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February 03 2012

16:30

Pew data: Facebook has room for passives as well as actives

If it’s so much better to give than receive, why are some Facebook users sitting on their hands?

The Pew Internet and American Life Project released a new report today that suggests Facebook users are not a uniformly active bunch. According to the study, the typical Facebook user gets more friend requests than she sends, is tagged in photos more than she tags, and has posts Liked more often than she Likes herself.

But wait — shouldn’t it all even out? After all, every friend request has a requester and a requestee. If a typical user is skews passive on Facebook, where’s all the action coming from?

The answer: a collection of “power users” who, according to the report, are becoming specialists of a sort. You know that friend who only posts tons of photos, or the one who goes on a Liking spree, or the one who seems to rack up an inordinate amount of friends? Yup, they’re doing the work for the rest of us. Even on a flat platform, behavior still moves toward a division of labor:

A proportion of Facebook participants — ranging between 20% and 30% of users depending on the type of activity — were power users who performed these same activities at a much higher rate; daily or more than weekly.

Essentially, in the funny parlance you could only get in a report about Facebook: “People are liked more than they like.” Some data:

Facebook users in our sample on average contributed about four comments for every status update that they made. On average, users make nine status updates per month and contribute 21 comments. Some 33% of Facebook users here updated their status at least once per week. Still, half of our sample made no status updates in the month of our analysis.

Discussion of social media circles around the word “engagement” — but even for many users of social networks, the experience is more about taking-it-all-in than about response and conversation. For a news industry with a long history of one-way communication, that might be a little…comforting? Facebook’s value, at least to media and other companies looking to tap into audiences, is that it’s a super-broad platform built for content and transactional activity. A link is posted; it’s rewarded with a like. A question is asked; it elicits comments. The Pew survey paints a picture where that action is less than reliable:

A third of our sample (33%) used the like button at least once per week during this month, and 37% had content they contributed liked by a friend at least once per week. However, the majority of Facebook users neither liked content, nor was their content liked by others, in our month of observation.

If Facebook activity disproportionately relies on a subset of power users with busy hands, that’s an opening for news outlets or individual journalists to fill that need. The conversation is far more distributed than it was pre-Internet, but it’s still not evenly distributed.

Pew says that Facebook comment-leaving is a bit more reciprocal than some other kinds of Facebook behavior:

More than half our sample (55%) commented on a friend’s content at least once in the month, and 51% received comments from a friend. A large segment of users, a little over 20%, contributed or received a comment every day. The average of 21 comments given on friends’ content was nearly identical to the average of 20 that were received. Again, there are some extreme users as well, about 5% of our sample contributed and received over 100 comments in the month of our observation.

Pew’s data is based on a sample of 269 Facebook users, initially identified through a random phone survey, but who then allowed Pew to track their trails on the site. While its findings may give a (slight) challenge to the idea that Facebook is a heavily engaged network where everyone’s sharing all the time, the report still found big, enticing numbers for any publishing looking to reach a big audience: The median user in their sample is within two degrees of separation (friends of friends) of 31,170 people on Facebook. (For one uber-connected user, that number was 7,821,772.) We already know Facebook is growing as a top referrer to many news sites, so what’s clear from this report is that they need to keep it up. If power users are the straw that stirs the drink on Facebook, then it’s more important than ever journalists and media companies play an active role.

Meh button by Ken Murphy used under a Creative Commons license.

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 11 2011

15:00

This Week in Review: NPR at a crossroads, hyperlocal’s personal issue, and keeping comments real

Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news.

A bad week for NPR execs named Schiller: For the second time in five months, NPR has found itself in the middle of a controversy that’s forced it to wrestle with issues of objectivity, bias, and its own federal funding. This one started when the conservative prankster James O’Keefe orchestrated a hidden-camera video of a NPR fundraising exec bashing Tea Partiers and generally straying from the NPR party line while meeting with people pretending to represent a Muslim charity. (The “donors” also met with PBS, but their people didn’t take the bait.)

Reaction was mixed: The right, of course, was outraged, though others like Slate’s Jack Shafer and Gawker’s John Cook downplayed the significance of the video. NPR was outraged, too — “appalled,” actually, with 21 journalists condemning the remarks. CEO Vivian Schiller said she was upset and that the two execs had put on administrative leave, but within about 12 hours, however, Schiller herself had been forced out by NPR’s board. The New York Times has good background on the shocking turn of events, and Poynter summarized the six months of controversy that led up to this, stretching back to Juan Williams’ firing (the American Journalism Review’s Rem Rieder called Schiller’s ouster “Williams’ revenge”).

Reaction to NPR’s handling of the situation was decidedly less mixed — and a lot more scathing. In a chat and column, NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard ripped just about all parties involved, and the online response from media-watchers was just as harsh. NYU j-prof Jay Rosen called it “profoundly unjust,” and several others blasted NPR’s leadership.

The Awl’s Choire Sicha called NPR’s management “wusses,” CUNY j-prof Jeff Jarvis called the NPR board “ballless” and said the episode exposes the difference between NPR and the stations who run it, ex-Saloner Scott Rosenberg lamented NPR’s allowing the O’Keefes of the world to take over public discourse, and Rosen and Northeastern j-prof Dan Kennedy told NPR to start fighting back. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Joel Meares put it best, saying the fiasco “exposes them as an organization that is fundamentally weak — too concerned about its image to realize that ‘surrender’ is not always the best option.”

