the transition to digital journalism
Facebook and Social Media
Beginning in the early 2000s, a new form of online social interaction emerged - social network websites.
Social networks provided people with a way to set up a personal page or profile to which they could post updates on what they were doing, while also keeping track of the activities of family, friends and colleagues.
People also can engage in group activities online and display feeds of information on their home pages - everything from personal photo slideshows and videos to musical playlists and calendars to weather reports and news stories. The applications that allow social network users to display this information on their profile pages are called widgets.
By 2008, 35 percent of adult Internet users had created a profile on a social network, quadruple the percentage in 2005, according to a Pew Internet & American Life Project survey in December 2008. The numbers are even more striking for younger people - 75 percent of Internet users aged 18-24 have a social network profile.
By the end of 2012, the percentage of adult Internet users who used social networking sites like Facebook was up to 67 percent, according to a Pew Internet & American Life Project survey. The percentage for teens was 81 percent.
Journalism and Social Networks
For journalists and news organizations, social networks provide an opportunity for connecting with people, distributing news stories and complementing news coverage with feeds from social media.
- Reporters can join the networks, converse with people and showcase their stories. It's yet another way for reporters to develop personal brands for their work.
- News organizations can create their own pages on social networks, such as a fan page on Facebook, and use that to alert people to important news stories the news organization has published or post other items of interest to its followers. Or they can set up their own social networks, using third-party software like Ning or their own homegrown platforms.
- Social networks are great for generating conversations among people about stories. Many news media have found that the volume of reader comments on a story posted on Facebook can exceed comments posted on the news organization's website.
- News organizations can develop widgets that provide feeds of news stories that can be displayed on the personal pages of social network members. See for example the New York Times Widgets page that people can used to embed news feeds from the Times on their personal profile pages or on blogs or other websites.
- News sites can use an application like Storify to pull together postings to Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites on a particular topic in the news, especially a breaking news story.
- News media can tell first-person stories using Facebook postings, such as the Washington Post's A Facebook story: A mother's joy and a family's sorrow, which published a mother's Facebook postings about giving birth and her subsequent medical complications. Read also this Poynter article describing why and how the Washington Post story was done.
Social Networks as a Source of News
People are increasingly learning about news stories via social networks, but the percentage is still small. Only 27 percent of American adults regularly or sometimes get news or news headlines through social networking sites, according to a report by the Pew Research Center released in September 2011. The number increased to 38 percent for people under 30.
During the 2012 presidential primary elections, only 20 percent of people regularly or sometimes got campaign information from Facebook and only 5 percent from Twitter, according to a Pew Research Center survey in February 2012.
A survey by the Reynolds Journalism Institute found that nearly 63 percent of people surveyed said they prefer news stories produced by professional journalists, while less than 21 percent said they prefer to get most of their news from friends they trust.
But Facebook is more popular as a news source among younger people.
Among people 18 to 29 years old, 52 percent get news from Facebook, the top news source for the young, according to a USC Annenberg/Los Angeles Times poll in 2012. That compares with 25 percent of people overall who get news from Facebook.
Driving Traffic to News Sites
Social networks are driving an increasing percentage of the traffic to news sites, beginning to rival search engines like Google as sources of referrals to news stories.
Facebook reported that the average media site saw referral traffic from Facebook more than double in 2010.
News websites got 9 percent of their traffic from social media such as Facebook and Twitter in 2011, about a 57 percent increase over 2009, according to the State of the News Media 2012 report on digital news by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.
We saw this at the Oakland North community news site run by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism after we made a concerted effort in Spring 2010 to post story links on our site's Facebook page. We saw the percentage of referrals to the Oakland North website from Facebook increase to 13.2 percent in December 2010, up from 5.5 percent in December 2009.
Some have even speculated that social networks will supplant news websites as the place where people get news.
One online news site, Rockville Central in Maryland, decided in early 2011 to stop publication of its website and instead publish entirely on a Facebook page. See The Hyperlocalist's analysis of the move.
