The best advice I can give journalists right now is a phrase I tell my students not to say—”use social.”
Using social media to reach audiences is an important takeaway from the 2015 State of the News Media report.
Pew Research Center researchers compile the data and issue the report each year. The findings are based on data from the previous year, so this year’s report is based on 2014 data.
“Use social” is not a strategy, but using social media strategically certainly will benefit the media industry.
The finding, which was buried a bit in the report, was only 1 percent lower than those reporting getting the same type of news from television. Sadly, the study only considered political news, which limits the findings, but researchers found that Facebook was the strong front-runner in news consumption, followed by YouTube, then Twitter.
But before you decide this finding is applicable only to political news, you should consider previous Pew research, which identified Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, in that order, as the top three social mediums people visit for all types of news.
It seems obvious, based on these studies, that media should use social media to disseminate information. After all, it makes sense to take the information to where the people are. But using social isn’t as simple as a news outlet creating a Facebook page, getting likes and then constantly promoting its content.
Having a company Facebook page likely is the most common method media outlets use to share content via social media. It also is the least effective because Facebook won’t let a business use their product in that way. Instead, to get views, news agencies have to purchase Facebook advertising to promote their pages. Doing so then will allow the page to show up more regularly in individuals’ feed, but they still won’t see everything the organization posts.
Media managers should understand that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. This industry cliché is applicable on Facebook. Managers need to plan to invest a bit in the platform to get better results from their media pages.
Having a page is necessary, but it likely still isn’t the best way to reach the largest audience share on Facebook. Only 34 percent of Facebook users follow news organizations or individual journalists.
The majority of Facebook users come across news items in their feeds on accident.
Readers “bump” into the news, which is shared by friends. They click because they find the headlines and summary text interesting or because of some type of comment or context their friend provided when posting the link.
So how, aside from having a page, should media outlets use Facebook to attract readers and viewers?
Let me explain it with a story.
My husband probably read almost everything I wrote when I was a full-time journalist. He read my writing because: a) I’m his wife, so he’s obligated to do so, and b) we actually lived in the community I covered, so he was interested in the content.
My Mom always wanted me to call her when I had a story in the early edition so she could read it in the town (outside my coverage area) where she lives. If my Mom read my story, chances are that the clipping went into her purse and she showed just about anyone she ran into at the grocery store or church. She’s proud like that. You know how moms are.
I know I’m dating myself here, but social media sadly was not a thing when I was a full-time reporter. I’ll just go ahead and admit that the major metro where I worked launched online while I was there, so a lot of people weren’t logging on for their news either.
But, imagine if I were a full-time reporter today. I write a story that I’m proud of and share it on my personal Facebook page, on which I have more than 1,200 connections. My husband, Mom, in-laws, friends, etc. read it, perhaps mostly because I wrote it, but a few of them are taken by the topic and my fabulous storytelling, so they share my story on their pages too. The next thing you know, the number of people reading my story is snowballing.
The snowball effect is how we create the opportunity for readers to bump into and share content. It’s really that simple.
Publishers today have more resources and platforms than ever before, but the people who work for them still are their greatest resource.
If you want to use Facebook to get news in front of readers, reporters and their networks are the best way to do it.
So, why aren’t all news agencies using Facebook in this way? You tell me. I have some guesses, including fear of associating content with other things employees post on their pages and the uncertainty that results from a lack of control.
My best advice to those news managers functioning in this dated manner is STOP IT. You should encourage (not require) your reporters to post stories on their personal Facebook pages. Doing so will result in visits to your website, support for your organization, discussion of issues, and greater service to your readers.
How do your newsroom managers encourage social sharing? Are policies in place for when/where/how/why you should share content?
A few other noteworthy items from the 2015 State of the News Media:
- More people are visiting news sites from mobile devices than from desktops,
- People who visit news sites from desktops stay longer than those who visit most (all but 10) mobile news sites,
- Network and local news viewership both increased slightly (3-5 percent), and
- Newspaper circulation declined slightly (3 percent).