Think like a human, report like a journalist: How to handle breaking news on social media

Managing Facebook communities can be a bit of a conundrum for newsrooms. On one hand, a strong Facebook community built around your brand’s page can drive huge audiences to your website.

On the other hand, it can be quite hard to ‘control’ the crowd – if, indeed, that’s how journalists see their role. Despite being perhaps the hardest social network on which to be anonymous, I suspect we’re all familiar with tales of seemingly innocuous stories prompting comments which veer towards the racist very quickly.

This obviously runs the risk of harming your brand, but not publishing any story which could be skewed by someone to have a go at immigration would probably render a page rather empty.


Why journalism needs to get over its fear of Facebook

At the Online News Association conference in Chicago, Facebook went under the microscope, challenged almost to prove it was a force for good in journalism, rather than something to be feared.

Two main themes emerged. The first was that it is clear that Facebook probably drives far more traffic to news websites than previously thought. The Atlantic, for example, discovered that half of its unique users – coming up on in analytics as from a ‘no referral source’ – were actually coming in from the mobile app on Facebook.

Is that a bad thing? I’ll come to that.

The second concerned Facebook’s algorithm. Facebook’s Liz Heron was asked to give details about what will make sure a story works well on Facebook. Her response that journalists should just focus on good content didn’t seem to appease everyone, while there was concern about the impact of Facebook’s algorithm.

It, said some, meant many regular folk were more likely to see content related to the Ice Bucket Challenge than they were about the Ferguson shootings. In other words, does the mass audience on Facebook being presented individualised content based on what they’ve clicked on before or what their friends are clicking on, mean bad news for journalists?

My answer to that question, and the previous question is: Forget these questions and lets just deal with reality.


When a sentiment works better than a headline on social media

Getting the tone right on social media, especially when dealing with a sensitive story can be tricky – and one of the most obvious examples of digital journalism not just being what we’ve always done, but on a different platform. 

I could write hundreds of words trying to articulate the dangers trying to deal with a vocal audience while sharing a sensitive story, especially one which involves a lot of background work which readers wouldn’t normally see. I could, but I won’t – because this Facebook post this afternoon from the Lancashire Evening Post shows how to get perhaps the most sensitive of stories just right – the funeral of someone who has been killed:


getting it right on social

This post was fraught with risks – people accusing the LEP of being callous for filming a funeral (because they wouldn’t have known they had permission) or complaints that the LEP was intruding into family grief if they’d tried to use a standard news line in the Facebook post.

Instead, the LEP got the message across that they’d been invited, and showed respect to the family by saying thanks to them for it as well – thus displaying the sort of engagement which helps make news brands more than just bystanders in their community.


Still debating the merits of taking Facebook seriously as a journalist? Facebook might just be about to change your mind…

Facebook’s success depends entirely on the relevance of the feed which appears when people first log in, so it’s no surprise that the secret formula which lies behind that service is constantly under review.

Trying to work out how to make the most of that feed has much in common with some of the more darkish arts which surround making the most of search engine optimisation … with similar repercussions dished out by both Google and Facebook if it thinks people are gaming their systems to get a better show. 

Facebook today announced a couple of new changes to Facebook feeds which should be of particular interest to journalists seeking to ensure the content they produce reaches the widest possible audience.


Facebook for journalists: Hurrah! Facebook just killed the ‘like if agree’ thing

Google, as we know, works very hard to ensure its search results aren’t gamed by websites which have no right to be at the top of search results for any given term.

Google wants you to find the stuff you need easily, and for all the talk of what is and isn’t a trigger in the search giant’s algorithms, the principle behind it remains crystal clear: If your content appears to be valued (ie lots of people visit you, or link to you, or you exhibit signs of taking that content matter seriously, such as by updating frequently) you’ll get higher up in search.

If Google catches you gaming its search results  – such as through paying for advertorials containing links – it penalises you, and in some cases, the people who did the selling too. Here’s perhaps the most famous case involving Interflora. (I’d still pick them over Prestige Flowers, though).

Increasingly, Facebook is acting in a similar way as it seeks to keep the timeline you see as relevant to you as you want it to be. Lots of marketers are upset by the most recent change, which forces out fan pages unless people are organically interacting with them. However, this is good news for media organisations, who actually need to build loyalty to grow in the future. 

For Facebook and Google it’s about self-preservation. Attention spans online are short, especially when using a mobile, and being the ‘use that first’ website of choice is a status which must be treasured at all costs. People will move on if they aren’t getting the experience they want, and unless they’re moving straight to your news sites, that’s just as much bad news for you as it is for Google or Facebook.

So Facebook has announced another change: Killing off ‘like baiting’ – or the trend of encouraging people to press the like button for any reason other than because they actually want to like a post, such as a post making a statement and then asking people to like if they agree with it.


Why Facebook has just done regional newsrooms a huge favour

There’s been a lot of talk about changes to the way Facebook surfaces content from pages people choose to like.

Like many things with Facebook and its algorithm, the exact details of what Facebook is doing are never clear – but Facebook is crystal clear about one thing, and that is that it will keep evolving how it chooses which posts to put in front of people to ensure the stuff which is most interesting to them.

In the latest iteration, it appears that fan pages for brands have taken a bit of a hammering, making it less likely that a post you put on your brand page will travel a long way. Marketers claim the latest change means the organic reach of posts – the number of people who see a post, which depends on a number of factors, not least the number of your fans who choose to share it on – has dropped dramatically.

