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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.”

October 22 2010

14:00

This Week in Review: Hard news’ online value, a small but successful paywall, and the war on WikiLeaks

[Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week's top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

The value of hard news online: Perfect Market, a company that works on monetizing news online, released a study this week detailing the value of this summer’s most valuable stories. The study included an interesting finding: The fluffy, celebrity-driven stories that generate so much traffic for news sites are actually less valuable to advertisers than relevant hard news. The key to this finding, The New York Times reported, is that news stories that actually affect people are easier to sell contextual advertising around — and that kind of advertising is much more valuable than standard banner ads.

As Advertising Age pointed out, a lot of this goes back to keyword ads and particularly Google AdSense; a lot of, say, mortgage lenders and immigration lawyers are doing keyword advertising, and they want to advertise around subjects that deal with those issues. In other words, stories that actually mean something to readers are likely to mean something to advertisers too.

But the relationship isn’t quite that simple, said GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram. Advertisers don’t just want to advertise on pages about serious subjects; they want to advertise on pages about serious subjects that are getting loads of pageviews — and you get those pageviews by also writing about the Lindsey Lohans of the world. SEOmoz’s Rand Fishkin had a few lingering questions about the study, and the Lab’s Megan Garber took the study as a cue that news organizations need to work harder on “making their ads contextually relevant to their content.”

The Times Co.’s paywall surprise: The New York Times Co. released its third-quarter earnings statement (your summary: print down, digital up, overall meh), and the Awl’s Choire Sicha put together a telling graph that shows how The Times has scaled down its operation while maintaining at least a small profit. Digital advertising now accounts for more than a quarter of The Times’ advertising revenue, which has to be an relatively encouraging sign for the company.

Times Co. CEO Janet Robinson talked briefly and vaguely about the company’s paid-content efforts, led by The Times’ own planned paywall and the Boston Globe’s two-site plan. But what made a few headlines was the fact that the company’s small Massachusetts paper, The Telegram & Gazette, actually saw its number of unique visitors increase after installing a paywall in August. Peter Kafka of All Things Digital checked the numbers out with comScore and offered a few possible reasons for the bump (maybe a few Google- or Facebook-friendly stories, or a seasonal traffic boost).

The Next Web’s Chad Catacchio pushed back against Kafka’s amazement, pointing out that the website remains free to print subscribers, which, he says, probably make up the majority of the people interested in visiting the site of a fairly small community paper like that one. Catacchio called the Times Co.’s touting of the paper’s numbers a tactic to counter the skepticism about The Times’ paywall, when in reality, he said, “this is completely apples and oranges.”

WikiLeaks vs. the world: The international leaking organization WikiLeaks has kept a relatively low profile since it dropped 92,000 pages of documents on the war in Afghanistan in July, but Spencer Ackerman wrote at Wired that WikiLeaks is getting ready to release as many as 400,000 pages of documents on the Iraq War as soon as next week, as two other Wired reporters looked at WikiLeaks’ internal conflict and the ongoing “scheduled maintenance” of its site. WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange responded by blasting Wired via Twitter, and Wired issued a defense.

One of the primary criticisms of WikiLeaks after their Afghanistan release was that they were putting the lives of American informants and intelligence agents at risk by revealing some of their identities. But late last week, we found out about an August memo by Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledging that no U.S. intelligence sources were compromised by the July leak. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald documented the numerous times government officials and others in the media asserted exactly the opposite.

Greenwald asserted that part of the reason for the government’s rhetoric is its fear of damage that could be caused by WikiLeaks future leaks, and sure enough, it’s already urging news organizations not to publish information from WikiLeaks’ Iraq documents. At The Link, Nadim Kobeissi wrote an interesting account of the battle over WikiLeaks so far, characterizing it as a struggle between the free, open ethos of the web and the highly structured, hierarchical nature of the U.S. government. “No nation has ever fought, or even imagined, a war with a nation that has no homeland and a people with no identity,” Kobeissi said.

