A Day of Reckoning for Social Networks

The tables have turned. That Buzzfeed has reported Facebook and other social media sites are in the process of paying some creatives to post content on their sites is bound to provide newsrooms and corporate boardrooms a healthy dose of schadenfreude.

It’s a stunning reversal for the social networks, who have for years lapped up free content and all the attendant traffic as a mere trade off for exposure and the hosting of said content. The content creators are seemingly saying that they are the more important partners in this relationship. That audiences will go wherever the content creators go, and if they want those audiences to go to Facebook, then Facebook has to pay up.

But the content providers – so-called YouTube all-stars and other social media content creators primarily attracting the millennial crowd – finally had the confidence to call it a two-way street. Without us, our fans will spend their time elsewhere. But it’s also traditional media brands – Buzzfeed, of the infamous watermelon stunt – admitted in the piece that they were being paid for content.

Quote Buzzfeed:

Facebook is already paying media companies and celebrities to post video via its Live product. The company is offering around $250,000 for 20 posts per month over a three-month period, according to one source with knowledge of the arrangement. (BuzzFeed is among the group of Facebook Live paid media partners.)

Clearly Facebook isn’t moving towards paying for all content – in that scenario, they become the media themselves. So what do establishment media brands and advertisers do? For the traditional media, their operations are too large, the demands on the gaping maw of traffic and views to play chicken with the social networks. This won’t change their plans too much.

For brands, the possibility that creators would do anything for free for them in exchange for exposure has long passed. But in challenging Facebook and their ilk, creators are saying – they bring the traffic to wherever they post their videos and content. Some brands might take the Red Bull model – build their own content hosting sites and pay the creators to ply their trade there.

But it’s funny how cyclical this quest for consumer attention becomes. Facebook initially halted the brakes on unfettered exposure to brand and media posts by changing their algorithm. They did this by saying, more or less, free traffic wasn’t going to last forever. It’s only fair that Facebook eventually received the same admonition.

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