It's been almost three years since I wrote about the importance of combining distributed and destination thinking into strategies, and quite a bit longer since I first started talking about it. But the concept has become ever more relevant, and I was reminded of it again last week in reading about Facebook's plans for Messenger. It's not hard to see where a strategy that focuses on people being able to send money to each other (and surely soon to companies too), integrating with third party apps, and enabling Messenger to be integrated with online retailers and other businesses as a direct channel for customer service, receipt and shipping notification, is headed. Like many aspects of Facebook itself, Messenger is becoming a service layer. As well as incorporating interaction via a destination site or app, they are (in the words of The Guardian) weaving themselves 'into the fabric of the internet'.
People may think that the term 'platform' is hype but to me, this is what it really means. The same is happening with Facebook ads capability, as their ad platform Atlas increasingly enables you to amplify the use of Facebook's huge data repository beyond Facebook itself to find and target users across the internet. A capability that, as Simon points out, potentially goes a long way toward solving critical issues of targeting, attribution, measuring reach and optimising frequency, even across devices (and in doing so highlighting the weakness of cookie based systems).
Google takes a similar distributed approach of-course, with it's Ad Sense network, embedded search in third party sites, development of Doubleclick, cross-device analytics, joining up of offline and online. And the similarities don't end there. At F8 Facebook also unveiled an embedded video player, bringing it more into direct competition with YouTube, and meaning that Facebook video (and no doubt the advertising that accompanies it) will now not only sit on the site itself, but be woven 'into the fabric of the internet' via countless other sites.
All of which puts the discussion around Facebook's rumoured plans to directly host publisher content on the site into an interesting light. Media owner strategies have traditionally been focused far more on destination models. On bringing as much traffic back to owned media assets likes websites and apps and keeping it there as long as possible to derive value. Even distribution of content onto third party platforms is typically focused on bringing traffic back to destination sites which might be monetised through strategies that have typically focused on maximising ad impressions, often through maximising page impressions (leading to ridiculous tactics like splicing long articles into multiple page views, or creating image galleries that can generate larger numbers of impressions, or putting banners on timed rotation). Such tactics may provide a short-term minor boost to revenues but sacrificing user experience to revenue is a slippery slope (and surely a lesson we learned fifteen years ago with the explosion in commercial pop-ups).
There is significant potential downside of-course from hosting publisher content on Facebook (captured in these questions from John Battelle), not least potential loss of control, loss of revenue, loss of customer data. But as Battelle also says, there is reason enough to test and learn (whilst walking into it with your eyes open) and it could be that in some situations it could well make sense.
Whilst at SXSW I heard Jonah Peretti talking about Buzzfeed's counter-intuitive 'network integration' strategy which values impressions and views that occur in the stream without necessarily an expectation that traffic will brought back to the site. Whilst they might get over 420m referrals in a month back to the site, their content attracts over 18 Billion impressions across networks like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.
Peretti described the value he sees in going where the eyeballs are. For most publishers the big question is of-course about monetisation. But my impression was that Buzzfeed believe strongly in the value of the impact and reach that those 18Billion impressions bring. So much so that this distributed approach is a key part of their over-arching strategy:
This requires producing content for a single story in multiple formats for wide distribution, and the payback is the data and learnings they get which feeds back into the content generation work. Buzzfeed have of-course concentrated on native advertising rather than banner ads, which makes sense in the context of this network integration strategy. Whilst banners are destination focused, and arguably failing on mobile, native is highly portable and works in the stream. Which makes me wonder if, in the context of this Facebook strategy, there isn't greater opportunity for publishers to think more laterally about how distributed content might work for them.
But on a broader point, whilst combining both destination with distributed content might make for a sound content strategy, it is often the latter that is harder for people (used to destination thinking) to get their head around. But whether it is people talking about what we do, highly portable content like mobile cards, embeddable content, or the notification layer in mobile, or integrating with other services, there are surely many ways in which we can develop greater opportunity from distributed thinking.