2 reasons journalism continues to have a dysfunctional relationship with Facebook

Mary Hamilton wrote this week “No, good content is not enough for Facebook success”, responding to what Liz Heron had said at a recent conference.

Mary’s argument is that Facebook are being misleading when they tell news organisations that making good content is enough.

“Time and attention are under huge pressure online. Facebook are split testing everything you create against everything else someone might want to see, from family photos to random links posted by people they’ve not met since high school, and first impressions matter enormously. “Good” isn’t enough for the algorithm, or for people who come to your site via their Facebook news feed. It never has been. Facebook should stop pretending that it is.”

My Trinity Mirror colleague David Higgerson also wrote about Liz Heron’s talk, and I especially like this example he gives. It neatly illustrates the gap between how news organisations think about Facebook, and how Facebook users think about news:

“In 2011, when the riots took place across British cities, journalists turned to Twitter, and did a cracking job of updating on Twitter. Audiences rocketed. On Facebook, a man called Luke Addis in Birmingham launched a Facebook group called ‘Birmingham Riots 2011: Live Updates.’ After the riots ended, it became Birmingham Updates and he now has 170,000 followers on Facebook and provides a daily diet of news and information. Luke wasn’t a journalist when he launched that Facebook group – he was a regular bloke who started sharing information in the most obvious place to him as an ordinary person: Facebook.”

As a news organisation I bet you’ve got lots of different Facebook pages for your “brands” – but how many do you have for granular topics? Or groups that you’ve started up for a specific topic discussion?

At Mirror Football we’ve had some success in breaking out from one all-encompassing Facebook presence into individual pages for the biggest clubs.

Think about the end users’ timeline. If they are a Liverpool fan, chances are they want to read football stories that affect their club. How likely are they to click on or “Like” or comment on a story about Aston Villa or Southampton team news if they aren’t playing Liverpool that week? One-size-fits-all fits nobody on Facebook – it’s a personal platform where everybody has a personal newsfeed.

And as the Telegraph’s Richard Moynihan always says, your news content has got to EARN a place in somebody’s timeline. Why would they want to see “Hey! We published yet another news article again today” more than “Hey! We had a baby!” or “Hey! Let’s go out tonight!” or “Hey! This YouTube video made me laugh!”

Your news brand Facebook updates can’t come across like “We interrupt the lives of you and your friends to bring you this vital update about some politics story you don’t even care about.” Not if you want to thrive, anyway.

I always think another part of journalism’s blind spot with Facebook is that we on the whole just find Twitter more fun. You get immediate feedback from your peers when you’ve written something great or covered a brilliant story. And you can collectively moan about black-eyed ghost children front pages or over-playing ebola fears.

Facebook isn’t “fun” like that – it doesn’t give the individual journalist the same endorphin rush of getting 50 quick retweets including one from Kay Burley.

But Facebook is always going to deliver a better dividend in terms of traffic and exposure than Twitter.

So – two reasons we are still dysfunctional about Facebook:

1: We generally publish like all-encompassing news organisations believing that everybody will be equally interested in everything we post. And get angry at the “algorithm” when it turns out they aren’t.


2: Journalists just don’t find it as much fun or as immediate as Twitter.

And a final, slightly less serious point.

I saw this headline in a tweet the other day: “Advice on tuning your Facebook news feed to see more of what you want and less of what you don’t

And I thought briefly to myself: “I hope the entire article consists of the sentence: ‘Get more interesting friends or get over yourself.’”