Facing up to the demands of Facebook

He died 33 years before the invention of Facebook.

So it’s unlikely that American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr was talking about the world’s best-used social media site when he penned some of my favourite words.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

I used the Serenity Prayer a few days ago when discussing Facebook with one of my reporter friends.

She has become increasingly concerned at the outrageous, prejudiced, provocative and vitriolic nature of some of the comments made under stories on some of our titles’ Facebook pages.

And they’re not a pretty sight.

The 21st century journalist must be part of the social media conversation, reacting to fresh news lines and debate which emerge on Facebook and Twitter once his or her story has been posted.

I’ve always been a firm believer in engaging with readers online, and love the ‘talk not tell’ phrase coined by Derby Telegraph editor Neil White to encourage an equal dialogue with his community.

But some of the commentators on some of our stories are beyond talking. They need telling to get a life, it could be argued.

So should we worried? Are these comments tarnishing our brand? Are they crushing the potential for fresh, free and fair debate?

The answer to all those questions might well be yes.

But in newsrooms that get busier and more complicated by the day, something has to give.

The mantra that ‘we’re going to have to stop doing something’ has echoed in my ears for the last two or three years.

Thus far, we’ve not been brilliant at following it as we keep the giant plates of web, print, social media and commercial demands spinning.

But worrying about posts on a website run by another company is one piece of crockery that I’d be happy to see tumble to the ground.

To return to our friend Reinhold’s wise words, there are more pressing matters – over which we can exert some control – when it comes to Facebook.

This little bombshell here, for instance.

The changes in Facebook policy represent another tightening of the screw on which of our news posts are likely to be widely seen on its site.

There are titles in my region that feel they are already seeing a negative impact a couple of weeks into this new regime.

Facebook is a crucial – perhaps the most crucial – way of telling people about our content.

We will never be able to completely second-guess how Facebook’s algorithms are affecting us.

But we need to work harder than ever before at ensuring that the stories we post are the ones that we would be interested in and that we would share, and that we have packaged them in the most human and engaging way possible.

As I write this, one of my colleagues is fine-tuning a very comprehensive and highly useful flow chart to help reporters make the most of Facebook.

Two questions leap out, though.

Would YOU share it on Facebook? Would you tell your friend/partner?

Making sure the answer is yes to both those questions is where we should be investing our time – and the courage of our convictions.

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