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May 12 2011

16:00

Vadim Lavrusik: How journalists can make use of Facebook Pages

Editor’s Note: Late last month, Vadim Lavrusik moved from his role as the community manager and social media strategist at Mashable to become Facebook’s first Journalist Program Manager. In his new position, Vadim is now responsible for building and managing programs that help journalists, in various ways, make use of Facebook in their work. Below, he shares some ways that journalists have been taking advantage of one of the site’s newest features: Facebook Pages.

The Facebook News Feed is essentially a social newspaper. With it, you’re able to read and discover news shared by your friends, journalists, and media organizations you like. The personalized news stream includes everything from news about your friends’ lives to their reactions to a news article. It’s not only what is being shared, but who is sharing it that’s important.

Journalists can be an even more active part of that conversation. Though many journalists already have personal profiles on Facebook, public Pages enable them to build a professional presence, opening them up to readers beyond Facebook’s 5,000 friend limit and, importantly, helping them to separate their professional presence from their personal on the site.

With that in mind, below are some ways journalists have been using Pages for their reporting and storytelling.

Distribution

Many news organizations and journalists with Facebook Pages use their presence to distribute content. This, of course, not only enables readers to engage with the content on Facebook, but it also drives traffic back to the reporter’s site. (The average news site saw Facebook referrals increase by more than 300 percent since the beginning of 2010.)

By distributing content on Pages, reporters are able to showcase the journalism they produce to the public beyond their friends. And for the members of that public, the ability to get content directly from journalists, rather than just news organizations, creates a richer news consumption experience. It’s no longer just about the story being shared, but about what the person sharing it has to say about it. So when you “like” Christiane Amanpour, it’s likely because you’re interested not just in the news she delivers — but in the way she delivers it.

Social storytelling

Great journalism deserves to be showcased. From short updates on-the-go, to videos, photo albums, or a more in-depth pieces using the Notes feature, Pages enable journalists to produce and showcase various types of content for readers. Journalists such as Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times have used their Pages to post regular updates while they’ve been reporting abroad. Sometimes Kristof’s updates have been a mere behind-the-scenes window into his reporting, while others he has posted detailed descriptions and short stories while reporting from the likes of the Bahrain. And those updates spread to the News Feeds of the more than 200,000 people who “like” his page. The content is social, and, as such, it spreads throughout the network.

Personal vs. professional

Facebook Pages enable journalists to have a professional presence on Facebook, giving readers a chance to connect with their professional identity instead of having only the option to be their friends. And that can be especially useful when it comes to the journalists’ relationship with their sources. If sources want to connect with a journalist on the platform, Pages provide an option in which journalists don’t have to worry (as much) about the content of their personal profiles, or, for example, the ethical implications of accepting a source’s friend request. (It’s also worth noting that many sources probably feel uncomfortable “friending” a journalist.) Now, when someone searches for a journalist’s name, they will see the Page as an option to connect.

Another bonus: While personal profiles have a 5,000 “friend” limit, Pages have no limit.

Building your journalistic brand

As journalists, we often squirm at phrases like “personal branding.” But the reality is that social media, and the social web in general, have created a shift from the institutional news brand to journalists’ personal brands. Prior to the web, the journalistic personal brand was mostly limited to columnists and the TV anchors who enjoyed lots of face time. The rest of us were shrouded in mystery behind our bylines.

But as a result of the proliferation of personal blogs and social profiles — not to mention web search — readers can now find information about a journalist instantly. And journalists themselves have a bigger platform than ever before to interact with their readers, one that allows them more freedom with tone and voice. The bigger platform, of course, has not been limited to journalists alone, and that has resulted in many more voices, and also more noise. But that makes a journalist’s personal brand even more important. If you write it, they will not necessarily come.

Sure, the institutional brand and the credibility attached to it should not be de-emphasized; but the social web has created a consumption environment that encourages conversation as much as content, and the personal as much as the professional. It’s a shift from the logo to the face. A professional Page is a way to grow your personal brand, and develop your audience and community. It’s part of your professional social identity. Though your work and your craft can certainly speak for themselves, the pieces that make up your personal brand online can affect reader perception of your credibility, and your identity, as a journalist.

Showcasing multimedia

With more than 100 million photos uploaded daily, Facebook is the web’s most popular photo-sharing site. And the popularity of video on the site continues to grow. As such, it’s a big platform for photojournalists and videographers to showcase their work.

