I am often asked, “will Facebook ever go the way of MySpace?” The truth is Facebook has been very good, like it or not, at not looking at current users’ needs, but instead anticipating the needs of future users, therefore fixing the Innovator’s Dilemma and ensuring their survival. There is one thing Facebook is overlooking right now, and with what I have seen in the news industry, I think Facebook may be blind-sighted at what I think is going to happen. The answer lies in the local news orgs.
The truth is, the current state of local news is in trouble. Revenue of news orgs is at the same level it was back in the 50s. People are seeking their news online. People are replacing their TV watching habits with Youtube, and Hulu, Netflix, Xbox, and Apple TV. At one news org I worked with, the term, “side door traffic” was brought up over and over again, as something to strive for. The fact of the matter is, people have stopped having the news open all day, in favor of sites like Facebook and Twitter and Google+. Homepage traffic is at a meager low right now for all local news orgs.
Print Media is going the way of the dinosaur. Newspapers are dying. Magazines are dying. So as a result, news is going entirely online. Now we find both print and video orgs, especially at the local level, competing against each other in a market where they previously did not compete. The sad thing is many of these former print and former video news orgs don’t realize they are now in competition with each other (much due to the fact that Nielsen ratings still exist and ad revenue is still going towards different sources like TV, but that won’t last for long).
Here’s what I predict will happen (and is already happening, to an extent): the TV and the Print organizations will be forced to merge, or compete in the very near future. Local TV and local Print news orgs will no longer be Print and TV orgs, but just “Web orgs.” The same reporters that serve print will also serve TV, and video will, more and more, move towards the same online source that print is located. Ad dollars will all go towards the web. Youtube strategies will become more important as more people use Youtube to get entertainment and news. It will no longer be a TV or print strategy, but a “multi-media strategy.”
This is all just the beginning though. Once print and TV at the local level all merge, local news orgs will be unified again. Print won’t be competing with TV, and the same for vice-versa. Sales teams will all be selling for a common goal, and new ad technologies will be developed. Social technologies will be integrated, allowing ordinary citizens to provide news and video, and targeted ads will be built targeting the user and their friends at the local level, where they are (through mobile technologies). People will be able to follow their friends on these websites and mobile apps.
This is when Facebook should feel threatened. At this point, news orgs will begin to realize that Facebook has been doing this for years now. Facebook now becomes the competition for them. The competition will go from getting “side door traffic” to getting “front door traffic” as Facebook does. The fight will be to get the user to have YOUR website open all day, not rely on them to congregate at places like Facebook to get their news.
The difference between now and before though is that local news orgs have a monopoly on their local markets. It won’t be like Washington Post and their “social reader” that targets a global audience and their friends. It will be a much more localized, personal audience of people much more devoted because it represents their culture and information they are much more familiar with. This puts local news orgs at competition directly with Facebook.
At KSL.com, owned by a former employer of mine, they had the market on classifieds, perhaps the only market in the USA to overtake Craigslist in traffic and community. They did this through following the devotions and loyalties of a passionate local audience and culture. The same can, and will be done with social. I saw similar passionate cultures and niche communities in the many communities that Media General served when I worked there. This can be repeated.
The biggest disruption to Facebook is going to happen when these local news orgs are forced to reinvent themselves, and utilize their passionate, niche local audiences to take advantage of circles of friends that are very tightly woven in the areas they serve. It’s not ready yet, but desperation and disruption in the local news industry is going to force this as soon as they realize Facebook is actually their competition – mark my words. Facebook is local news’ biggest competitor – they just don’t realize it yet.