The World’s Biggest Media & Facebook – An Evolving Relationship

April 11, 2012

By Michel Rubini, International MRT Specialist – London

In 2007, Rupert Murdoch joked about Facebook overtaking MySpace as the most popular social networking site on the web.  Not long after, it was no laughing matter.

While Facebook might not be the best social networking site, or offer the best user experience, or even the most innovative solutions, it has been accepted as the standard by most internet users. Facebook has now reached the 600 million user mark, so it is no surprise that media organisations across the world are looking into ways to tap into this pool of potential readers.

At a recent News:Rewired event (a periodical digital journalism conference) in London, I listened to speakers from some of the world’s biggest media organisations explain how they are facing — and mostly embracing — Facebook.

The most enthusiastic evangelist was Martin Belam, User Experience Lead at The Guardian. Belam explained how their new Facebook application has been hugely successful. The application allows users to share Guardian content easily with their friends, and so far, six million people have downloaded it. One of the most exciting things, according to Belam, is that 54 percent of the users are under 24 – the kind of audience the Guardian has always aspired to reach.

Belam also explained that a younger audience means a younger kind of content becoming popular on the application. He denied there was any danger of a “dumbing down” The Guardian. “To my mind, if we are producing that content anyway – which we do – then why wouldn’t we want it to reach as wide an audience as possible?” he asked.

Belam also noted that there is growing evidence that the Facebook application alone is producing as many views for articles as the guardian.co.uk site, in practice doubling the amount of traffic a story gets.

Liz Heron, former social media editor of The New York Times and current director of social media and engagement with The Wall Street Journal, seemed to agree with Martin. “In the new landscape, the question is no longer whether we do social media, the question is how. How can we make our social media experiences stand out?”

She went on to note that fifty New York Times journalists offer Facebook subscription streams; and that all reporters have been encouraged lately to try Facebook, especially foreign correspondents. The advantage of Facebook, she said, is that it offers great crowdsourcing opportunities and can yield insightful comments and debates. However, the majority of New York Times journalists are still using Twitter. This is due to the fact that most journalists are aware of the dangers of mixing personal profiles with professional lives.

Nate Lanxon, editor of wired.co.uk was very clear about the importance of Facebook. He admitted that for 5 years WIRED had ignored Facebook.  That has recently changed. He has now printed a big photo of Mark Zuckerberg which is passed around the office. The person with the photo is the editor of the WIRED Facebook page for that day. The physical presence of the photo has helped the newsroom embrace Facebook in its daily publishing routine.

Lanxon said one of their key discoveries was that having a presence on Facebook wasn’t about driving fans to WIRED, it was about driving WIRED to fans. Lanxon also noted that Facebook follows its own news cycle. Facebook items seem to increase in traffic around the late afternoon and evenings, when users log in to check their latest feeds.

These three examples seem to show a clear shift in how well regarded (and global) news organisations are fully embracing the enormous readership potential offered by Facebook.


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