Take the columnist Deb Petersen of the San Jose Mercury News, who posts photos on her Page as an album that tells a broader story. Or Diane Sawyer, whose Page includes behind-the-scenes videos of her meetings and interviews. Or the TV station in Tallahassee that used its Page to post its newscast after having technical difficulties that prevented it from broadcasting. The station was still able to deliver its nightly newscast to its viewers on Facebook — and users were able to share that newscast with friends, and comment on it.

Breaking news

The News Feed gives users flexibility to adjust their options and filter based on what they want to see. The two prominent options are Top Stories and Most Recent. And Most Recent, in particular, enables users to see content being posted in real-time. This enables journalists and news organizations to keep its readers updated when news breaks.

In April, for example, after the St. Louis Airport was hit with a tornado, KMOV, the local TV station, kicked up the frequency of its updates to real-time. It used its Page to post warnings to its readers, photos and videos of damage, and prompts soliciting content and updates from readers. Journalists posting to the TV station’s Page would status tag their own journalist pages so that readers would know who was posting the reports, adding a layer of transparency and accountability — and enabling readers to connect with them.

Community-sourced content

The more people who participate in the journalism process, the better informed we are as a result. This is something that Jay Rosen recently emphasized in his reflection after 25 years of teaching journalism, and echoed by Mathew Ingram of GigaOM.

In its tornado coverage, KMOV-TV was able to community-source photos and videos of storm damage using its Facebook Page, many of which were used on TV to enhance its broadcast coverage. Individual journalists, of course, are not exempt. Fareed Zakaria uses his Facebook Page to solicit questions from his viewers for interviews he’s preparing for. He also uses Facebook Questions to poll his audience on issues he’s covering.

Cultivating an active and engaged community

Because Facebook Page owners can be logged in as the page itself, it gives them a customized experience and enables them to engage as their Page, and not their personal profile. You also receive notifications for when readers engage on your Page. Though using Pages can be a great tool in building an audience that helps you in your reporting, it also enables journalists to cultivate an active community of readers. The conversation around a story is just as important as the story itself. It usually enhances the story and better informs its readers.

Curating a news stream

Pages also enable journalists to “like” other Pages to create a personalized News Feed. Journalists can use the Page to keep up with top officials or organizations that have Pages set up without having to use their personal profiles and worry as much about the perception of a conflict of interest or an endorsement of an organization.

This is especially applicable to political reporters, who may want to keep up with candidates from multiple parties, but are worried about “liking” those candidates’ Pages using their personal profile. “Liking” content from your public Page means you can more clearly separate your personal identity from your professional one, helping other users to understand that the action is part of your work — not a personal endorsement.

Mobile

A lot of news reporting happens on-the-go, with production taking place not on a computer, but on a mobile phone. Pages can be synced with your mobile device, so it’s easy to post to your Page by using the mobile site or the iPhone application. You can also post photos via e-mail or status updates through text messages by texting “f” to 32665. After the Page is linked with your mobile number, you can send status updates to 32665, and those will post to your Wall.

A richer experience through applications

Pages offer a plethora of custom applications that you can employ to enhance the user experience on your Page. Features such as a custom Contact Form can easily be added as a tab to your page — an option for readers or sources to contact you privately with questions or news tips. Depending on your needs, you can typically find the right application by searching through the Applications Directory.

News organizations and journalist Pages alike have used various applications, from those that enable unique content such as a video livestream integration, to ones that enable you to build a Welcome page for readers who land on your Page. These can be effective in improving the rates of “like” conversions; a simple welcome prompt to “like” the page or directions of how to connect with the page can do the trick. CNN’s Carol Costello, for example, has a tab for Livestream, which enables her viewers to watch her livestreams right on her Facebook Page. And news organizations like Al-Jazeera English have used custom tabs to stream live video on their Page after their site crashed.

Insights into readers

Journalists with public Pages also have access to Facebook Insights, which provides them with exactly that: insights into the activity and demographics of their readers. As journalists, we’ve often had to make assumptions about who our readers are, or rely on imprecise reader surveys for insight into our audiences. For example, a journalist may think her readers are mostly middle-aged Americans, only to find in Insights that her Page community consists of a young, international demographic.

Insights enables journalists to learn more about who their audiences and communities are — not necessarily to produce content based on what performs, but to be better able to consider their communities’ needs, and perhaps to discover where the holes in demographics might be. That said, however, understanding how, and what type of, content is performing well online is crucial. Journalists, after all, are no longer responsible for the production of content alone, but also for distributing that content — and maximizing its impact.