How Journalists Can Use Social Networks
News organizations also need to do more than just post links to stories on Facebook or services like Twitter.
Instead the postings need to be more informal and conversational, provide commentary on the news and invite people to participate, such as asking them to answer a question or provide suggestions for stories or story angles to pursue. Adding a quality photo to a posting also signficantly increases reader responses, such as likes or comments.
Postings need to be regular, but not overwhelming. So perhaps 5 - 10 posts a day.
There's no optimum length, and both short or long posts can engage people depending on the subject matter. That said, in general 4-5 line posts seem to work best.
For the analysis behind these suggestions and more tips on effective postings, see Facebook's "How Journalists Are Using Facebook Subscribe." and "Analysis: How News Pages Are Keeping Readers Engaged."
When Journalists Should Post to Social Networks
An analysis by Dan Zarrella of posts of news story links to Facebook found that people tend to share articles more on weekends (especially Saturdays) than during weekdays, and in the mornings and evenings rather than mid day. This is the reverse of traffic patterns at most news web sites, which usually are busiest during weekdays and then experience a huge drop-off in traffic in the evening and on Saturdays and Sundays.
A Facebook analysis of news pages similarly found a "20% increase on Saturday and 9% increase in (reader) feedback on Sunday." People were checking in throughout the day, with the most engagement in the mornings, according to the Facebook analysis.
A study by social marketing company Buddy Media of its clients Facebook postings found that weekend postings by media companies produced the best engagement with readers. As for time of day, the Buddy Media study reported three peaks in Facebook user engagement - early morning (7 a.m.), right after work hours (5 pm) and late at night (11 p.m.).
We discovered the value of weekend posts at the Richmond Confidential community news site we run at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism when we posted a story and photo slideshow about a high school football game.The story was published on a Saturday and helped set a new one-day record for traffic to the site, much of it referred by Facebook users who linked to the football story.
So using social networks like Facebook to alert people to news articles on Saturdays and Sundays may increase weekend traffic at news websites.
Note: A study by Bitly, the URL shortening service, came up with different findings on the best times and days to post on Facebook. Bitly reported that links posted in the afternoon got the most click throughs on average, while links posted on weekends performed relatively poorly.
Social Network Examples
Among the major social networks are:
Facebook, founded in February 2004, started as a service for college students but then opened its doors to anyone to join.
As of December 2011, Facebook reported 800 milion active users.
The median age of a Facebook user also increased from 26 in May 2008 to 33 in October 2009, according to a Pew Internet and American Life survey.
By 2011, more than 42 percent of the U.S. population were Facebook users, according to an eMarketer survey.
In May 2008, Facebook launched Facebook Connect, which lets other websites utliize Facebook users' profiles and networking features. A news website can have users register at the site using their Facebook accounts and then explore content on the site, comment on it or share links to it with their friends on the Facebook network.
Thus a news organization can integrate a social network into its website without having to create one itself and take advantage of the huge audience of an existing social network like Facebook.
See, for example, The Huffington Post's Social News page at which people can login using their Facebook or other social media accounts. Huffington Post credits its use of Facebook with driving a significant part of the traffic to its site.
People who use social networks like being able to sign in to websites using their social network accounts like Facebook, according to one study, while they really dislike being forced to register using the site's own signup process.
Having people use their Facebook profiles to register and then requiring such registration to post comments on stories may also cut down on the number of inapproprite comments people post. See the Poynter story about news organizations that have seen higher quality discussion by readers after switching to Facebook's commenting system.
If a person's comments are traceable to their Facebook identity they may be more hesitant to make offensive remarks. And a very small percentage of people on Facebook use fake names, according to a study by Entrustet.
But also check this study by Disqus that concluded people with pseudonyms made higher quality comments than those using their Facebook identities.
For another implementation of Facebook Connect at a news site, see the News Mixer project developed by students at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.
In April 2010 Facebook also released "Like" buttons that news sites can add to stories so people can use their Facebook accounts to share stories they like with others on Facebook.