Third-party plans at Yahoo and snafus at Facebook: An interesting development that didn’t get a whole lot of press this week: The Wall Street Journal reported that Yahoo will soon launch Y Connect, a tool like Facebook Connect that will put widgets on sites across the web that allow users to log in and interact at the sites under their Yahoo ID. PaidContent’s Joseph Tarkatoff noted that Y Connect’s success will depend largely on who it can convince to participate (The Huffington Post is in so far).

The Wall Street Journal also reported another story about social media and third parties this week that got quite a bit more play, when it revealed that many of the most popular apps on Facebook are transmitting identifying information to advertisers without users’ knowledge. Search Engine Land’s Barry Schwartz found the juxtaposition of the two stories funny, and while the tech world was abuzz, Michael Arrington of TechCrunch gave the report the “Move on, nothing to see here” treatment.

An unplanned jump from NPR to Fox News: Another week, another prominent member of the news media fired for foot-in-mouth remarks: NPR commentator Juan Williams lost his job for saying on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor that he gets nervous when he sees Muslims in traditional dress on airplanes. Within 24 hours of being fired, though, Williams had a full-time gig (and a pay raise) at Fox News. Williams has gotten into hot water with NPR before for statements he’s made on Fox News, which led some to conclude that this was more about Fox News than that particular statement.

NPR CEO Vivian Schiller explained why Williams was booted (he engaged in non-fact-based punditry and expressed views he wouldn’t express on NPR as a journalist, she said), but, of course, not everybody was pleased with the decision or its rationale. (Here’s Williams’ own take on the situation, and a blow-by-blow of the whole thing from NPR.) Much of the discussion was pretty politically oriented — New York’s Daily Intel has a pretty good summary of the various perspectives — but there were several who weren’t pleased with the firing along media-related lines, including the American Journalism Review’s Rem Rieder, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg and the Columbia Journalism Review’s Joel Meares. NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard disapproved not of the firing per se, but of the way it went down, and The New York Times’ Brian Stelter also used the episode as an object lesson in the differences between traditional and point-of-view journalism.

Two other media critics, Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News and James Rainey of the Lost Angeles Times, both criticized the firing on the grounds that NPR has imposed too strict of a standard for a journalist — and especially for someone paid to express his opinion. Bunch wrote a thoughtful post on NPR retreating into the “dank temple of objectivity,” and Rainey wondered how this standard would be enforced: “How does one distinguish between the permissible ‘fact-based analysis’ and the currently verboten ‘punditry and speculation?’”

Newsweek and The Daily Beast’s deal dies: With rumors swirling of a merger between Newsweek and the online aggregator The Daily Beast, we were all ready to start calling the magazine TinaWeek or NewsBeast last weekend. But by Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal had reported that the talks were off. There were some conflicting reports about who broke off talks; the Beast’s Tina Brown said she got cold feet, but new Newsweek owner Sidney Harman said both parties backed off. (Turns out it was former GE exec Jack Welch, an adviser on the negotiations, who threw ice water on the thing.)

Business Insider’s Joe Pompeo gave word of continued staff shuffling, and Zeke Turner of The New York Observer reported on the frosty relations between Newsweek staffers and Harman, as well as their disappointment that Brown wouldn’t be coming to “just blow it up.” The Wrap’s Dylan Stableford wondered what Newsweek’s succession plan for the 92-year-old Harman is. If Newsweek does fall apart, Slate media critic Jack Shafer said, that wouldn’t be good news for its chief competitor, Time.

Reading roundup: We’ve got several larger stories that would have been standalone items in a less busy week, so we’ll start with those.

— As Gawker first reported, The Huffington Post folded its year-old Investigative Fund into the Center for Public Integrity, the deans of nonprofit investigative journalism. As Gawker pointed out, a lot of the fund’s problems likely stemmed from the fact that it was having trouble getting its nonprofit tax status because it was only able to supply stories to its own site. The Knight Foundation, which recently gave the fund $1.7 million, handed it an additional $250,000 to complete the merger.