Perhaps the most entertaining kickback from this has been from Eat24, a fast food delivery company, which believes its business is suffering from this latest change. It wrote an entertaining open letter to Facebook complaining it was unfair to their fans:


Why good news is really good news for regional news … thanks to social media

In a world where page views, unique users and audience engagement are increasingly the most important metrics to news brands, it could be easy to just go where the fish are most likely to bite.

Crime shifts page views. Football shifts page views. Stories about things happening on Twitter and Facebook shift page views. Same too with weather, traffic and travel, and stories which begin with the headline ‘The most remarkable/stunning/unbelievable XXXXXX ever?’ The ? normally signifies the answer is, at best, maybe.

On this blog, I’m just as guilty of that, and I have a blog post to that effect coming up shortly.

Audience analytics can bring us closer to the audience than ever before, enabling us to respond to what they like by doing more of it, and at the same time doing less of what they don’t like.


Is this now the most important button on any web page? Facebook thinks so

At the weekend, I blogged about how great images were vital if you wanted to stand out on Facebook. They don’t need to be photos which photographers have spent hours creating, just images which make you stop pressing the down cursor or make your finger hesitate on your mobile screen.

For a long time, any digital journalist worth his or her lunch has known that Facebook posts do much better with a strong image attached to them, and preferably some compelling text explaining why people should click a link or reply to you. Just posting links or – worse still – having some automated system set up which enables Tweets to be copied across to Facebook  whenever you use the #fb hashtag just don’t do anything anymore.

After all, would you respond to an advert if it was abundantly clear the advertiser couldn’t be bothered trying to talk directly to you? D

Anyway, Facebook clearly agrees as it announced in a recent post that it was changing the way it weighted posts from Facebook pages in favour of those which had more than just text:

As a result, the latest update to News Feed ranking treats text status updates from Pages as a different category to text status updates from friends. We are learning that posts from Pages behave differently to posts from friends and we are working to improve our ranking algorithms so that we do a better job of differentiating between the two types.

This will help us show people more content they want to see. Page admins can expect a decrease in the distribution of their text status updates, but they may see some increases in engagement and distribution for other story types.

Facebook’s advice on the best sort of status update is typically vague, although it does throw out this nugget of advice:

The best way to share a link after this update will be to use a link-share, so it looks like the one below. We’ve found that, as compared to sharing links by embedding in status updates, these posts get more engagement (more likes, comments, shares and clicks) and they provide a more visual and compelling experience for people seeing them in their feeds.

Facebook, in my experience, talks a good fight about wanting to work with publishers but then tends to keep its best advice under lock and key, so this is actually unusually candid for them …. and potentially huge news for publishers.

It means, to start, that this button becomes the most important button on your page:


(I’m hoping the advert above the headline isn’t a targetted campaign aimed at 30-something men!).

Anyway, notice the Facebook button. Facebook is saying click the share button, and then add your message to readers on Facebook, and you should see better results. That makes sense to me, but in my experience, goes against the way many journalists post links – with many preferring instead to take the link and insert it manually on a Facebook page.

It also places an incredible importance on strong images within your article, as Facebook tends to pull those in and gives a choice of which one to highlight.

For me, one of the biggest weaknesses many publishers have is around images. When looking for great images of the storms for a recent blog post, it took me much longer than a thought. Images, it would seem, are still treated as an afterthought by many. Since the websites I work with moved to a new design, created by a brilliant designer called Chris Lam, the emphasis has very much been on strong images.

Thanks to Facebook, getting images right on your web page is now utterly essential if you are to improve your chances of getting your content in front of your Facebook fans.

That’s no bad thing. Unintentionally, Facebook may have just forced us all to make web pages brilliant.

Why the right image is more important than ever to regional journalism … thanks to Facebook

Last week, Facebook announced a new change to the way it will treat posts to Facebook pages. Based on its research of millions of users, it’s discovered that people are more likely to respond to text updates from their friends, but are less likely to respond to text-only updates from pages they’ve chosen to follow.

For journalists who monitor what works and what doesn’t on social media, this will hardly be news – it’s all about capturing the attention of someone as they skim through their Facebook newsfeed, hopefully enough to they’ll click a link, or comment, which in turn increases the chance of it appearing in other peoples’ newsfeeds more prominently too.

The fact that Facebook is responding to that user behaviour is very important though – and is another example of why photography is so important to online journalism.


Doing Facebook right: 15 quick tips to improve your Facebook fan page

walesonline2If I had a pound for every time I’d been told that Twitter was for work, and Facebook was for ‘private’, I’d have about 10% as much money as if I’d received a pound for every time I’ve been told that having a website is the reason why newspapers aren’t seeing rising circulations.

However, while cashflow would have slowly dried up in recent years on the newspapers v the website point, the idea that Twitter is more relevant to newsrooms than Facebook is something I still hear quite often.

Regardless of speculation that Facebook is ripe to be overtaken by a new boy in town, and talk of the latest redesign likely to alienate users because of a greater emphasis on advertising and cash-generating apps, Facebook still offers the best social media chance for local newsrooms to connect with a local audience.

This post deals with some basic tips – written because I often see them ignored – for getting a good Facebook fan page off the ground. That could be for a brand or an individual.