Applying platform strategy to Facebook Instant Articles


Probably the most reported aspect of my opening keynote at INMA World Congress in New York last week on Creating the Future of News was my response to an audience question about how publishers should think about Facebook’s new offer to publishers to host their articles for mobile viewing.

An article in Sydney Morning Herald today titled Beware Facebook creep, publishers warned opened by describing the new Facebook Instant Articles and went on to quote me:

But Ross Dawson, a media strategy adviser and futurist who delivered the keynote speech at the International News Media Association conference in New York last week, told Fairfax Media that publishers should be wary of becoming too reliant on Facebook.

He said news organisations needed to look at all alternatives to distributing their content, including building their own digital platforms as well as partnering with third parties.

“Facebook is offering very favourable terms and requiring no commitment from publishers to participate in Instant Articles, so there is no real downside in trying it out,” said Mr Dawson, who was Thomson Financial’s Tokyo bureau chief in the early 1990s and has worked for Merrill Lynch.

“The danger is that publishers become overly dependent on Facebook for distribution, with no guarantee that the favourable terms will continue. They can mitigate this risk by diversifying their distribution, and having clear plans on how they will shift their distribution if the Facebook deal becomes less attractive, particularly in restricting how they can distribute content on other platforms.”

In my keynote at INMA I emphasized how platform strategy must be at the heart of how news publishers shape their future. While publishers have their own platforms – sometimes including print – they must also consider carefully how they engage with others’ platforms.

In my email interview with Sydney Morning Herald I also noted:

News publishers need to look at all alternatives for distributing their content, including participating in third party platforms, and building their own platforms which encompass multiple participants.

In considering distributing content over other platforms, publishers need to look at both potential benefits and costs of participating, including the potential costs of forgoing other channels.

Publishers need to have a clear overall platform strategy, in which they choose which platforms they choose to engage with, but also establish contingency strategies for the case that things don’t work out as they hoped.

My comments at the conference were interpreted as words of caution, which is fair.

However the broader issue is that platform strategy is often about hedging your bets, making sure that you have strategic flexibility even if the landscape quickly changes, which happens often in a multi-platform world.

Seize opportunities, but also make sure your opportunity landscape continues to open up rather than closing down through too focused bets.