March 08 2011

23:00

Something to “Like”? Facebook offers real-time analytics

Facebook just launched a round of updates to Insights, its analytics tool for sites that feature its social networking plugins. The updates include a bunch of useful improvements — you can now measure impressions, Comments Box analytics, and Like button clickthrough rates (yep, that’s a thing now!) — but the most significant (and potentially quite awesome) of the updates is the addition of real-time analytics capabilities when it comes to measuring Facebook interaction. Think Chartbeat for social engagement.

Think also, though, Google Analytics for social engagement. Facebook has been expanding its role when it comes to its relationship with publishers — not only through its broad Facebook + Media efforts, but also through an array of new plugins designed to help news sites better understand (and, then, interact with) their readership. And the Insights updates, via aggregate (and anonymized) usage stats, provide data not just about traffic, but also about user demographics. It’s not just about how many people are liking (and, you know, Liking) your stuff; it’s about who’s liking it — according to age range, gender, location, and language. Knowing all those demographics — some of which Google Analytics can’t provide — gives publishers the option of targeting their content (and with it, perhaps, their advertising) to specific user groups. And, given the real-time data, during specific times of the day.

The revamped Insights tool is, essentially, an invitation to publishers to experiment with how they present their content and, with it, their Facebook-integrated features. Is a Like button more effective at the top of stories, or below them? Or both? Do the majority of shares come organically — through cut-and-pasted links — or via plugins? (Yep, the updated Insights tool measures that, too.) Those small data points can make a big difference as far as traffic — and, obviously, user engagement — is concerned. Same deal from the Share/Like/Recommend perspective: Are your readers more inclined to distribute your content when it’s framed with a “Like” button, or a “Recommend”? Once you know, you can design accordingly. We use Insights to track Facebook engagement here at the Lab; it’ll be interesting to see what it will reveal.

January 31 2011

00:00

Nick Kristof turns to Facebook to report from Egypt

Yesterday afternoon, New York Times columnist Nick Kristof added an update to his Facebook page:

i’m heading for Egypt, and I think I can get in. Depending on Internet/phone access, I hope to FB, tweet, blog and columnize soon. So any suggestions? What should I focus on? What are you most interested in?

Five hours ago, he added another update:

I’ve arrived in Egypt! Amazing scene. Thanks for all your suggestions; I’ll be FBing, tweeting, writing, if I can get on line. Borrowing a sat phone now. Tahrir Square is just unbelievable–first time I’ve ever strolled across it without worrying about traffic. Just tanks and thousands of protesters. Everybody’s very hopeful and very nervous.

He’s since added two more updates to the page, describing the “giddy” mood at Tahrir Square, the campfires built by protesters in the street, the ominous quiet of a post-curfew Cairo. What’s resulted is a kind of running narrative — liveblog meets tweetstream meets reporter’s notebook — of Kristof’s observations about something so many people in the world want to know about right now: the situation — the real situation — on the ground in Egypt.

And readers have responded.

The columnist’s pithy updates have occasioned several hundreds of comments from Facebook users — 575 so far for Kristof’s announcement of his trip, 169 for his arrival update, and 261, combined, for the next two. Many of the them are simple, kind expressions of gratitude and caution — “Please be careful” is perhaps the most common reaction to Kristof’s reporting — but many of them are also astute observations about, among other things, the political future of Hosni Mubarak, the validity of comparing Cairo’s unrest to Tiananmen’s, and the role that the media both within Egypt and outside of it are playing as the situation escalates.

There are a couple things to note here, I think. First, the commentary Kristof’s reporting has inspired. It’s often said that Facebook makes for a much better commenting platform than news outlets’ websites do — Lois, quoting NPR’s social media guru, Andy Carvin, noted something to that effect last week — and Kristof’s page certainly suggests that. It’s partly that Facebook is, implicitly, a more personal, and personalized, platform for news consumption than, say, The New York Times’ website; it’s partly that Kristof’s page is meant as, essentially, a fan page; it’s partly that Facebook, with its Like-buttons-but-not-Dislike-buttons, in general creates a positive environment that, likewise, encourages positivity.

But there’s something else, too: Facebook integrates user commentary in a way that most news organizations don’t. The way Kristof’s page is laid out, his reports appear almost as another comment in a thread — just slightly bigger, slightly more prominent than the others. On Facebook, when you’re commenting on a story, you’re not just responding to it; you’re becoming part of it. You’re aiding in its creation.