— Nielsen released a study on iPad users with several interesting findings, including that books, TV and movies are popular content on it compared with the iPhone; nearly half of tablet owners describe themselves as early adopters; and one-third of iPad owners have not downloaded an app. Also in tablet news, News Corp. delayed its iPad news aggregation app plans, and publishers might be worried about selling ads on a smaller set of tablet screens than the iPad.

— From the so-depressing-but-we-can’t-stop-watching department: The Tribune Co.’s woes continue to snowball, with innovation chief Lee Abrams resigning late last week and CEO Randy Michaels set to resign late this week. Abrams issued a lengthy self-defense, and Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass defended his paper, too.

— J-prof Jay Rosen proposed what he calls the “100 percent solution”  — innovating in news trying to cover 100 percent of something. Paul Bradshaw liked the idea and began to build on it.

— It’s not a new debate at all, but it’s an interesting rehashing nonetheless: Jeff Novich called Ground Report and citizen journalism useless tools that can never do what real journalism does. Megan Taylor and Spot.Us’ David Cohn disagreed, strongly.

— Finally, former Los Angeles Times intern Michelle Minkoff wrote a great post about the data projects she worked on there and need to collaborate around news as data. As TBD’s Steve Buttry wrote, “Each of the 5 W’s could just as easily be a field in a database. … Databases give news content more lasting value, by providing context and relationships.”

August 27 2010

16:30

ABC News teams with Facebook for Katrina coverage

If you go to the ABCNews.com homepage right now (12:30 p.m. EDT), you’ll see something unusual: the news network’s coverage of the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, streamed exclusively online — in real time. The coverage includes a couple of pre-produced pieces, but for the most part it’s live: ABC correspondents David Muir, Robin Roberts, and Bob Woodruff, on the ground in New Orleans, talking with residents, interviewing former mayor Ray Nagin, and otherwise employing shoe leather in the service of memory.

But the network’s coverage will be participatory and conversational in a way that TV news often tries, but fails, to be: ABC is using Facebook Connect to stream its Katrina coverage to its website. As a result, for the next half hour, “you’re going to be to see people liking it and commenting on it in real time,” says Brian Braiker, part of ABCNews.com’s social media team.

It’s not often, leaving aside CNN’s Facebook-hosted stream of the Obama inauguration (and Rick Sanchez’s “Latest from Twitter” shout-outs) that networks’ televised content and their online interfaces merge so explicitly. And ABCNews’s foray into the field of platform integration is very much an experiment at this point. “This is sort of like a trial run for the elections,” Braiker says. “We’re going to go really big for that…whatever wrinkles there are obviously will be smoothed out before the election.”

That doesn’t mean the experiment is casual. ABCNews’ Facebook partnership “is all part of a broader, more detailed and in-depth social media strategy,” Braiker notes, “in how best to tell stories through all these emerging media.” Today “is the first salvo in an ongoing experimentation with a lot of this new and social media stuff that we want to integrate as much as we can into our coverage — and make it different and better than everyone else’s.”

August 06 2010

17:21

Facebook Launches Media Page But Resists Revenue Sharing

Facebook is the alpha dog of social networks, and it's also becoming a top dog when it comes to referring traffic to news sites. That became clear in February when Hitwise found that Facebook was referring more traffic to news and media sites than Google News. But for a long time, Facebook only had intermittent communication with media companies about how they used the social network.

That all changed last month when Facebook launched its new Facebook + Media page, along with a media partnership team headed by Justin Osofsky that's on a "listening tour" of media companies. The goal is to hear what tools publishers want developed by Facebook, and build a stronger relationship with them. So far, tools like the omnipresent "Like" button, the activity box listing most "Liked" stories on sites, and Facebook Connect have created a true symbiotic relationship: Publishers get traffic, and Facebook gets high visibility and more members.

Justin Osofsky.JPG

"The nature of our [media] partnerships is mainly as a platform company," Osofsky told me in a recent phone interview. "The Facebook platform gives media companies and other organizations the ability to build social experiences by bringing in people's friends, what they care about and want to recommend. Since we launched social plug-ins back in April, more than 350,000 sites have implemented it, and that's the primary way we work with media companies."

