Confronting a Digital Storm | The Daily Star

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12:00 AM, February 16, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:36 AM, February 17, 2018


Confronting a Digital Storm

How has Facebook’s new policy affected Bangladesh’s media?

With more than 300,000 copies printed per day, Faula de S. Paulo is one of Brazil's largest newspapers. From the urban middle class and rural landowners to the civil society of the country, it has a wide-ranging audience and a deep influence on the South American nation's politics.

Barely a week ago, the newspaper's editorial team took a decision that made headlines around the world. The paper announced that it was going to stop sharing its stories on its Facebook page, which has almost six million 'likes'. The main reason behind the decision, it seems, is Facebook's new policy, which officially came into effect from January this year.

Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, through a status on January 11, announced that the social network would give personal content, meaning posts made by friends on Facebook, more visibility as compared to the information dispatched by publishers or other businesses.

What that basically means is that you are less likely to find content from the Facebook pages that you have liked, on your timeline, unless the page owner pays money and boosts its content. Zuckerberg stated that Facebook's new policy hopes to foster more “meaningful social interactions”. However, online media specialists believe that Facebook's shift was a strategic move to compel publishers and brands to pay more money to remain visible.

It is safe to say that a large section of Bangladesh's e-commerce websites and online media organisations depend upon Facebook for their publicity and thereby their survival. This brings to fore a vital question: how has the new policy affected Bangladesh's businesses?

“From my experience, I can tell you that the new policy has startled many media organisations and journalists,” says Ahsan Kabir, online in-charge of the daily Kaler Kantho. “It's not just the paper I work for, several journalists called me to find out why the reach of the posts had suddenly decreased. The last few months were quite confusing,” he adds.

With more than 70 lakh likes on Facebook, Kaler Kantho has one of the highest subscriptions in the country. However, according to Ahsan, the reaction that their posts have been receiving lately is comparatively poor.

“We used to get 500 shares barely a minute after posting a story on our page. These days, we get around 20 to 30 shares after five minutes. At first, the in-house journalists were blamed for this. But gradually everyone came to understand the reason behind the fall,” explains Ahsan.

Ahsan claims that the paper, which never really used the boost option to get more coverage, has been forced to pay more frequently to get more visibility. One of the tactics that media houses have been using to counter this phenomenon is using the 'See First' option. Clicking on the See First option will ensure that you get to see that particular page on your timeline on a regular basis. And that's the reason why many media houses have repeatedly requested its readers to take that route. According to Ahsan, the number of users on Kaler Kantho's

See First list has increased by 20 percent in the last few months.

Mohammad Kamrul Hasan, who handles the digital marketing segment of RTV, a channel, which has the highest number of subscriptions on Facebook among Bangladeshi television stations, claims that RTV too has been hurt because of the new policy.

“I personally think that 80 percent of Bangladesh's e-commerce businesses and online media organisations depend upon Facebook. This will hurt their business. Even if a user boosts his page, he won't get the reach that he used to before. He will need to spend a lot more money,” he explains.

“There's no alternative to Facebook and so there's not a lot that you can do about this, except adjusting to the change in the best possible manner,” adds Kamrul.

And the best way to make that adjustment, according to the Brand Communication Manager of Prothom Alo, Jabed Sultan Pias, is to strengthen the value of the content being shared, in order to bring more user-interaction.

“The one message that this policy has sent to all the companies is that your visibility will not solely depend upon the amount of money you are pumping in. The game is not that easy. You have to do good stories and share good content so that there's more engagement,” explains Pias.

“The only pages that the users will see on their timeline are the ones that they are regularly interacting with. And for that to happen, you need them to click on your posts, comment on them and share them. Once that happens, that page is regularly going to appear on your timeline,” he adds.

Furthermore, Pias is of the opinion that the new policy can work as an advantage for those publishers who have a lot of engagement in their pages. “Say that there are a hundred posts on your timeline. Prior to the new policy 30 of them were probably from pages that you have liked. Now you will only get to see pages that you actually interact with and not the other 29 pages that you randomly liked and forgot about. As such, there is a chance that your page may witness more traffic,” he explains.

As far as the brands on Facebook are concerned, not many of them have witnessed major changes as yet. However, Md Saimum Hossain, co-founder and head of business of GEEKY social ltd, who has handled digital campaigns of some of the most prominent companies, believes that things might get more expensive in the coming days.

“Honestly speaking, I think the marketer's cost per action will increase. The per unit cost will increase because now you will need to spend more to get more coverage. Marketers will have to be a lot more careful with their content. You can't just spend money on random likes,” says Saimum.

As far as the Bangladesh's perspective is concerned, we aren't likely to witness a Faul de S. Paulo any time soon. The dependency on Facebook for promotion, after all, is quite high. However, the new policy has ensured that publishers and brands remain on their feet and move away from the more traditional promotional tactics on Facebook. As RTV's Kamrul puts it, “The new policy is somewhat like a storm and the companies that can find a way to get out of it will be the ones to survive and be successful.”

Follow Naimul Karim @naimonthefield

To receive content from pages, users now need to select the See First option aside from liking the page.

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