In March 2011 Facebook released an upgrade of its comments plug-in for websites, so a Facebook comments box can appear next to news stories on a publication's website.
When a person posts a comment in the box, they also can have that comment appear in their news feed on Facebook. Publishers can moderate comments, such as deleting inappropriate ones posted in the Facebook comments box.
In September 2011 Facebook introduced "frictionless sharing," in which people can automatically share on their Facebook pages the news stories they are reading.
News organizations also started developing "social reader apps" - Facebook applications people could install to read news stories while logged into Facebook.
The social reader apps deliver a feed of stories based in part on what your Facebook friends are reading, and stories you read are automatically shared with your friends. But by late 2012 the gloss appeared to be wearing off social reader apps, and several news organizations that developed them were dropping them.
In November 2011 Facebook unveiled the "subscribe" feature that allowed people to follow postings to a news organization's or a journalist's facebook page without having to add them as a friend.
In March 2012 Facebook introduced interest lists to "help you turn Facebook into your own personalized newspaper, with special sections—or feeds—for topics that matter to you."
Facebook also has a media page on best practices for journalists in using Facebook.
But are young people starting to feel ambivalent about Facebook?
The Pew Internet & American Life Project conducted a series of focus groups with teenagers around the U.S. in early 2013 and found the teens:
"...have waning enthusiasm for Facebook, disliking the increasing adult presence, people sharing excessively, and stressful 'drama,' but they keep using it because participation is an important part of overall teenage socializing."
See this CNN story for Facebook's response.
LinkedIn is a social network that targets professionals and promotes itself as a way to find business contacts and jobs. It launched in 2003 and as of 2008 claimed to have 30 million users.
MySpace launched in 2003 and initially attracted a lot of young music lovers because of its MySpace Music feature. This let bands post their songs on the site, which other people then could add to their personal profile pages.
MySpace quickly evolved into a more general interest social network, mainly for young people. It was purchased by News Corp. in 2005 and by 2006 claimed to have more than 100 million users. But it then fell way behind Facebook as the most popular social network.
Google launched its own social network, Google+, in 2011 and by December 2012 had 500 million registered users.
Previously Google had operated Google Buzz, launched in February 2010, which automatically created a social network around Google's Gmail service, using the person's Gmail contact list. It was discontinued the following year, when Google+ debuted.
Launched in 2011, Pinterest has virtual pinboards to which people "pin" photos including images from websites they like and want to link to. You also can follow what someone else is pinning, and integrate your pins into your Facebook page or Twitter postings.
For a good overview of the site, read the Atlantic article: What Is Pinterest and Why Should I Care? See also Poynter Online's Why it’s time for journalists to pay attention to Pinterest & what you can do there and 10,000 Words' 5 Ways Journalists Can Use Pinterest.
Now owned by Facebook, Instagram is a cellphone application and social network for photo sharing that includes tools for applying simple filters to photos to alter their appearance.
Medium is a collaborative publishing platform to which people can post their contributions to topical "collections" of content. Created by Evan Williams and Biz Stone, the co-founders of Twitter and Blogger.
RebelMouse takes postings you've made to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media and puts them together on a personal page.
Use Branch to post a reference to something you read on the web or an idea you have, share it with people via email or Twitter to start a conversation about it, and then post the conversation (the branch) on your blog or share it as a link.
Several companies provide tools for news organizations to set up their own social networks. They include:
Ning is a website founded in 2004 that allows easy creation of a social network, hosted on Ning's site for free. Some news organizations have used Ning to create social networks for the communities they serve.
Ning announced in April 2010 that it would be charging for its service. Non-educational organizations that had set up Ning social networks also would have to pay to continue them or move the content to some other service.
Pluck provides a suite of tools for websites that want to create social networks, as well as blogs, forums and comments.
Social Networks at News Organization Sites
Here are some news sites that have set up their own social networks:
Bakersfield Californian - Bakotopia
The Bakersfield Californian newspaper developed a home-grown social networking application - Bakotopia - that people use to create their own profiles and personal pages. Bakotopia started in 2005 as a preemptive move against craigslist by providing an online classified ad service. As it evolved other features were added, including social networking.
