that media companies are using for their main websites can be used to drive ads on Facebook with no new integrations necessary. Not only is Facebook a new channel to sell ads and sponsorship, the young and socially engaged audience also drives higher CPMs for campaigns than traditional news websites. Moreover, users who don’t install the app could still drive page views on their main website through referrals. In the end all avenues lead to more monetization for publishers.

Data and reporting

Facebook gives publishers access to detailed metrics about the performance of their apps through the Facebook Insights product. Insights provides a detailed look into the demographics of an app’s users, including age bracket and location as well an analysis of trends in content consumption and sharing. There are detailed metrics associated with all objects, actions and aggregations created for an app. These analytics provide publishers with a deep understanding of what interests and drives their newly formed audience- feedback that can be a crucial engagement factor for their editorial teams as well as a monetization factor for their ad sales teams.


Furthermore, the publishers can also use any of the existing web analytics tools with their content that they already use for their website such as Omniture or Google Analytics to extend and complement the data provided by Insights. This duo of data from existing analytics tools and Facebook’s Insights are powerful product management and sales support tools.

Frictionless sharing: the perils

Frictionless sharing comes with its fair share of criticism related to privacy concerns with automatic content sharing. It is important for publishers to understand that this form for consumption is not going be suited for all users and needs to be a complete opt-in experience. Facebook has been criticized in the past regarding confusion due to complexity of how permissions are granted to apps, however their recent permission updates and introduction of the Enhanced Auth Dialog for apps largely solves the problem.

Image Credit: https://developers.facebook.com/blog/post/633/

Users can now see all the actions that will be published by an app when they install and can choose exactly who gets to see these activities, including the option for ‘Only Me’. Users get upfront insight into what they are signing up for and exactly what data the app will have access to, lowering privacy concerns. Publishers can provide further tools to cull sharing concerns such as giving the option to users to ‘unshare’ any content from their profile, which is dictated for certain actions by Facebook’s app guidelines. Users also have fine-grained options to control how much is posted on their news feed from apps their friends are using, including the option to unsubscribe completely.

All in all, this medium is meant for the social-saavy users who are willing and happy to share and promote content as well as receive promoted content from friends.

Time to act

Since the introduction of the Open Graph extensions last fall, Facebook has made continuous enhancements to it, making it even easier for users to discover and understand the apps they use and the content they interact with. The new social channels introduced to Facebook’s user experience such as the Timeline feature and the real-time Ticker are all meant to drive engagement further for Open Graph activities. Facebook is investing heavily in making sharing and discovery of media a natural experience for users and the successes seen by The Guardian are only the beginnings of an entire social content consumption phenomenon.

The opportunity here is enormous and ripe. There are only a handful of news and media experiences tailored for Facebook today and there is ample room remaining to create further compelling experiences.