The second thing to note is the narrative. It’s fascinating to observe how the running nature of Kristof’s reports change the value proposition of the story he’s telling. In his Facebook reporting, time is an implicit, and important, component of his narrative. Kristof, in being in Egypt right now, is in danger; a new update offers not merely a new piece of information about Egypt, but also the reassurance that he’s okay. Compare that tension to his newspaper columns, which are — even online — generally static productions that step out of time. In some sense, in fact, they try to overcome time: They challenge the vagaries of the news cycle by highlighting stories that don’t have explicit news pegs. Kristof’s Facebook reports, on the other hand — like his Twitter feed fleshed out — treat “the present moment” not only as their subject, but as their point: This is what I’m seeing now. No varnish — and very little artistry. And that makes them particularly compelling.

Kristof certainly isn’t the first journalist to tap the narrative power of Facebook for his reporting. The Wall Street Journal experimented, to great success, with direct-to-Facebook narratives after last year’s earthquake in Haiti — and The Washington Post has done amazing work using Facbeook updates as raw material for more traditionally constructed narratives. And there are many more where that came from. But Kristof isn’t just active on Facebook; he’s also active on Twitter — and, again, a prolific print columnist. Ostensibly, he will be using all of those platforms, and possibly more, to report on Egypt. In that, his Egypt coverage offers — in addition, of course, to valuable reporting — a kind of case study on how different platforms can be leveraged to tell a story. In real time, and beyond.

November 05 2010

16:00

The six-figure fan club: How Global Post got 100,000 fans on Facebook

GlobalPost, the online-only foreign news outlet, has over 100,000 fans on Facebook. (As of this writing: 104,180.) While, sure, that’s far fewer fans than some of the bigger, more established publications out there — The New York Times has, at the moment, nearly 900,000 fans; The New Yorker, more than 162,000 — it’s also far more than, say, The New Republic (under 7,000) or, for that matter, the Washington Post (nearly 90,000.) And within GlobalPost’s more direct peer group, both Foreign Policy and Foreign Affairs fall in the 20,000-follower range.

Which is all to say: For a startup that, given its age (young), its size (small), and its ambition (huge), can fairly be called “scrappy”…a six-figure fan club is a pretty big deal.

So, then: How’d they do it? The size of the young outlet’s Facebook fan base is to some extent a matter of simple serendipity — it’s “more than we’d ever imagined,” notes Phil Balboni, GlobalPost’s CEO and president — but it’s also one of strategy. “It goes without saying: Facebook is a tremendously important part of the web and people’s consumption of information,” Balboni told me. “And we really wanted to grow our Facebook engagement as much as we could.”

“Some kind of magic”

The growth came, in the end, from a concerted effort to take GlobalPost’s content and turn it into a campaign. In late May, the outlet began an overhaul of its website — giving GlobalPost.com not only an image-heavy aesthetic that reflects web design’s current trend toward timeless magazine-iness, but also baked-in social plug-ins from Facebook. Now, Balboni notes, in addition to the outlet’s brand-building efforts on Facebook.com, “we’ve completely integrated GlobalPost with Facebook for commenting, liking, and sharing stories.”

Starting in early July, Balboni and GlobalPost’s marketing director, Rick Byrne, built on the site’s social integration with an aggressive, Facebook-based marketing campaign, creating ads to capture the interest of the site’s members. When they began those efforts, GlobalPost had 5,000 or so followers, Balboni estimates; by late October, they’d reached the six-figure mark. (For the statisticians out there, that’s about a 2,000-percent increase.) The ads that fueled all the liking focused on some of the broad narratives that are, for better or for worse, evergreens in the sphere of foreign reporting — among them human rights issues, green technology, and the war in Afghanistan. (The latter of those, “the Forever War,” has drawn particular engagement and interest on Facebook, Balboni notes.) The how’d they do that here, then, comes down not to a strict formula so much as a loose recipe. As Balboni puts it: “There’s some kind of magic between the content, the brand, and the types of issues we cover.”

You might think that the explosion of followers would be tied to particular events that occurred between July and now — I think there was something going on in Chile at one point? — but, no: The fan-base increase “was a pretty steady rise,” Byrne told me. You could argue, in fact, that the evergreen nature of the stories the site’s ads focused on — the environment, the war — allowed for the kind of steady, month-over-month engagement that builds name recognition iteratively…rather than via the momentary surges that come from event-based traffic, which spike suddenly and tend to plummet just as quickly.

