With two new features – timeline and subscribe – Facebook is becoming a platform for journalists to take their work to the next level. Not only producing the final story, but posting pictures while reporting, connecting with followers and promoting work on their page to a private and public audience, all with the genuineness of Facebook.
Vadim Lavrusik, the journalist program manager at Facebook presented at this weekend’s social media conference at Columbia Journalism School. He showed how the site’s new visual interface, extended 60,000 character limit for status updates, and subscribe feature can help journalists enhance their work and connect to more readers. And how the site can save time – people search and crowd sourcing are tools to find sources.
Steve Rubel, from Edelman PR, discussed an overarching theme of the weekend, that journalists must be cross trained. And it doesn’t mean just being able to write, photograph and take video, which is a growing trend, but being able to use that content to connect with an audience online. Rubel said, journalists are more than ever, personalities. This is clear on Twitter – writers, anchors and radio figures have hundreds of thousands of followers. People want journalists they love to be their celebrities. When readers finish an article, they want to know more about the writer behind it. It’s a logical step for Facebook, which has 800 million users, to move in this direction.
With the subscribe feature phasing out the traditional fan page, which can feel inauthentic and PRy, Facebook is eliminating another wall between fans and figures, giving the public more social satisfaction. Over 1000 journalists now using subscribe since September 2011.
Subscribing allows followers see a limited version of someone’s Facebook profile. The same one they probably use to connect with real friends.
This feature feels genuine, and with timeline, it gives a vivid visual of what the figure has been doing. It’s also a way for journalists to connect to sources without any conflict of interest.
However, at the conference, people worried using Facebook for their professional and personal lives could bother real friends. I think it’s a fine line – but friends can be interested in what their journalist friends are doing. One panelist said she posted to everyone, asking her work posts were too much, and her friends responded no. I think in a Facebook will eventually modify the feature as journalists experiment with it.
But subscribe can be so beneficial for journalists. It can expand the reach a story has. Posts show up in followers’ news feeds, likes and comments are involved – all which can raise traffic to parent sites.
If a user sees a friend liked a story, they’re 3-5 times more likely to read it, according to Lavrusik.
Yahoo and the Washington Post both recently created Facebook social reader applications, and saw dramatic increases in traffic. Yahoo’s traffic rocketed up by 600%, and The Washington Post gained 3.5 million readers a month, 83% under age 35, a previously untapped demographic.
The story behind sharing the story
“A good story is a good Facebook story,” Lavrusik quoted New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. With over 300,000 subscribers, he understands the power of social.
He posts links to his own articles, articles he finds interesting, updates on who he’s interviewing and asks questions.
Lavrusick says the best things to post are breaking news, analysis, reader shout outs, pictures, calls to action and humor. Rubel said using verbs in statuses works as well, like “I am interviewing…” “I am reading…” “I am watching…” Best times to post are 7, 8 and 10 am, 4-5 pm, 12 and 2 am.
Washington Post online editor for world and national security, Anup Kaphle, and BBC video journalist/reporter Franz Strasser, who presented at the social media in reporting workshop at #smwknd, are examples of the new age journalist. The both post amazing behind the scenes pictures and videos to connect with their fans.
People in the audience raised concerns that using Facebook is extra work. Strasser said he puts in minimal time to make the maximum impact. While working on stories, he’ll post pictures and short teaser videos along the way. It’s a bit more casual than what’s on the BBC site, he said no one expects his short videos from location to be great quality, but it increases traffic to BBC and is a way for people to see the behind the scenes, and become more interested in his work. He also gains a following on instagram, a photo-sharing app, he uses to publish pictures and post on Facebook.
Yet, both journalists warn not to give away too much. On reason is to avoid giving the competition a lead. Strasser said he’ll be a little vague with info he posts while reporting, and will post more info 24-48 hrs before he knows the story will be published.
Kaphle has posted pictures, updates and videos from Afghanistan. For security reasons, he follows restrictions to how much info he can include.
He posts once a day. If you’re on social media too much, it looks like you aren’t doing your job, he said.
And, to not take away from their parent publications, Kaphle and Strasser link content back to those sites. The subscribe feature then can benefit the publication.
Connecting to sources
When Lavusick needed to interview an unreachable witness to a death for a story, he messaged her on Facebook after finding her on People Search. She responded in 5 minutes. Why? With Facebook, she saw the Lacusick was a person, not just a reporter, and felt more comfortable talking to him.
Strasser said finding someone on Facebook is also faster than searching the web for an email, which might be inactive. He understands that it can still feel like an invasion of personal space. He always apologizes first, saying he couldn’t find their email. He includes his work information to show credibility and suggests they continue the conversation via email.
Also, posting publicly as a status, asking if anyone knows of someone who can help with a story, is so easy and can be very effective. Or finding a group that relates to the topic you’re writing about and posting there.