Wednesday, 7 October 2009

How journalists and publishers can optimise their use of Facebook

How valuable is Facebook to you? I'm preparing a training course on that very subject, and these are my initial thoughts. If you can help in any way, please feel free to make suggestions.

To begin at the beginning...there is evidence that Facebook can deliver loyal readers.

Mashable reports that: “Of social networks, Facebook provides the most loyal visitors, with 20% of those that originate from the social network in turn visiting the site they landed upon four or more times in a week. Among other social media sites, Digg traffic produced loyal users 16% of the time, while Twitter traffic was only good for 11% loyalty.”

How to present your brand on Facebook

A successful Facebook page needs to be engaging, regularly updated and rewarding.
It must be meaningful to the fans. You have your wall, plus a number of other possible pages including events, discussions, polls, photos and video, if you want to use them.

If you are unfamiliar with Facebook, here are some basics

There are Facebook groups and Facebook pages. Which is better?

There is a comprehensive answer from Search Engine Journalwhich includes this:

• Pages are generally better for a long-term relationships with your fans, readers or customers;
• Groups are generally better for hosting a (quick) active discussion and attracting quick attention.

Facebook members can become fans of a page, or join a group. If they like you, the more active among them might do both. They can easily comment on items on your page, and share those items. As readers comment, others see a discussion developing.

Fans can create groups that relate to their interest in your publication, and hence spread your content and discussion of you. Of course, if they don’t like something you have done, you are likely to find protest groups set up to take you to task.

What you post on your Facebook wall should be meaningful to your fans, and should encourage them to get involved. It should fit the social network you are publishing on. Pick posts that work in the Facebook context: things that encourage fans to get involved with you and to spread the things you are offering more widely.

A partial use of Facebook
Not everyone chooses to do this. You can just present links to your news stories. Some sites double up by posting their Twitter tweets to Facebook, and these short infobites may not even link to anything. That’s a very restricted use of the platform, and doesn’t encourage social engagement.

Penn Olson came up with 10 successful Facebook business pages These business pages have in common an appropriate choice of content and tone of voice. They are essentially there to make marketing announcements, but they successfully engage with the audience.

Let me show you four. Take a look, and ask yourself: What can publishers learn from these sites?

Penn Olson say:
What’s on the wall?
Posting pictures of happy Ben & Jerry’s fans enjoying its tasty ice cream regardless of location and occasion has definitely created an image of global happiness. Not only that, its status is up to date and filled with comments from its fans.

What’s special?
Ben & Jerry’s is definitely one of the more creative pages around in Facebook. To promote its Flipped Out ice cream, it has created a Facebook application that allows you to flip your text like that: s,ʎɹɹǝɾ & uǝq (ben &  jerry’s). This sends other people questioning, “how did you do that?” and guess where the fingers point to? Definitely Ben & Jerry’s!

In a sentence:
Ben & Jerry’s is more than ice cream, it is a community.

Let me add here, and to each example, what I think a publisher can learn from it:

Idea for publishers: Create a Facebook community

What’s on the wall?
iTunes promotes different music and short MTV to entice buyers. Well, such advertisements are always welcome and are normally flooded with thousands of likes and comments. Who doesn’t like to be updated with the latest and coolest music?

What’s special?
There is a whole load of treasure under its “Featured” tab. Share a song through Facebook and easily receive podcast updates with the iTunes page. New to iTunes? Not to worry. They have a series of tutorial videos right on its page. A smart move to acquire more users through Facebook. And best of all, just by becoming a fan, you get 20 free songs. Isn’t this rewarding?

In a sentence:
Music updates and rewards with iTunes.

Idea for publishers: Offer rewards for fans. Make those rewards dependent on engaging with your main site, or even your print edition.

What’s on the wall?
Besides the normal stuff you see, there is an interesting video that features Red Bull Racing NASCAR driver, Brian Vickers and his pit crew performing a full pit stop in the middle of Times Square, New York. That struck me hard. Redbull certainly lives up to its cool and sporty image.

What’s special?
Showing off its diverse sponsorships in sports has pushed its sporty image to a higher level. Redbull also features its athletes and allows its fans to connect with them through Facebook and Twitter. Building the connection between its fans and athletes give them more reason to indulge in Redbull. What a move!

Idea for publishers: Currently there is a treasure hunt on the site called Red Bull Stash. It involves hunting for treasure around the US. Create a competition on Facebook that reflects the concerns of your magazine and the interests of readers.

What’s on the wall?
The wall is filled with news and updates about Facebook. The fact that you’re looking at Facebook’s Facebook page with your Facebook account means that you’re already engaged with Facebook.

What’s special?
It tells you a lot about the Facebook team – who runs it, how they run it and their story behind each application. Watch them and you’d be impressed.

In a sentence:
Facebook’s Facebook page.

Idea for publishers: Use Facebook to introduce your team and encourage interaction between readers and journalists.

What about magazine brands on Facebook?

From my observations, few magazine brands use Facebook very well. Here are some examples of how it is being used.

How the content shapes up: Posts are very short one liners with usually no links to further info. If they announce a video they don’t always link to it.
eg Free echo and Bunnymen download announced but no link to it
Few links, if any, to take you to the NME website. This could be a rich resource with a comprehensive guide to music news, gigs, new releases and discussion between fans. It’s very far from that.

How the content shapes up: Don’t Panic is an events marketing company that began by distributing flyers and then grew into an online magazine, relying heavily on Facebook and other social networking sites to become established.

