Now it’s time to think about why you need one and what you should do with it.
I’ll start with a bold prediction: In the next decade or so, maybe less, your newspaper website is going to become largely obsolete unless it offers something dramatically different than what your audience can find via social media.
OK, that’s not really that bold. The signs are already there. According to a Pew Research Center report, roughly two-thirds of U.S. adults use Facebook and half those users get their news there — overall, that’s about a third of the general population. And that number trends upward when you add other social media sites like Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn to the mix.
To put it in old-fashioned print terms, that is some serious penetration.
But here’s the thing: Those same social media users spend less time and visit fewer pages on your news site than someone who comes to your site directly, especially when it comes to hard news. According the Pew report, social media users — particularly Facebook users — are far less likely to engage on those issues, fearing others in the crowd may not agree with their opinions. Facebook users are also much less likely to turn to that platform when they want to follow news as it breaks, instead heading to Twitter.
However, the report goes on to say that a small, but growing number of social media users, 12 to 14 percent, have shared their own media of news events.
There are plenty of other studies about where people are going for news and how they use social media, but what we have from the Pew report gives you a great place to start thinking about what will attract viewers to your page — and what will get them to engage with you.
Remember: This is a different audience than your website, so the goal isn’t necessarily to always drive viewers to your site (see stats above), but rather to increase the reach of your page, the number of interactions you have and the quality of those interactions.
Here are some ideas for simple, easy posts that come from Facebook itself, after it conducted a study:
*Ask a lot of questions. At the Daily News, we routinely crowdsource using Facebook, and we do use those comments in our stories. One rule: We always note in the post that we may use a person’s comment in our story, that way we don’t have to chase someone down to get permission.
*Follow up. Always. If you’re going to ask questions, be prepared to engage. Example: I noticed on my personal news feed that a lot of people like to post photos of their kids’ first day at school. So I posted a request on the Daily News Facebook page, asking readers to post their photos, and noting that I’d run as many as I could in the paper, expecting 2 or 3. I got more than 70 and had to go up 2 pages in the paper to accommodate them all. This year, we’ll sell sponsorship ads of those pages and make some money on that effort.
Follow up, part II. There will be trolls. Don’t hesitate to ban them. Your page, your rules. Facebook makes it easy by giving you that option as soon as you select the comment in question. Do it enough early on, and people get the message.
*Post pictures whenever you can. According to the Facebook study, photos received 50 percent more likes than non-photo posts, and journalists who shared links that included a thumbnail image in the link preview received 65 percent more likes and 50 percent more comments than posts that did not include images.
*Meatier links get the attention you’re looking for. The analysis showed that 4-line postings received a 30% increase in feedback over average posts and 5-line postings showed a 60% increase in feedback over average posts. Don’t get too caught up in length, however. If you’ve got something you think your audience will want to know,
*Keep the tone conversational, and don’t be afraid to let a little personality through. With this column is a photo from a Facebook post I did with a reporter on national “Celebrate Your Geekness Day.” I’m a huge Star Wars fan and that’s me in the clone helmet. Every year when the office dresses up for Halloween, we post that photo. Last year we did the ALS ice bucket challenge and put that video up.
*Along those same lines, posts about the inside workings of your office are very, very popular. When I can, I post what folks in our building are up to — projects the ad staff is working on, stories our reporters are pursuing — and I always end the post by asking people what they would like to see us doing that day. It gets feedback every time.
*It’s easy to post links to all your stories, but try to be judicious — some types of stories get more engagement and time than others, and you don’t want to bog down your feed with posts no one cares about. Education is big, so is public safety — anything about local government taxes is a biggie, too. Definitely link to all feature stories about people in town, and all your sports gamers. Both will spark an excellent conversation. Encourage your sports staff to engage.
*Don’t hesitate to post not only your own videos and galleries, but links to others that your audience would enjoy — even if it’s from a competitor. I know, I know, this goes against everything we’ve been taught as legacy journalists. But remember, you’re looking to build a page that people will feel like they have to like in order to be part of the conversation in their community. Your audience doesn’t care about the source of your information, only that you have it available for them to look at and discuss.
That’s a good start to build some likes on your new page. Next up we’ll look at analytics on Facebook: How they can help you build using Facebook into your workflow. After that, we’ll tackle how to use Facebook to make some money.
Got questions? Don’t like my advice? Let me hear it. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call/text me at 507.649.1693. I’m also on LinkedIn. Have a completely unrelated question, or interested in a little one-on-one social media training for your staff? Feel free to look me up.