Denver Post/Denver Newspaper Agency - YourHub
YourHub is a series of local online communities developed by the Denver Newspaper Agency, in which people can create profiles and blogs, and post their events, personal stories and photos.
New York Times - Times People
At the Times People page you create a profile and "share articles, videos, slideshows, blog posts, reader comments, and ratings and reviews of movies, restaurants and hotels."
Resources and Readings
- The Fastest Growing Social Sites - Mashable, 4/20/2009
- The End of News Websites - Online Journalism Blog, 7/8/2009
- Women use social media more than men: what’s news orgs’ response? - Nieman Journalism Lab, 10/5/2009
- NPR News Social Media Guidelines - NPR, 10/15/2009
- Washington Post newsroom guidelines for using online social networks - posted at the PaidContent site, 9/27/2009
- Haiti 2.0: A case study in real time news - how Sky News used Facebook and other social media to cover the January 2010 Haiti earthquake, 1/13/2010
- Social Media and Blogging Guidelines - RTNDA, 2010
- Social Media & Mobile Internet Use Among Teens and Young Adults - Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2/3/2010
- Facebook leaps to fourth for news content - BrandRepublic, 2/4/2010
- Google Buzz Has Completely Changed the Game: Here’s How - Mashable, 2/14/2010
- Data Shows: Articles Published on the Weekend are Shared on Facebook More - Dan Zarrella weblog, 3/8/2010
- Facebook’s Gone Rogue; It’s Time for an Open Alternative - Wired, 5/7/2010
- 7 tips on increasing traffic and engagement using Facebook - CyberJournalist.net, 8/2/2010 - summary of Facebook analysis on how media sites are effectively using Facebook.
- Results From Our Survey Of NPR Facebook Fans - NPR, 8/3/2010
- New Data: Articles Published in the Morning Shared More on Facebook - Dan Zarrella weblog, 10/4/2010
- NBC Local sees big jump in social referrals - Lost Remote, 10/5/2010
- Twitter Crushing Facebook's Click-Through Rate: Report - Fast Company, 10/11/2010. Data survey showing Facebook is great for getting people to share information, but Twitter is much better for getting people to click through on links.
- BBC Editorial Guidelines - Social Networking, Microblogs and other Third Party Websites: Personal Use - BBC, October 2010
- How News Organizations Are Generating Revenue From Social Media - Mashable, 11/5/2010
- 2010 Best US Newspaper Facebook Fan Pages - Bivings Report, 12/17/2010
- Making News and Entertainment More Social in 2011, Facebook Developer Blog, 12/28/2010
- How a small Arkansas TV station uses Facebook, Regina McCombs, Poynter Institute 12/28/2010
- How Journalists Are Using Social Media to Report on the Egyptian Demonstrations - Mashable, 1/31/2011
- Survey: Online Consumers Prefer 'Social' Sign-in - ECommerce-Guide, 2/8/2011. Story on survey conducted by Janrian and Blue Research
- Facebook Reaches Majority of US Web Users - eMarketer, 2/24/2011
- Facebook Pushes Comments Upgrade, But Will Publishers Bite? - MediaShift, 3/2/2011
- Introducing Our Latest Research: “Strategies For Effective Facebook Wall Posts: A Statistical Review” - Buddy Media, 4/6/2011
- HOW TO: Improve Engagement on Your Brand’s Facebook Page - Mashable, 4/6/2011. Based on Buddy Media study of Facebook usage.
- 8 must-read tips on making Facebook posts super effective - CyberJournalist.net, 4/13/2011. Summary of report and guide by Buddy Media.