It became famous a few weeks ago for its video of Tory MP Alan Duncan and his comments on the expenses scandal.

On Facebook, Don’t Panic avoids the heavier content on its ain website and offers competitions, often related to design and advertising with third parties, and there are many links to their website.

How the content shapes up: The tone of voice is refreshing: “We're Farmers Weekly magazine and Farmer Weekly Interactive - the coolest source of information about UK farming and, more importantly (according to some), the home of Farmer Frank.”

They also have a: “Mission: Working for your farming future...and having some fun while doing it.”

The news is light, with an emphasis on the quirky (eg: Sheep abseils down telephone cable). There are photos, many from readers. This is Farmer’s Weekly with it’s boots off: the social aspects of the main site are emphasised

Question: What should your brand’s image be on Facebook?
I'm leaving out my suggestions for a range of magazines whose editors will be attending my next couse, but feel free to contact me with your thoughts on yoru own website/magazine/newspaper/radio/tv show and I shall respond.

Facebook Connect: any good for you?

Facebook Connect is getting a lot of coverage. Essentially, it is a way of linking your website into Facebook. If you do, Facebook members can log into your site using their Facebook id and share information with Facebook friends: a single sign-on authentication solution that websites can use instead of relying on building it for themselves.

Ken Burbary  offers this assessment of its value:

Increased Registration - Data from Facebook states that sites that use Facebook Connect as an alternative to account registration have seen a 30-300% increase in registration on their sites.

Increased Site Traffic - After implementation, immediately begins sending web site traffic your way. Data from Facebook says that for each story published in Facebook, companies see roughly 3 clicks back to the site [but only if your items actually link back to your site]. Nearly half the stories in the News Stream get clicked on. This creates opportunities for the site to encourage more user actions – knowing that each one may result in three new visits to their site.

Increased Engagement – Facebook users are used to being social. They are an active group, participating, sharing, and generating more content. Sites with Facebook Connect see a 15-100% increase in reviews. Connected users create 15-60% more content than users who have not connected with Facebook Connect.

Improved User Experience - Facebook Connect offers users qualitative benefits too. No new site registration is required, simply login using your Facebook credentials. It also makes it easy to share with an existing network of friends or family by publishing activities to the Facebook Newsfeed, with only a couple clicks of the mouse. No typing or emailing required. 

Given the sheer size of Facebook’s active user base, this type of integration with an individual’s personal network could ultimately become the new “email a friend” feature found on websites worldwide.

Access to 250 million online consumers – Companies need to fish where the fish are. And right now, the fish are spending their time on (5 billion minutes a day globally). Opening up a direct pathway from your site to Facebook gives you access, albeit indirectly through your user’s activities, to an entirely new set of people. And for practically no out of pocket cost.

Which all sounds fantastic, but how good is it?
It seems to me (and I’m open to being proved wrong) that Facebook Connect offers no real advantage in terms of ease of posting things to your Facebook account. I can’t see that it’s any easier than with any site where a ‘share on Facebook’ button is present. The advantage is in ease of registration. But if you don’t require registration, there’s no great advantage I can see.

Media example of Facebook Connect integration

The Huffington Post Social lets you merge the site with your Facebook account

Since integrating with Facebook Connect, they say, more than 33% of their new registrations come through Facebook.

There is a link on the site that makes it very easy to post Huff Post content to your Facebook profile, comment on it and share it.

As a lot of Huff content comes from third parties – such as trad media companies – Facebook gives them a new distribution channel. Huff Post users find – for example BusinessWeek – when they may have had no idea there was anything interesting there for them. If they comment on or share it they make it part of their friend-group or shared information cloud.

There is more on how Huffington Post social works here.

Online Journalism Blog comments on the benefits of it as follows. I've bolded up some of the key points in a very perceptive post:

“It comes close to the concept of integrating online identities and bringing them to one place: the universal sign-in and network portability that many Internet pundits have insisted should be implemented in order to allow cross-interaction among various social media platforms.

“Most personalized news features allow readers to search for their Facebook friends or Twitter followers, but they don’t offer a way to actually integrate the two networks. 

“Consequently, this involves exclusively spending time on the newspaper’s web site to form a community or interact with fellow users. Now, if you had a choice between spending a few hours on MyWashingtonPost or Facebook, which would you choose? 

“And how many different media sites do you want to sign into at the start of your day? Hell, I’m just glad TweetDeck allows me to keep track of Facebook and Twitter in one place. And the number of new visitors a page would gain from linking to Facebook would probably offset the time spent by a single user on the site itself.

“TimesPeople does allow users to sync up to their Facebook profiles, but in keeping with the NYT’s prioritization of “information” over social networking, the site does not allow users to have much more on their profiles than a name and a location.

“HuffPost Social news is also quite a leap from news organizations generating non-interactive Facebook pages that merely feed fans with links to their latest stories (the same counterproductive way in which many use Twitter), with readers occasionally discussing stories of interest to them on discussion boards.

“Of course, as with anything else, there are two schools of thought about such personalization, customization, individualization of news consumption. Some believe that it might fragment an already fragmented audience in the new media world.

“But, if anything, integrating web site audiences with social networks should help consolidate these virtual and real communities. Chances are, many of your Facebook friends are people you know and have known – in real life, in contrast to the exclusively online people you interact with on blogs and discussion forums. 

This is a way to bring those groups together, defragment the so-called “online-offline” divide. Many of the causes I’ve signed up for on Facebook, for instance, are tangible ones, to save the libraries in the city I live in or promote gay rights at a rally: offline events that can make a difference to the community.”

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