Last Thursday Facebook shook up the publishing world when it announced plans to make the largest change in years to their News Feed. Going forward Facebook will prioritize content that users share over all other content. This means that, as early as this week, users will start to see less publisher content and more content from their friends and families.

For Facebook, these changes are about getting back to their roots. Mark Zuckerberg noted that community feedback about content from publishers and businesses “crowding out the personal moments that leads us to connect” influenced the decision to pivot. Facebook’s product teams will now focus on “helping [users] have more meaningful social interactions.”

While Facebook aims to make the time users spend on the platform more valuable and increase happiness and well-being, it comes at the expense of publishers’ ability to distribute their content and reach their users on the platform. After making large investments in Facebook over the past several years, many publishers must now reconsider their investments and likely their entire content distribution strategies.

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Although Facebook’s share on total referral was already shrinking over the last year, currently 24%, down from over 40% early in 2017, the platform remains a major source that many publisher rely on for traffic. With the upcoming changes, the decline of Facebook’s influence on referral traffic will accelerate and publishers will need to pursue alternative channels and strategies in order to maintain traffic

So what can publishers do about this? Invest in their audiences!

This is the question at the top of almost every publisher’s mind right now. In our opinion, the best way for publishers to protect themselves from risky over-reliance on third parties, is to focus on building strong relationships with their audiences.

Top publishers were already limiting their investment in external platforms long before Facebook announced these changes. They saw that external investments can be risky and often fail to back out into meaningful ROI. Instead they are increasing investment in building relationships through on-site engagement, newsletters, and subscriptions.

Investments in strategies and tools to create and nurture these relationships have shown to provide sustainable results in the forms of direct traffic and subscriptions. Recently we outlined our plans to expand on the capabilities of the Disqus platform to help publishers more sucessfully create, retain, and grow relationships with their audiences.

We’re excited to continue delivering more features and functionality for and hearing feedback from publishers at this critical point in time. Today we want to share a few strategies that publishers can invest in now to help prepare for the upcoming changes.

3 ways to boost your Audience Development efforts today

Growing on-site engagement leads to sustained readership and audience loyalty

Ideally publishers want their readers to come directly to their sites. However, building audience loyalty that keeps readers coming back regularly can be a challenge. Publishers who succeed at this are those who can create engaged communities and provide users with unique experiences. We recently put together a comprehensive eBook, filled with tactics and strategies that can help publishers of all sizes increase audience engagement, loyalty, and direct traffic. If you’re looking boost your audience development efforts, this is a great place to start. Additionally, you can check out how our partner, Batman News, is leveraging these tactics to drive business results.

Facebook will favor content from users, but it's not all bad news

Yes, publishers' reach, both organic and paid, will shrink on Facebook. While this will certainly have a negative impact on many publishers’ reach in the short term, there is a long term opportunity to regain and grow traffic. The silver lining is that UGC (User generated content) typically outperforms brand content. According to research by Mavrck, UGC drives 6.9x more engagement on Facebook. With UGC about to take a much more prominent role in readers’ feeds, publishers who can foster loyal relationships and turn their readers into advocates on external platforms stand to benefit significantly.

To help publishers take advantage of this, we’re exploring new ways for publishers to use Disqus to increase shares and organic posts from their readers. In the meantime, there are several ways for publishers to promote shares. Even simple moves like making sure to have a share button on articles can help. Additionally, this is a great opportunity to evaluate new ways of promoting shares such as prompts for engaged readers or providing an incentive system.

Invest in first party distribution

We’ve written several times about the importance of having a strong email strategy and recently updated our platform to help publishers drive email subscriptions. Publishers who succeed at this have their own, proprietary channels for distributing content directly to their most engaged readers. Now, more than ever, we expect to see publishers increasing their investments in email. This is a great time to make sure that you’re maximizing sign-ups with effective and well placed CTAs. Additionally, more publishers are investing in optimizing the type and format of content they send in email newsletters. Some strategies to consider include providing several different sign-up options for users, allowing users to self identify their preferences and receive tailored content, and even leveraging technology to deliver personalized newsletters based on the content each user engages with.

Email is not the only first party distribution channel to explore. More publishers are expanding into push and browser notifications. We expect to see the investments in all of these channels increase in 2018 as publishers look for ways to compensate for the risks of reliance on third parties.

We're here to help and want to hear your thoughts and ideas

What do you think about Facebook’s plans to change their News Feed? As a publisher, how do you plan to respond to the changes? If you have more ideas on how we can help, questions about how these changes will impact publishers and users, or feedback about our plans, please let us know!

We’re working hard on more updates to Disqus and look forward to working with publishers to help them build stronger relationships with their readers. For now, if you’re looking to bolster your audience development efforts or double down on email, our Ultimate Guide to Increasing Reader Engagement and our new Email Subscriptions feature are great places to start.