Facing up to the Facebook changes

A great man once said that a week was a long time in politics.
I’m not here to talk about that now.
But you could equally well say that a week is a long time in evolving multimedia journalism.
Certainly it feels that way.
If I ever need a chuckle, I take myself off to the uni library to open a book or two about online journalism.
Stuff written just two or three years ago now reads like ancient Hebrew script.
It was around then (two or three years ago, not the time of ancient Hebrew scripts) that I sat in on a number of sessions about social media and its increasing role in persuading people to read our stories.
The watchword then was very much about being human: avoiding robotic and repetitive tease posts such as ‘what do you think?’
In the intervening couple of years, Facebook has changed its algorithms several times, as well as introducing Facebook Articles and Facebook Live.
In terms of getting people to the content on most news websites – certainly regional ones – it has been virtually the only show in town for a lot of material.
So, when the Facebook wind changes, content desks may have to change tack accordingly.
I was hugely encouraged a couple of months ago when Facebook announced it would be prioritising longer reads – ensuring more thoughtful pieces of writing appeared in people’s feeds.
This week, it’s revealed it will be emphasising friends’ and family posts in a move likely to reduce the amount of publishers’ content which is seen.
Already I have noticed a dramatic fall in visible posts from the regional and national news sites whose pages I like.
It’s a change that not everyone has seen as negative.

There is real concern that Facebook, Google and, increasingly, phone brands, are becoming the gatekeepers of so much news content.
Whatever your view, most people seem to agree that the latest change will make it more difficult for news media posts to fly.
Much will come down to the age-old trade-off between click-throughs and brand awareness.
The growth of the media’s use of Facebook Live suggests that brand awareness remains important, although the latest research from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Online Journalism suggests that greater video content may not necessarily be the great white hope, unless it’s a breaking news story.
One thing that has become crystal clear in recent times is the role of both Facebook and Twitter as an echo chamber.
It’s difficult to work out whether this latest shift will magnify that effect, as friends continue to preach to the converted at the expense of thought-provoking and challenging material from outside the circle.
Meanwhile, how’s that being human project going?
A relative of mine took exception to a one-word Facebook post selling a story about a sex attacker in his city.
The word: ‘Disgusting’.
He was concerned that the site was encouraging something close to vigilante action by posting such a large volume of sex and porn-related stories, and then adding its own emotive take on them.
I quickly became bored of posts linking to stories about death crashes or child illness where it appeared to be compulsory to include the phrases ‘thoughts with the family’ or ‘this is heartbreaking.’
It’s a tricky ask, this social media voice business.
Getting the tone right as well as interesting and enticing can involve squaring a lot of circles.
But when it works, it works.
g social
In the mean time, good luck to all journalists in making Facebook work for you.
This chap seems to have got the right idea…
conn tw

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