Over the past few years, rising social referral traffic to brands/publishers from sites like Facebook, Pinterest & Twitter has challenged traditional search engines.   The top two suppliers of social referral traffic to publishers globally are now Facebook and Pinterest. See this Forbes article for details & the chart below.

Referral traffic

But just as social referral traffic has started to surpass search — Facebook decides to change it up.  The Times recently reported that Facebook held talks with media companies about hosting content inside Facebook rather than making users click to an external site. Facebook will start testing the model in the next several months, with the New York Times and BuzzFeed (among others) as initial partners.

See this article for details on Facebook’s master plan.

Admittedly, I was a little surprised to see the New York Times willing to cede control of its content and audience to Facebook–considering what happened to Zynga and others when they tied their business models so tightly to Facebook.

Then, I took a quick look at Google Search Trends and realized just how much NYT fears losing relevance if it doesn’t keep pace with BuzzFeed in the world of social …

Google Trends

As the media world increasingly moves toward “Buzzfeed-like” native ad models that charge on a CPM basis, impressions and reach matter more than ever; it makes sense that major publishers relying on native ad models want to drive more impressions via social newsfeeds.  In terms of monthly impressions from the News Feed, BuzzFeed’s content currently gets 11.3 billion impressions on Facebook,  6 billion impressions from Pinterest, and 847 million from Twitter according to TechCrunch.

buzzfeed-reach

Having said that,  certainly it is a risky move for a prestigious media company like the NYT (and Buzzfeed for that matter) to give up so much control of its brand and customers to Facebook.  Who knows what will happen to Facebook in the next 10 years? And why (in a world of data-driven publishing) would I want to stifle the collection and management of my own “first party data” as a brand?

My guess is that the NYT will work hard to step up its efforts to build its audience on platforms that are still “social referral traffic friendly” ensuring that the brand continues to build its own site and ecosystem outside the grips of increasingly powerful Facebook.

What are your thoughts?