Facebook also did extensive research and issued best practices for media organizations, including best placement for the Like button, what story types did best on Pages, and how to use Facebook Insights, their version of Google Analytics for Facebook Pages.

But one thing that's off the table is sharing revenues with media properties from the ads Facebook serves onto their popular fan pages. For instance, CNN's Facebook Page has more than 1 million fans, but the ads that run on that page only bring in revenues for Facebook. Osofsky says Facebook is happy to drive traffic to publishers but hasn't considered sharing revenues with them.

The following is an edited transcript of my interview with Osofsky, where he discussed how Facebook worked with the New York Times on a World Cup visualization, and how they are considering a page on what stories have been "Liked" the most Facebook-wide.

Q&A

Tell me how you got involved in doing media partnerships at Facebook.

Justin Osofsky: We recently formed a team at Facebook to focus on media companies. We're excited to begin a dialogue on how best we can deliver value. Media companies are great at creating content and delivering it to the right people at the right time. We're excited to think about how those things can have a social dimension. We formed this team a couple months ago, and I'm leading the team.

Why you? What's your interest in working with the media?

Osofsky: I've worked at Facebook for a little over two years in various roles, most recently I led product marketing for Facebook Connect for the Facebook platform and led our platform partnerships. I'm excited about the opportunity to partner with media companies, because there are so many interesting things going on in the industry, and there's also this desire to share content with friends and recommend it to friends. The opportunity to work with media companies to create innovative experiences was one that was personally exciting to me.

Osofsky explains that partnerships with media companies don't involve money, but simply Facebook providing tools for them:

mediaface.mp3

What do you hear from the media companies that they would like to see from Facebook?

Osofsky: Media companies are excited to work with us for a few reasons. First, they want Facebook to drive more referral traffic to their sites. And they're interested in using our tools, both the social plug-ins and also pages on Facebook to help drive traffic. The average Facebook user has 130 friends, so when a Facebook user shares a piece of content from a media company site, on average 130 people see it. So Facebook can be a meaningful referrer of traffic.

Also, media companies can make the experience on their site more customized and engaging for each user. For instance, they can surface friends' activity and recommendations on the site itself. A great example of that is CNN. On the home page I can see what articles my friends have recommended and shared with others. There are other examples of that -- CNN, ABC News, the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe -- they all use the activity panel to show what friends have done.

But I think engagement goes beyond plug-ins. For instance the New York Times recently did a very interesting visualization. They took the public status updates from Facebook users during the World Cup, and created a visualization showing which soccer players were most popular [and mentioned most on Facebook] during specific days during the World Cup.

nyt world cup facebook.jpg

Osofsky: I thought that was a good way to show how people are expressing themselves on Facebook, and create an engaging, immersive experience on the New York Times.

Were you able to work with the Times on that project?

Osofsky: Yes, the Times used our search API to create the visualization and our team helped them in the process.

So your team will help in an informal role for people like at the Times?

Osofsky: Yeah, the purpose of our team is to work with all sorts of media companies to create engaging experiences. We work with them to develop innovative new ideas and implement our platform tools.

Is there a tool that publishers have asked for from Facebook that you don't offer yet?

Osofsky: We're in an active dialogue, we're on a listening tour, and asking publishers, 'What can we do to meet your needs?' Publishers are constantly giving us feedback on how we can do things better, from improving our Insights product to deliver better stats to them to potential plug-ins we could create. What my team does is bring that back to the product team to meet their needs.

If publishers create a Facebook Page that gets hundreds of thousands or even millions of fans, would it be possible for them to serve their own ads onto that Page or do a revenue split with Facebook for the ads that Facebook serves up?

Osofsky: Within a page, there are monetization opportunities. We don't work with publishers directly around that, there is no revenue share. We encourage publishers to create popular pages which can then drive traffic back to their sites, where they are obviously good at monetizing them.

But if they create a page that has interactions and engagement, shouldn't they deserve some of the ad revenues from that page or serve their own ads? I know it's not something you currently do or offer, but perhaps it's something publishers might want down the line?

