Casey Newton’s Advice To Marketers: Now Is The Time To Rebuild Direct Connections With Our Audiences



“It’s not like every single person is quitting Facebook en masse, but I do think you have some of the savvier wealthier people trying to opt out of the system or are spending less time there.”

Casey Newton is effortlessly hilarious. He’s also one of Silicon Valley’s most tuned in thought leaders. Along with his role as lead editor for The Verge, he also maintains a daily newsletter covering the relationship between social media and democracy.

He recently shared his thoughts on how the Cambridge Analytica scandal will impact Facebook and other social platforms at #SMWNYC. Although Newton doesn’t feel the heartland of America will leave Facebook in droves, key audiences may completely stop or reduce their use of the platform. As a result, he predicts publishers and brands will attempt to reach their audience through owned channels. Examples include podcasts, chatbots, apps and newsletters.

His big bet is that over the next three years many people are going to rebuild their newspaper via newsletters from sources they trust. With that, the people subscribing to these sources will be smarter and wealthier, a great target audience for many advertisers.

What can Facebook do to rebuild trust?

For those of us that have been closely following along, it’s clear Facebook has made a huge effort to rebuild trust with audiences and advertisers.  To their credit, Facebook recently unveiled new tools to make it easier for users to see and access the data the social network has about them. Beyond that, they’ve written a ton of blog posts with a “we rent out your attention” theme to combat the “we sell your data” rhetoric that has been spread around.

However, Newton questions whether the average person is reading these blogs. To better address the issue, he believes Facebook needs to explain – in layman terms – how their algorithm works.

Why am I seeing one baby vs another baby?

He goes on to reiterate the goal of Facebook was to connect everyone, but the curation process isn’t as effective as it could be. “Facebook needs to do a better job of telling us what’s actually happening when we use the product. Who are we sharing to, and why are we seeing the stuff that we’re seeing.”

In a FB group, the admin can see everyone who views their posts. Why can’t we do the same thing with personal feeds?

What’s the impact?

Admittedly, some people will say that none of this matter, and that Facebook’s numbers still look good. In their first earnings report after touching off widespread data-privacy concerns, Facebook posted soaring revenue and profit.

Newton rejects this notion.

He references how Facebook had to slow the rollout of a home speaker that has a camera and a mic built in. However, he goes on to state even if it declines, it will decline in the same way that radio declined. Very slowly.

To Facebook’s advantage, a lot of social media buzz is moving to Instagram, which Facebook also owns. Although many Instagram users are also on Facebook, the use cases are very different. People go to Instagram for inspiration and discovery, they’re much less likely to view or engage with political content.

But how long will IG be able to resist the pressure to transform into Facebook 2.0? Instagram is already working on making messenger a separate app, which is the same thing Facebook did in 2014.

What platforms are we missing?

Twitter is the go-to resources for political news, and their algorithm is much more real time. Beating Wall Street’s expectations, they’ve had two consecutive profitable quarters – for the first time ever – and increased daily active users.

While Twitter is regarded as a news source, YouTube often gets a pass. However, it’s operated by an algorithm and is subject to the same problem as Facebook.

“Those autoplays can lead you to some strange places. You can watch a normal political video and within two autoplays you’re on some crazy conspiracy site.”

This feature not only impacts adults, but children as well.

YouTube Kids, which has been criticized for inadvertently recommending disturbing videos to children, has recently built additional safeguards so parents can limit what is watched on the app. Parents will be able to select “trusted channels” and topics, like “Sesame Workshop.”

Increasing trust by considering outcomes.

Newton concludes by saying platforms need to do more to regain and retain trust going forward.

Specifically, they’ll need to practice more constraint, and assume the worst when building a new feature. Beyond that, they’ll need to be willing to eat into their profit margins, such as hiring more content moderators.

“You literally could, but you still want to have a 30 or 40% profit margins.”

Curious to hear more from Newton? Follow him on Twitter @CaseyNewton.

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