The episode also stoked the fires of the perpetual debate over whether public radio should keep its federal funding. The Atlantic’s Chris Good looked at the political aspects of the issue, and The Christian Science Monitor examined whether public radio stations would survive without federal money. A few calls to defund public radio came from outside the traditional (i.e. conservative) places, with Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan and media analyst Alan Mutter arguing that NPR will be in an untenable situation as a political football as long as they’re getting federal funds. Meanwhile, here at the Lab, USC’s Nikki Usher did give some encouraging information from the whole situation, looking at Schiller’s legacy of digital and local innovation during her NPR tenure.

Making hyperlocal news personal: AOL continued its move into local news late last week, as it bought the hyperlocal news aggregator Outside.in. In an excellent analysis at the Lab, Ken Doctor argued that the purchase is a way for AOL to get bigger quickly, particularly by bulking up Patch’s pageviews through cheap local aggregation tools. ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick took the opportunity to ask why hyperlocal news technology services like Outside.in, Everyblock, and Fwix haven’t been as useful as we had hoped.

Mathew Ingram of GigaOM posited an answer: Hyperlocal journalism only works if it’s deeply connected with the community it serves, and those technologies aren’t. Without that level of community, “AOL is pouring money into a bottomless pit,” he wrote. The Knight Digital Media Center’s Amy Gahran said that might be where local news organizations can step in, focusing less on creating news articles and more on using their community trust to make local information useful, relevant and findable.

Elsewhere on the cheap-content front: All Things Digital reported that AOL is laying off hundreds of employees (including the widely expected gutting of several of its news sites), and Business Insider snagged the memo. Wired talked to two Google engineers about its anti-content farm changes, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said good content is created either by passionate fans or by proper journalists being paid a fair amount. But, he said, “paying people a very low amount of money to write about stuff they don’t care about — that doesn’t work.” And Dan Conover at Xark warned against turning content — especially hyperlocal — into a franchise formula.

Accountability and authenticity in online comments: TechCrunch was one of the first companies to try out Facebook’s new commenting system, and after about a week, MG Siegler noted that the number of the site’s comments had decreased, and they’d also gone from nasty to warm and fuzzy. Entrepreneur Steve Cheney proposed a reason why the comments were so “sterile and neutered”: Facebook kills online authenticity, because everyone is self-censoring their statements to make sure their grandmas, ex-girlfriends, and entire social network won’t be offended.

Tech guru Robert Scoble disagreed, arguing that TechCrunch’s comments have improved, and people know real change and credibility only comes from using their real identities. Slate’s Farhad Manjoo made a somewhat similar argument, eloquently making the case for the elimination of anonymous commenting. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram weighed in by saying that Facebook can’t make or break comments — it all depends on being involved in an actual conversation with users. He pointed to a brilliant post by NPR’s Matt Thompson, who gave numerous tips on cultivating community in comments; much it went back to the idea that “The very best filter is an empowered, engaged adult.”

Meanwhile, Joy Mayer of the Reynolds Journalism Institute got some advice on cultivating online reader engagement from the Wall Street Journal’s (and formerly the Lab’s) Zach Seward, and the Lab’s Megan Garber reported on the results of some research into which stories are the most liked and shared on Facebook.

More paywall test cases: Newspapers continue to pound the paywall drumbeat, with the CEO of newspaper chain Gannett saying the company is experimenting with various pay models in anticipation of a potential one-time company-wide rollout and the Dallas Morning News rolling out its own paywall this week. Ken Doctor crunched the numbers to try to gauge the initiative’s chances, and media consultant Mike Orren disagreed with the News’ idea of how much a metro newspaper’s operation should cost.

Elsewhere, Reuters’ Felix Salmon made the case that Britain’s Financial Times’ paywall strategy has contributed to its decline, writing, “the FT strategy is exactly the strategy I would choose if I was faced with an industry in terminal decline, and wanted to extract as much money as possible from it before it died.” Meanwhile, The New York Times’ public editor, Arthur Brisbane, chided the Times for not aggressively covering news of its own paywall, and Mathew Ingram of GigaOM called paywalls a futile attempt to hold back the tide of free online content.

Reading roundup: Some things to read in between SXSW Interactive panels:

— New York Times executive editor Bill Keller wrote a rather odd little column taking shots at news and opinion aggregators, especially Arianna Huffington. Everyone then took shots at his column, including Huffington, TechDirt’s Mike Masnick, GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram, and Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan.

— Newsweek published its first redesigned issue under The Daily Beast’s Tina Brown this week. The Society of Publication Designers had a look at the issue, which Slate’s Jack Shafer panned. The New York Times noted the issue’s familiar bylines.

— A few Apple-related notes: At MediaShift, Susan Currie Sivek looked at the impact of Apple’s 30-percent app subscription cut on small magazines, and Poynter’s Damon Kiesow urged Apple-fighting publishers to move to the open web, not Android-powered tablets. GigaOM’s Om Malik joined the chorus of people calling for iPad apps to be reimagined.

— Two great posts at the Lab on search engine optimization: Richard J. Tofel on why the web will be better off with the decline of SEO, and Martin Langeveld on the SEO consequences of including paid links on sites.

— Former Guardian digital chief Emily Bell gave a fantastic interview to CBC Radio about various future-of-news issues, and Mathew Ingram summarized a talk she gave on newspapers and the web.

— Finally, two must-reads: The Atlantic’s James Fallows wrote a thoughtful essay arguing that we should take the contemporary journalism environment on its own terms, rather than unfairly comparing it to earlier eras. And at the Lab, former St. Pete Times journalist and current Nebraska j-prof Matt Waite called news developers to let the old systems go and “hack at the very core of the whole product.”

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