Osofsky: We're not currently looking into that model. The value to the publishers out of the fans they acquire is to create a meaningful long-term distribution channel. So when I've liked a page, the publisher can reach me as frequently as they want to reach me with engaging content, and send that traffic back to their site to monetize it there. That's the core value that our pages provide.

Osofsky explains why he attended a recent Hacks and Hackers meetup in San Francisco:

hacksface.mp3

Did the media folks you met feel like they had had problems getting through to people at Facebook in the past?

Osofsky: We do our best to communicate well with developers through our development site and other communication channels. Like any platform, we can always do better. Publishers and media companies appreciate the focus on the media industry and their needs.

I like the way you let people track activity on their sites and you offer plug-ins for publishers to put on their site to rank their own stories that get "Liked" the most, etc. Have you considered doing a page on Facebook that ranked all the stories on all of Facebook that are being shared or "Liked" the most?

Osofsky: That's actually a question that's been raised by a number of companies and organizations we've talked to. I'm currently providing that feedback to the product team to see where that fits into what we're trying to accomplish. Generally, the most effective way to communicate to a Facebook audience is for an individual to communicate with their friends, rather than for us to share information that's occurring across the system as a whole. It's the most social dimension. If we're friends and you see something I shared, it's actually a really cool experience, and that's been our product to date. But I'm providing feedback to the product team based on conversations we're having.

I think it is interesting to understand at a network level what's going on. Part of what we do are these best practices, where we pull out some similarities and commonalities about what works well on Facebook for media organizations. We're open to hearing ideas like this and then we can figure out how well they integrate into our product direction.

In your research, did you find that there are problems with cluttering up the page with Like buttons? Is there a point where you overwhelm someone with too many of those kinds of buttons on a page?

Osofsky: We didn't find that there would be too much clutter with a Like button on a page, but we did find that the way people implement a Like button does have a real effect on driving traffic. We found that if you had a Like button with thumbnails of your friend, and if you let people comment when they are Liking something, and show it next to visually appealing content -- those things combined can increase the use of the Like button by three to five times. Implementation definitely matters with the Like button.

Publishers often grapple with the question of how often to post to their page on Facebook. Have you found any best practices around posting frequency?

Osofsky: We didn't look specifically at the frequency of posts. What we looked at was the nature of the content in the post. Was it a question? A headline? A call to action, such as 'like this article' or 'comment below.' The time of day it was posted. We did see significant differences when it comes to passionate debate or emotional and evocative or interesting breaking sports news like the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup. Those tended to have two to three times more engagement. And status updates with calls to action also had more engagement.

We didn't look specifically at the frequency issue, but I think that probably depends site to site. There are some forms of content where more frequent updates are something people are interested in. For instance, I follow the Boston Globe's coverage of sports, and if they sent me the Boston Red Sox score every night just as the game was ending that would be great and useful to know for me. But on the other hand there are things that are lengthy discussions, and at that pace, a high frequency of postings wouldn't be as effective.

What's great about our Insights tool is that it gives you the ability to understand how users are interacting with it. You can understand which posts are most engaging, and also if you're posting too much, users have the ability to hide all posts from a publisher -- which is a good leading indicator to how people are reacting to your frequency of posts.

So you can see how many people are hiding your updates?

Osofsky: Yes, you can see a stat [to find out] after making a post if people are hiding future posts from you. On the flip side, you can see the engagement after each post, how many Likes you got or comments, which can be positively reinforcing.

Osofsky talks about future plans for the Facebook + Media page:

futureface.mp3

*****

What do you think about the new Facebook + Media page? How has Facebook helped drive traffic to your site? Do you think they should share ad revenues with page publishers? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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March 04 2010

15:00

The Newsonomics of time-on-site

[Each week, our friend Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of the news business for the Lab.]

Parse out the numbers, and they’re quite puzzling.

The average news reader spends little time on newspaper-owned sites, from a 20 minutes a month or so on the New York Times site to eight to 12 minutes on most local newspaper sites. That’s minutes per month. Those numbers, as tracked by Nielsen and reported monthly by Editor and Publisher, are steady at best, showing, in fact, some recent decline. They are, literally, stuck in time.