You could also add that the narrative- and context-heavy journalism GlobalPost specializes in — “a look at the world that is quite different and richer and varied than you’d get from any other news organization,” Balboni puts it — is precisely the type of journalism that people like to, well, like: It’s political in the kind of broad way that allows users to demonstrate engagement with foreign news without having to act on that engagement. (It’s also often supra-partisan in a way that much of our national journalism is not.) There’s also the more hopeful view that people actually want more foreign coverage than most of us assume. And liking, of course, is an extremely low-barrier form of brand affiliation: see the invite, click the button, and move on. The transaction cost involved is basically zero.

The halo effect

Which begs, then, another question: For a site that has bills to pay and investors to please, does a Facebook-based marketing campaign offer enough in the way of return? Does GlobalPost’s fan base on the closed world of Facebook translate to traffic for a site that lives in the the open web?

Yes and no. While the direct correlation between GlobalPost’s Facebook likes and its site’s traffic is impossible to measure in concrete terms, “we’ve seen a significant increase in direct traffic since we started the Facebook campaign,” Balboni notes. Even if direct causation can’t be determined, the correlation is clear: The Facebook fan base helps GlobalPost build its brand, and brand recognition, in turn, creates a halo effect — the kind of broad recognition that radiates back to the site itself. “It’s important to not only maintain, but also to increase the number of direct visits,” Balboni notes, “because those are arguably the people who are most committed to your brand: your loyalists, your most enthusiastic readers.”

(Slate, it’s worth noting — along with Gawker and several other online brands — employs a similar logic based on branded traffic: A small group of loyal readers, the thinking goes, is worth more to publishers than a large group of casual ones.)

And that logic applies to site subscriptions, as well — aided by the fact that the outlet, which has partnered with Journalism Online to help facilitate its e-commerce activities, reduced its fees this summer. (Membership now costs $2.95 a month, or $29.95 a year.) “I think you can make a logical connection between people who are very interested in what GlobalPost does and those who are becoming members,” Balboni says. “The more people who care about what we do, the greater the chances that they’re going to click on that big red arrow at the top of our site and consider becoming a GlobalPost member.”

Strategy, on Facebook as everywhere else, is key. “You have to take deliberative steps,” Balboni says. “It doesn’t happen just by putting up a Facebook icon on your site. It takes more than that. You have to get people’s attention, in the Facebook community and everywhere else.”

July 27 2010

13:45

Facebook launches a “Facebook + Media” page

Last night, Facebook unveiled a project that it’s had in the works for a while: a media page devoted to journalists, developers, and other “media partners.” Facebook + Media is dedicated, it says, to “helping news, TV, video, sports, and music partners use Facebook” — in particular, by helping them “learn about best practices and tools to help…drive referral traffic, increase engagement, and deepen user insights.”

The page offers data, for example, into how users engage with news content shared on Facebook — think of it as the social sister to Google Analytics. For example, per a note we received from a Facebook spokesperson, and based on a study of the 100 top media sites integrated with the network’s social plugins:

- Stories published in the early morning or late evening showed higher engagement

- Websites experienced 3-5x greater click-through rates on the Like button when they included thumbnail photos of a user’s friends, enabled users to add comments (which 70% of top performing sites did), and placed the Like button at the top and bottom of articles and near visually exciting content like videos and graphics Sites that place Facebook social plugins above the fold and on multiple webpages receive more engagement. For example, sites that placed the Activity Feed plugin on the front and content pages received 2-10x more clicks per user than sites with the plugins on the front page alone.

- Sites have used the Live Stream box to boost engagement with live video content. During the World Cup, there were over 1.5 million status updates through the Live Stream box on media websites such as Univision, TF1, ESPN, Cuatro, RTVE, and Telecinco.

Whatever your current engagement with Facebook, and whether your particular news organization is staffed by 1,000 employees or one, the findings are worth attention. Here’s some more information on the data and how it was assembled.

As far as Facebook itself is concerned, the new page seems devoted not just to data on traffic and interactivity and the like, but also to avoiding the trap that Google has found itself in and is now trying to rectify: an uncomfortable kind of awkward often oppositional relationship with news organizations. News outlets and social news platforms — or, more clinically, content providers and content distributors — used to be an us-and-them proposition. Now, though, we’re coming to a point where “social news” is not only common, but a redundancy. How could the news, we increasingly assume, be anything but social in nature?

It may have PR overtones; still, Facebook + Media is an indication of the collapse of the wall that used to divide content and delivery platform. As Facebook Development team lead Justin Osofsky — who oversees the company’s media partnerships, and who (with fellow Facebooker Matt Kelly) was on hand at a San Francisco Hacks/Hackers event last night — put it: Facebook is trying to enter into dialogue with journalism organizations. And the media page is “the first cut to start the discussion.”

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