Native Content: The Social Media Giants’ Fight to Keep You On Platform

Passion Digital Passion Digital 09/05/2022 7 minutes

Should your brand use native written content features on social media platforms? Rosie, our Managing Partner for Insight & Strategy, explores the topic.    

When I started my career in content marketing, social amplification was an important part of a blogging programme. Blog content was promoted on Facebook, Twitter and/or LinkedIn and provided a steady stream of traffic to blog posts, especially those with timely subject matter that was unlikely to achieve organic rankings. As the social media giants have grown – swallowing competitor platforms and absorbing their functionality, or copying the features of their competitors – I’ve noticed a clear change: keeping users on platform with native content.

“Social media is no longer just an amplification tool but a publishing platform in its own right.”

Features such as LinkedIn Articles and Facebook’s Instant Articles are encouraging creators to take the long-form content they would once have published on their own blogs and house it on a social platform instead. From a user perspective, there is little difference in experience between the two – either way they are seeing a blog post title in their news feed, clicking a link and reading the content. However, this reluctance from social platforms to send users offsite may have far-reaching consequences for content marketers.  

Native Social Content: The Story So Far

A platform for dissemination

The mature social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn – work on a similar premise: they allow users to disseminate content to their network(s) by sharing links within posts. With the added functionality to share social posts, offsite content can gain viral spread, making social a significant traffic driver to a brand’s website.

A platform for engagement

Instagram was the first mainstream social media platform to disrupt this model. It has never allowed users to link to external sites in individual posts, which completely changes the way that brands implement it into their content strategy. Rather than using Instagram for amplification, they are forced to adapt their existing content for the platform, turning long-form articles into bite-sized carousel posts, or even converting content topics that would once have been written up as a blog post into a video format. 

In this way it operates as a closed loop: users find content on Instagram and stay in the app while they consume it. They aren’t encouraged to leave – in fact, the tight restrictions on linking actively discourage the dissemination of off-platform content. Although tools such as Later’s Link in Bio give a work around for this by allowing profiles to add multiple links alongside visual posts, in my experience it is not an effective traffic driving tool. Users just don’t use Instagram in that way.

TikTok built on Instagram’s formula. Again, the platform encourages users to create native content and discourages linking offsite. The benefit? Fewer distractions from the feed and more time spent on the platform – which gives more opportunities to show ads to users and gain ad revenue.  

Playing catch up

It is understandable that this shift towards favouring native content has affected the models of the mature social platforms. Why are they still pushing users away onto other websites while their competitors are successfully keeping them on platform? Meta has a long tradition of replicating the functionality of its rivals in order to keep its platforms competitive. Instagram Stories are so bedded in now, but they started as the platform’s answer to Snapchat; the same idea goes with Reels, which were implemented to compete with TikTok. 

Facebook’s answer to encouraging the production of native written content on platform is Instant Articles, which function rather like Medium. They offer their own super-fast publishing system that provides a seamless experience for users between feed and post, while also offering monetisation opportunities through ad space and paywall options. Although it was launched back in 2015 and has been tweaked in the years since, it has never become the mainstream content publishing platform for marketers that perhaps it wanted to be. However, a client recently got in touch with me saying that they had been invited to use Facebook’s Instant Articles feature, with the promise of monetisation – which may indicate a renewed push by the platform to engage brands.

LinkedIn’s Article feature has been embraced more widely. One of the big benefits that I have seen is that LinkedIn articles have the ability to rank in search engines, which means that their discoverability goes beyond just social spread. 

Side note: Notice how Twitter hasn’t featured in any of this discussion so far? That’s because it has remained remarkably self-contained and true to its original function while Meta and LinkedIn have expanded and diversified their platforms to become a one-stop social media shop. Of course, that may change now that Elon Musk has bought Twitter

Why Does it Matter?

So why don’t brands abandon their blogs and just switch to native social content instead? Is our traditional model of using social media for content amplification outdated, and should it just be binned?

I would argue… no. Driving traffic to your site is still an important part of content marketing – and here’s why.

1. Controlling the reading environment

If you’re doing it well, content marketing provides the first point of contact that a customer has with a brand. It invites them into the brand’s world, surrounded by their colours, tone of voice and logo; it familiarises them with your site structure and products or services. Getting a user to click through to a blog post is an indicator that you have grabbed their attention enough to seek more, and you have the opportunity to give them more in an environment entirely controlled by you. 

Although Facebook’s Instant Articles allow you to customise the HTML to some extent so that users feel like they’re going to your website, there are still significant limitations. LinkedIn articles are intentionally stripped of branding in order to improve the reading experience for the user. This means that the only opportunity for brand recall is the name of the person/business who wrote the article – and your content is not working as hard for your brand as it could do onsite.  

2. Tracking the interactions of users

The control of the reading environment is important for more than just branding. It means that we can install tracking to help understand how users are interacting with the content. This can be top level – analysing the traffic source, time on page, etc. – or much more detailed with custom tracking. We use Google Tag Manager to track metrics such as scroll depth and clicks on specific links to accurately map how users are consuming the content and moving through the website.   

Again, both Facebook and LinkedIn offer analytics solutions with their native content formats, but both are weaker than those we can implement on owned websites. 

3. Benefiting the site as a whole

If you’ve read all the way down this article, I think I’m probably preaching to the choir when I note that blog content has long been an important part of organic marketing. Targeting long-tail informational keywords in blog posts gives your site more chances to rank and create a cloud of relevancy around the site as a whole, while strategic internal linking to key pages can benefit their performance. 

If you choose to forgo onsite content altogether in favour of native social content, you lose all of this SEO benefit. Sure, your LinkedIn article may rank in Google, but it won’t benefit your website in any way.  

4. Taking users down the funnel 

Blog content is classic top-of-the-funnel activity that has more than just the soft, immeasurable benefit of brand awareness. In a practical sense, if we drive traffic to a site we can build up remarketing lists based on people who have visited the blog and retarget them with relevant messaging. Did they read a blog post on migraine relief? Show them ads for migraine patches. Did they engage with content about the best places to live in south London? Show them ads for properties in Brixton. 

5. Ownership of your content

The publisher holds the right to censor your content if it doesn’t adhere to community guidelines. This is unlikely to affect you if you’re selling something like groceries or car wash services, but for some businesses this is very restrictive. For example, Meta is notoriously prudish when it comes to publishing content about sexual wellness – ad copy that mentions words like ‘semen’ and content about sex toys are automatically banned, even if the intention is educational or sex positive. There’s very little you can do about it, because you’re playing on the platform’s field and therefore have to abide by their rules. On your own website no such restrictions are necessary.

What Next?

The truth is, I do fear for the future of content amplification on social. Already it’s very hard to reach younger demographics who favour Instagram and TikTok with offsite content, whether that be blog posts or hero assets such as microsites. Marketers may argue that younger generations don’t want to read long-form written content and prefer short videos – but is that a habit created by the social media giants who bar their access to written content on the platforms that they favour? 

Maybe it’s only a matter of time before Facebook and LinkedIn prevent users from adding hyperlinks to their posts in an attempt to force people to use their native content formats. Will their single-minded determination to keep users on platform bring an end to offsite content dissemination on social? Okay, maybe I’m being dramatic here – but it does highlight the importance for content marketers to recognise these shifts in platform functionality and not rely too heavily on techniques just because they have served us well in the past.