Then, take the number of minutes Internet users spend on social sites. Nielsen’s January tally showed seven hours of usage a month on Facebook alone, in the U.S., blowing away all competition. That’s some 40 times more time spent on social sites than on any single news site.

Which is a bit deflating for those in the news business. So let’s try to get at what the numbers may be telling us.

Maybe that big Facebook number isn’t as important as we think. We all have long spent much more time in conversation, much of it idle, some of it about what we’re doing right now or plan to do (the “statusphere” of the pre-digital world) than we have in reading the news. So social-site time may replace water-cooler conversation time. Further, do those Nielsen numbers mean that someone is actively perusing Facebook walls (or Twitter feeds) until their eyes fall out — or that they are keeping windows open on their computers? Are they engaged in a way that advertisers care about?

Then again, if Facebook time is a proxy for our new information centers — where we go to find out what’s happening in the community and the wider world — then it is becoming the new home page. Recall how newspaper sites all put up “make us your home page” buttons more than a decade ago? Constructively, that’s what Facebook done, without the button. That’s not surprising; it’s the ultimate page about what we care about most: me. Sure, some of the posts tell us about the wider world, but a good 80 percent or more tell us something personal.

If social sites, including Twitter, are a new center — Nick Negroponte’s “Daily Me” morphed — that’s a new challenge, and maybe opportunity, for the news industry. The challenge: getting the news to where the readers are hanging out, and figuring out to monetize there. The opportunity: If properly seeded in the social sites, the readers themselves do the (free) marketing and distribution of the content. The early tests of Facebook Connect appear promising here, though too few news companies are experimenting at any kind of scale. (See “The Newsonomics of social media optimization“.)

Now, let’s look at the Newsonomics of time-on-site — how well such time is monetized.

We’ll do some extrapolating with Facebook, to figure out what 2010 might look like. Let’s start with January numbers of 113 million U.S. users and seven hours time spent. Let’s be conservative and say for the year, it ends up with 120 million users and the same seven hours. That’s 84 hours a year for the 120 million, or a little over 10 billion hours of time spent.

For newspapers, let’s use one of the higher-achieving companies for comparison. The New York Times has been averaging about 20 million monthly uniques. It’s time-on-site varies considerably, with the news (!). Let’s give it 25 minutes a month on average. That’s 5 hours a year, or in total, about 100 million hours.

So, in time spent, the Times is less than one percent of Facebook.

Now, let’s look broadly, and quickly, at revenue. The Times’ 2009 digital revenue: about $342 million. Or $3.42 for each hour spent on the site.

Facebook’s revenue numbers are unannounced, but smart industry speculators put its 2010 number at about an even billion dollars. Or about a dime an hour of time spent.

$3.42 vs 10 cents. The Times is monetizing its time on site 34 times better than Facebook.

The Times and other big established news brands will say that’s more than fair, given the attention of the audience, the premium nature of the content and the demographics of the audience. Facebook, and its financial and spiritual advisors, will tell you that’s all upside. They’d point to yesterday’s partnership announcement with (Adobe’s) Omniture on ad placements as just one small step to a large revenue future.

Photo by Robbert van der Steeg used under a Creative Commons license.

December 09 2009

08:49

The Next Web: Guardian to integrate with Facebook Connect

From last week, but an interesting development: Facebook has announced that the Guardian will soon integrate Facebook Connect across its site.

Facebook Connect lets users of the social network bring their Facebook profile and connections to any site or application. For example, integration with Facebook Connect on the Guardian could mean a user logging in with their Facebook username and password to add a comment to an article; this comment would then also appear on the Facebook news feed.

This move could also give the Guardian valuable insight into users’ behaviour and profiles.

The Guardian Jobs third party databases were hacked back in October and it would be great to see the newspaper using this as an opportunity to use Facebook Connect for this and other services instead of just commenting,” writes the Next Web.

Full story at this link…

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