- Why journalists should think twice about Facebook - Scott Rosenberg, Wordyard, 5/3/2011
- Navigating News Online: Where People Go, How They Get There And What Lures Them Away - Pew Research Centers Project for Excellence in Journalism, 5/9/2011
- ASNE issues guide to "10 Best Practices for Social Media" - American Society of News Editors, 5/12/2011
- The Demographics of Social Media: Ad Age Looks at the Users of the Major Social Sites - AdAgeStat, Ad Age Blogs, 5/16/2011
- HOW TO: Set Up a Facebook Page - Mashable, 5/22/2011
- By The Numbers: How Facebook Says Likes & Social Plugins Help Websites - Danny Sullivan, Search Engine Land, 5/22/2011
- Study: How People Are Engaging Journalists on Facebook & Best Practices - Facebook study, 7/13/2011
- Updated social media guidance for BBC journalists - BBC News, 7/14/2011
- Analysis: How News Pages Are Keeping Readers Engaged - Facebook study, 7/21/2011
- News sites using Facebook Comments see higher quality discussion, more referrals - Poynter, 8/18/2011
- The Pros & Cons of Frictionless Sharing - ReadWriteWeb, 9/28/2011
- With ‘frictionless sharing,’ Facebook and news orgs push boundaries of online privacy - Poynter, 9/29/2011
- How news orgs are reaching millions through Facebook’s new apps - Poynter, 11/30/2011
- What Facebook and Twitter Mean for News - The State of the News Media 2012, Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. A special report on social media as part of PEJ's annual report on the news media.
- How Journalists Are Using Facebook Subscribe - Facebook study, 1/25/2012
- Cable Leads the Pack as Campaign News Source; Twitter, Facebook Play Very Modest Roles - Pew Research Center, 2/7/2012
- 13 ‘Pinteresting’ Facts About Pinterest Users - Mashable, 2/25/2012
- Newspapers on Pinterest - 3/5/2012. A list of newspapers with Pinterest accounts.
- Introducing Interest Lists - Facebook Newsroom blog, 3/8/2012
- How The Wall Street Journal Uses Pinterest - 10,000 Words, 3/26/2012
- Time Is On Your Side - Bitly blog, 5/8/2012
- Why ‘The Atlantic’ No Longer Cares About SEO - Mashable, 5/9/2012; SEO is being downplayed because 40 percent of the Atlantic's web traffic now comes from social media.
- Is it time to drop the ‘tweet’ and ‘like’ buttons from your site?- Poynter Online, 5/31/2012
- Magid Study: Newspapers Rule Twitter, Stations Rule Facebook - Broadcasting & Cable, 7/12/2012
- Is Pinterest Of Interest To Publishers? - Digiday, 7/26/2012
- How do mobile and non-mobile users perceive the news media and journalists? - Reynolds Journalism Institute, 8/23/2012
- Voters still tuned in to traditional news media, poll finds - LA Times, 8/24/2012
- The Mercury Uses Pinterest for Public Good - Editor & Publisher, 3/19/2013
- Teens, Social Media, and Privacy - Pew Internet & American Life Project study, 5/21/2013
- The Social Media Editor is Dead - BuzzFeed, 5/29/2013
- Pew Research Center - social networks and news
- Pew Research Center - Facebook and campaign news
- What Facebook and Twitter Mean for News - PEJ
- Perceptions of Journalists - RJI
- Facebook and Young People - USC/LA Times
- State of the News Media 2012 report on digital news
- Oakland North Facebook page
- How Journalists Are Using Facebook Subscribe
- Facebook + Journalists
- Facebook users share articles more on weekends - Dan Zarrella
- Improve Engagement on Your Brand’s Facebook Page - Mashable
- Facebook data
- high school football game - Richmond Confidential
- Facebook Connect
- The end is nigh story in Oakland North - see comments at end and Facebook Connect option
- Facebook Comments plug-in
- News sites using Facebook Comments see higher quality discussion, more referrals - Poynter
- Survey: Online Consumers Prefer 'Social' Sign-in
- Washington Post Social Reader - screen shot
- Pinterest - Wall Street Journal
- Newspapers on Pinterest
- Pinterest - demogrqphics
- Is Pinterest Of Interest To Publishers? - Digiday
- A Facebook story: A mother's joy and a family's sorrow - Washington Post