Update: The news is coming back to Facebook… shortly. Facebook news ban to be reversed after negotiations over media code. Read more here.

Why has the news disappeared from my Facebook feed? And are we keeping Google Search in Australia now? And what-on-earth does this have to do with SA Health?!?!

We don’t blame you for being a bit overwhelmed by all the noise about Big Tech fighting with our Government over payment for news content. Here’s our take on the story so far and what it could mean for your marketing strategy…

-> JUMP to the marketing assistance part of the article here 

why is this happening?

This is all related to the Australian Government’s proposed media bargaining code, which is edging closer to becoming law.

The code, we understand, has been designed to address the bargaining power imbalance between news media businesses and digital platforms, like Google and Facebook.

For Google and Facebook, that means they will need to pay news media for content they generate (which their platforms link to), thereby helping sustain public interest journalism in Australia.

The code also describes how negotiation on payment should be carried-out and how it can be the subject of arbitration, if agreement can’t be reached.

After all, the media has undergone an enormous transformation in recent years, with print media rapidly dying out and the need to monetize online news platforms, critically important for the survival of the free press.

So, how did Facebook react?

Facebook has long indicated the requirement that it pays for links to the news, would leave it no choice but to remove news content from its service.

Things really escalated this week though, when the social media giant followed through on that threat and stopped us Aussies from accessing news in our feeds! Basically, because major publishers have been blocked from sharing or posting content; we can’t access news via Facebook.

What’s more, Facebook really took it to another level by including SA Health, the Bureau of Meteorology and other government services in their definition of news (although, the social media giant says it wasn’t the intention to impact these services and so access, via Facebook, has since been restored) … check out SA Health’s “we’re back” message, right.
This is more than a little important given we were dealing with high fire danger and SA Health is embarking on a vaccine roll-out during the pandemic!

What’s even more sad; this block seems to have impacted charities too (and we’re watching this space to see if they all get back up and running)! Bowel Cancer Australia was one of those impacted.

Google comes around

Google has changed its tune recently. While initially playing hard-ball in January and indicating it would need to pull its search function from Australia, if the proposed code became law, it has now struck deals for payment to NewsCorp, Seven and Nine (with more negotiations in the pipeline).

This has been a major turning point for the tech giant, which provides access to major publishers via its News Showcase product in Australia.

So, Google is demonstrating it will pay for the news but perhaps more on its own terms (because, funnily enough, the deals are commercial-in-confidence, so we don’t know the terms)!

In short, we’re still uncertain how this will unfold… If Google accepts the code, introduced into parliament last month, it will need to continue negotiating with news media outlets – to determine the cost it will pay for links to digital news, from its search platform. We understand this would be (or is now) a world-first arrangement for the global powerhouse.

It will also be interesting to see if other countries will then try to serve up similar laws to claw back dollars to sustain their own local news media services.

Either way, what is clear, is that Google wields significant bargaining power– with more than a 90% share of the market when it comes to use of search engines in Australia. So, the fact that they’ve come to the table and reached some agreements, is very encouraging.

What does this mean for marketers?

Back to the case in point… For us marketers, the issue right now, is that if we achieve some gold-standard coverage in one of the country’s major publications, and we want to use our Facebook page to share it with the masses, we can’t… Well, not directly anyway.

The Facebook blocks on news content, mean that we can’t include a news website link to a story in our social media posts. But what can you do?

Try this… If your business is often featured, or soon to be featured in the media, make sure your website has an easy to navigate to page, itemizing or linking to news stories where you feature in the news.

You can still draw attention to the fact that you’re in the media, via your Facebook page.

Just make sure the link you include in the post, takes users to your own website, directly to the page, where you provide a one-liner on how you feature in the news and ‘here’s the article’. As always, it’s worth considering if the article is behind the publisher’s paywall (but nothing has changed there).

This means your great PR is an extra click away (which as digital strategists we don’t normally encourage) but if you are heavily reliant on Facebook for your marketing (and don’t want to miss an audience by not sharing some good PR), then that could be your approach.

While Aussies start to understand these changes to their Facebook world, we may start to see growth in use of other platforms (such as Linked In and Twitter). So it’s also worth thinking about how you can bullet-proof your marketing strategy, in case we see a drop-off in Facebook use.

A push to encourage users to shut pages down, in response to the company’s harsh changes that have negatively impacted some important government and community services, has attracted a bit of attention!
We’ll keep following this issue and keep you updated. If you need help with social media or would like specific advice for your business, give us a call on +61 424 397 207 or drop us an email.

Disclaimer: This blog is opinion only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. It is purely Pitstop’s interpretation of the state of play on this issue.