Sometime between updating your blog (in the spring) and when you logged into Facebook this morning, the most reliable rule of Web 2.0 got flipped. Very few noticed — but soon, we all will.
"Don't kill off your website — use it as your social media hub," advised a Forbes contributor in January 2014. How delightfully quaint. Not necessarily true today; less true, tomorrow. Facebook quietly rolled out Instant Articles over the summer, potentially its killer app to finally put the home pages of the weathered titans of old media out of their misery. The big idea: brands and personas can host new content directly on Facebook, without bothering to publish that content on their own proprietary websites. The New York Times, the Atlantic, the BBC and other media giants have already signed up — and as they go, so will go the rest of us.
“The big driver here is that the time spent on the mobile web is growing quickly," says Patrick Thoburn, cofounder of Matchstick Inc., a Toronto-based social digital agency that works with brands, from General Electric to Jim Beam. “Facebook and Instagram alone account for 20 percent of all time spent on mobile." That's where people know they can find the content they want to see — and get it faster. Instant Articles delivers content as promised with virtually zero load time, compared with up to eight seconds on a news site.
Matchstick and other online marketing agencies are already building strategies for business-to-business brands around creating content narratives that work strictly within social platforms. Pure abandonment of the web hub to focus strictly on the social platform isn't happening just yet. But for some brands, that day might come sooner than we think.
Media brands in particular may be early adopters of this model on Facebook, but an even bigger change could be in how we buy things online. Social platforms like Twitter and Pinterest have both recently launched e-commerce products that could potentially do the job of a standalone business website. If customers don't need to leave the social space to undertake a transaction and if almost all of your engagement is happening on your social hub anyway, then why go to the trouble of maintaining a separate e-store?
YouTube meanwhile has been the natural web hub of video celebrities like Michelle Phan (brand value, $500 million) or teenage fashionista Bethany Mota (with 9.5 million subscribers and counting) for more than half a decade. At the same time, marketers who have striven in vain for years to bump up numbers and engagement to their company's blogs are finding they can get both relatively easily on LinkedIn Pulse. In some ways, the social hub arrived some time ago and we're just getting around to noticing.
Still, early adopters of this social-media-first model aren't going to change the Internet overnight. “For organizations, there's still a lot of value in having content on your own website, where visitors get the full branded experience and marketers can capture them in re-targeting bucket," says Tod Maffin, a Canadian digital marketing strategist, author and speaker who brings his trendspotting advice to audiences from London and Berlin to Melbourne. Perhaps when content publishers using Instant Articles get more in-depth analytics beyond just tracking clicks, the new social web as content hub might just really go viral.