Tuesday, January 3, 2017

You Won't Believe How Many Famous Men Died Last Month!!!

Bruce Willis dead. John Travolta dead. Facebook
Why "Fakebook" is the 2016 Publishing Word of the Year

December was a rough month for famous men, according to my Facebook feed. We lost Bruce Willis, John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Clint Eastwood, Tiger Woods, and Denzel Washington.

Plus, Steve Martin, Chuck Norris, Bill Cosby and Hugh Hefner committed suicide.

Lucky for me, I’m in the publishing industry, so I know not to accept anything from Facebook at face value.

Many of my colleagues learned that lesson the hard way last year, after starting off 2016 thinking that Facebook was the path to publishing riches. Their traffic from Facebook was booming, and thanks to Facebook Instant Articles program they could make money by publishing articles directly on Facebook.

Tiger Woods dead; Facebook
They soon discovered that Facebook is a fair-weather friend. Instant Articles turned out not to be such a good deal for publishers. And about mid-year, Facebook tweaked its algorithms in ways that cut some publishers’ referrals in half.

Those death notices (“Clint is gone – After the rumors were confirmed true . . .”) aren’t the only Facebook fakeries. And we’re not just talking about out-of-date photos and other harmless profile enhancements. (The boobs on that friend you haven’t seen since high school? Totally fake. You would have remembered if they had looked like that. And if they had looked like that back then, imagine what gravity would have done to them by now.)

Tom Cruise dead; FacebookMarketing Land lists nine different Facebook reporting errors that came to light during the last four months of 2016 – nine different ways that Facebook misled publishers or advertisers. Those errors helped earn “Fakebook” a place on my list of 10 words that summarized publishing in 2016.

But the word deserves even better than that. Because "Fakebook" encapsulates several key trends – the continuing failures of digital advertising, a strategy pivot by publishers, and even the persistence of print magazines – I hereby declare it The Publishing Word of 2016.

Not dead yet
Let’s take a look at those fake obits, if you dare. They all linked to alleged articles, purportedly from well-known publishers, describing how the actually-not-dead celebrity overcame erectile dysfunction thanks to Advanced Alpha Testosterone Booster.

AATB contains Horny Goat Weed and other natural remedies and is endorsed by everyone’s favorite TV quack, Dr. Oz – so how could you go wrong?

Bill Cosby suicide
I swear I did not distort this "no-bit."
(I know what you’re thinking: Why does Facebook keep targeting these ads at me? Let me assure you that Mr. Tree is a hardwood, whose hands are larger than those of a certain President-elect. But I have published a few articles about Viagra, such as this. Like the furniture store that’s been stalking me on the web for months because I once accidentally clicked on one of its ads, these fake-obit ads demonstrate how easily online-ad targeting algorithms can go awry.)

The Bruce Willis obit (or is it a no-bit?) links to a supposed AARP interview (below) in which Willis’ wife describes how AATB perked up the couple’s sex life by bringing about Bruce’s miraculous resur-erection. (Hallelujah!) The fake article is surrounded by stuff copied from AARP’s web site (without the links) and even a copycat web address (aarp.com-newssource.net).

Bill Cosby erectile dysfunction; Camille Cosby
Sexual-assault victims worldwide will be pleased to see Bill Cosby’s wife proclaim – supposedly on Fox News -- that “now his hard erections last for two hours.”

But I call the attention of my publishing friends to that page’s “Featured in” list of mostly legacy-media trademarks, including four magazines, that are thoroughly abused in an attempt to give AATB a whiff of respectability.

Here’s the lesson: Even a sleazy seller of snake oil (Yeah, that’s unfair: Snakes don’t obsess about erectile dysfunction.) understands the credibility that’s still associated with magazine media – perhaps better than the publishers of those magazines.

Out-Fakebooking Fakebook
I think 2016 was the year publishers finally started getting the picture – when they accepted that they could never thrive simply by getting more page views for highly commoditized ads paying ever-decreasing CPMs. No publisher has the scale to out-Facebook Facebook or to survive on bottom-feeder ads.

Instead, consumer publishers are increasingly acting like the best B2B publishers, focusing on leveraging their reputations and their superior content to build engaged audiences that are attractive to premium advertisers. They are pursuing the kind of advertisers (and CPMs) that are increasingly turned off by Fakebook’s fakeries.

The native-advertising boom is especially beneficial to premium publishers that have solid reputations, providing a welcome escape from ad blocking and banner blindness.

Taboola on TheAtlantic.com
And even good-old-fashioned print magazines are seen as part of the credibility equation: As Google has been telling us for several years, online information is more reliable if a respected publisher paid to put it into print – or even if it’s web-only content on a print-publication’s site.

Considering how bad 2016 apparently was for print advertising, relatively few magazines were shut down. No more are publishers planning the imminent demise of their magazines; instead, there’s more sharing of resources with the digital side and more recognition that being associated with a magazine differentiates a web site from the likes of Fakebook.

Sure, many magazine (and newspaper) companies sullied their credibility in the past year or so by jumping on the “recommendation engine” bandwagon, accepting money to post little turds of clickbait from networks like Outbrain, Taboola, and Revcontent.

Say what? Outbrain on washingtonpost.com
On the Sleaze Scale, items like “29+ Celebs Who Look Hot On TV, But Are Really Just Jerks” and “This Simple Skin Fix May Surprise You” pale in comparison with the worst of Fakebook ads. But they undercut our reputations and make our web sites less attractive to major-brand advertisers.

However, there’s good news on that front: I recently revisited the magazine-publishers’ sites I studied nine months ago for a Publishing Executive article on recommendation engines and was pleasantly surprised by what I saw – and what I didn’t see. Some publishers have toned down the sleaze and scaled back their use of recommendation engines, while others have kicked the clickbait habit altogether.

I’ll leave you with a few questions:
  • Have all of Facebook’s significant reporting errors been revealed? Or will more dirt surface  during 2017? 
  • Will Fakebook’s failings send more business to publishers, or will all the benefits accrue to Google? Or is Fakebook such a Teflon-coated irresistible force that not even all of these embarrassments will slow it down? 
  • Were Fakebook’s reporting errors just mistakes, or do they indicate something more systemic or even sinister? 
  • Wanna see Fakebook obits of Chuck Norris, Steve Martin, Hugh Hefner, and Clint Eastwood? They're featured now on the Dead Tree Edition Facebook page. If you see Fakebook "no-bits" of other famous, alive celebrities, send screenshots to dead.tree.edition@gmail.com and I'll post them as well.

Bruce and Emma Willis: erectile dysfunction

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Come on- fake news is perpetuated online by CNN, FoxNews, Rolling Stone, the Washington Post (just today they had to retract the Vermont Utility hacked by the Russian story).
There is no credibility anywhere.