Social Media is Abandoning WordPress Publishers. What’s Next?

Last month, I wrote about the ActivityPub plugin for WordPress sites. ActivityPub could form the basis for a new social network with your WordPress site as your profile.

The time is right to explore alternatives because social media is abandoning publishers.

As you’ve probably heard, the Twitter is now called X, and it’s not very good any more. It used to be an excellent place to follow the news.

But the truth is that Twitter/X never sent many visitors to publishers. Even when it was more successful, it drove less than 2% of visitors.

What has changed in 2023 is Facebook.

Facebook is getting out of the news business. CNN reports some data, and so does The Narwhal. They are one of the WordPress publishers I refer to most often when people ask for examples of exciting new journalism. We covered them back in 2020. They sent out a newsletter with details of their traffic challenges. Their Facebook traffic is cratering:

many of you reading this probably initially discovered The Narwhal through Facebook. In 2019, Facebook drove 54 per cent of The Narwhal’s total traffic. By 2021, that number had been cut in half. And so far in 2023, Facebook has accounted for just six per cent of readers to our site.”

There are similar reports from other small publishers. Some of this is a result of Canada’s “Online News Act”. But the bigger problem is that Facebook seems to want to exit the news business. There are reports that news is also disappearing from for publishers’ followers on Instagram.

What Can Small WordPress Publishers Do?

If you go to the The Narwha’s site now, they are pushing their newsletter very heavily, with pop-ups like the one shown below.

Newsletters have always been the favorite approach of IndieGraf. In a recent newsletter, they shared some ideas and examples. Here are some of the highlights:

  • As old fashioned as it sounds, link to your RSS feed on your website. For [WordPress] publishers, your RSS feed can be found at For example, we love this explainer from The Narwhal.
  • Try focusing on different social channels like LinkedIn, Reddit, and Twitter. Energeticcity shared its new social strategy with their audience, which includes converting a few stories daily into videos that will be posted on TikTok and YouTube
  • Consider testing out newer platforms like Mastodon and Bluesky.
  • Keep your audience informed about these changes and how it’s impacting your publication. For example, Newfoundland and Labrador’s The Independent produced this video addressing how its readers will be affected and what they can do about it.

Gabrielle Brassard-Lecours is the editor of Pivot, a WordPress publisher in Quebec. He quotes Alain Saulnier, former managing editor at Radio-Canada:

He evokes the idea of creating a national network to meet our own information needs. “We would have all the resources here to set up a social network in our image, with experts in programming, artificial intelligence, etc.,” says Saulnier. He recalls the example of Radio-Canada, created in the 1930s in response to the growing influence of American radio.

You can see a lot of ideas being suggested here! No real solutions have emerged yet, but publishers are working hard to build direct relationships with readers.

2023 is a challenge and an opportunity. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are leaving the news business. WordPress is the platform used by most small publishers. Can we build WordPress tools to help publishers own the relationship with their audience? What’s next after social media?

Community Responses

Several of your responded to this post (in private communities, not social media).

Lesley from Newsletter Glue shared this article about NPR leaving Twitter and seeing minimal effects.

Pete from Leaky Paywall said, “Publishers need to get aggressive about getting organic readers to register for their content to build their email list. It’s a critical distribution tool under their control. Their best fans can then share their content on the social platforms of their choice. As an example we recently launched a news publisher with an existing email list of 90k with a registration wall. In 30 days they attracted over 3000 new registration – new fans that are all empowered to share.”

We also saw evidence that Google News may well be on a downward path.

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