Facebook offers a great opportunity to grab new readers

For busy newspaper people, information about social media is like information about Obamacare – there’s so much, and it’s so complex, that it’s easy to ignore all of it.

Social media didn’t begin as primarily media for news – they were ways for people to connect and share what was going on in their lives. Like sharing over the back fence, a lot of the information was trivial, and Facebook and Twitter got a bad rap (“If I see one more picture of someone’s meal at a restaurant….” or “Who wants to look at that many cute cat videos?”)

So it’s understandable if some publishers and editors don’t realize that social media have become genuine news platforms – of the 64 percent of adults who use Facebook, for instance, 47 percent get at least some of their news there.

That’s way too many potential news consumers to ignore.

So who’s on Facebook, surfing their news feed and just waiting to connect with your newspaper?

  • 83 percent of people between 18 and 29
  • 77 percent of people between 30 and 49
  • 52 percent of people between 50 and 64
  • 32 percent of people over 65

Or looking at the big picture, 67 percent of all Internet users are also on a social networking site such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram or Tumblr.

We need to be there for the same reason you’d like to sell your newspaper at Walmart – that’s where the people are.

Some of the recent research into news and social networks reminds us of important points that all newspapers need to consider:

On Facebook, people are drawn to the news and pictures, not to your newspaper.  People won’t look at something just because an editor said it was important. If the picture is engaging, if the news looks interesting, they’ll read it.  If it’s another meeting story illustrated by a photo of a bunch of balding, middle-aged white guys sitting in a council chamber, forget it.  They won’t read it just because your paper says it’s important. A recent study asked Facebook users why they clicked on news story links – 20 percent said it was because the story was published by a news organization they trusted, but 70 percent said it was because the story looked interesting.

This is news judgment on steroids.  We already know that dull procedural stories that don’t relate to real people tend not to be read in print.  And if that’s true for your print product, where you can still reach your news junkies, it’s doubly true online.

Your news headline is important in luring readers.  On Facebook, which would draw traffic?  “Council votes to purchase new fire equipment”? Or “New fire truck will cut response times to local fires”? And should the photo be of the council members talking or the firefighters climbing onto the new truck?

We need to work hard for Facebook “Likes.”  Make your page more interactive.  Ask questions.  Promote involvement.  Use lots of local-interest photos – they are more likely to get shared by your followers and thus help you pick up new followers. Run contests and offer prizes. 

Remember, Facebook is not your newspaper presented in another medium.  It’s a different approach to news, characterized by much more interactivity.  When people like an article in your newspaper, they may tell someone.  And rarely, they might even give a copy of your newspaper to a friend and suggest they read the article. 

But on Facebook, someone with 500 friends can share that article with all 500.  If you run a photo of the cheerleaders at this Friday’s game, and one of the cheermoms is on Facebook (chances are, all of them are) and shares your photo on her news feed, it could end up with an audience of thousands more than your newspaper could ever reach. We need to think in terms of news and photos and videos that people will want to pass on – in effect, to become our co-publishers.

For those editors and publishers who are still social media newbies, the best recommendation is to get onto Facebook yourself. You’ll never reach that audience until you are familiar with it.  Just lurk, if you want to, or actively participate.  Also, check out some newspapers who do it well.  Here’s a list of some of the best facebook pages for newspapers. 

By Kathryn Jones Malone

Kathryn Jones Malone is co-director of the Texas Center for Community Journalism. She began her career as a staff writer at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, then worked as a staff writer for the Dallas Times Herald and The Dallas Morning News; as a contract writer for The New York Times; as a writer-at-large for Texas Monthly magazine; as editor of the Glen Rose Reporter; and as a freelance writer for numerous state, regional and national magazines. She teaches journalism at Tarleton State University.