For the past two years I’ve attended Social Media Weekend at Columbia Journalism School, and
both years I’ve come away learning more than I ever expected. Frankly, considering the price, the location and the quality of both the speakers and attendees, it’s one of the best deals in the industry.
Also, you get to hang out with @Sree, who is a cool guy all around. Sometimes the discussions are complex, sometimes super simple. Probably one of the simplest and most pointed pieces of advice came from Vadim Lavrusik, Facebook’s journalist program manager. He gave a set of “Best Practices” for journalists who are sharing information on Facebook. Of course, this advice also applies to any company creating its own content. But it’s also about the differences in sharing information through different channels. “Engagement” means different things when you’re talking about Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or your own blog.
Facebook is a NOISY channel
The average user has spends 25 minutes a day on the site, has 160 friends and shares 150 items per month. That same average person is eligible to see more than 2000 items per day, so the question Facebook works to answer is: how do you make sure that only the best stuff gets through? Lavrusik’s advice is about helping journalists and other content creators present their work in a way that both adds to the Facebook ecosystem but also can cut through the clutter.
Use a conversational tone
People don’t want to hear from a faceless, nameless “brand” they want to hear from a person. This is why, says Lavrusik, that individual journalists often have higher rates of engagement than the organizations they work for. People don’t listen to a logo, they listen to a person.
Target the right audience: It’s not the size of your audience, it’s how you use it
Once Facebook Pages reach a certain size you get the ability to control who sees your messages. While old-school thinking would be “why not just blast everything to everyone?” that doesn’t work in the Facebook era. A central component to Facebook is Edgerank, a complex algorithm that even Lavrusik didn’t fully explain, other than to say that it takes into account a number of factors, including the level of engagement within the targeted audience. So if you blast your message to all of your followers but only 10 percent engage, that information will disappear faster than if you picked your audience and had the same raw numbers of people engaging. Size isn’t the issue, percentage is.
This is where Facebook science meets art. No social channel is a broadcast medium. You can’t expect to speak to your audience from “on high” and engage them. And if you don’t engage them, you don’t continue to rank highly in the newsfeed. So you need to ask your audience for things. In the case of news organizations they often ask their followers to post pictures from breaking news stories, or maybe a picture of something relevant happening around town.
Part of challenge comes down to varying your posts. If you only post one type of content you can become background noise, so Lavrusik encourages people to share music playlists from Spotify or has the questions tool to create a simple poll. Another tool from #smwknd called List.ly can also aid in this. Nick Kellet, Co-Founder of List.ly noted that 30 percent of all web content is in the form of lists, calling them “information snacks.” List.ly lets you create, share and encourage engagement on these lists.
Longer could be better
Conventional wisdom says that shorter is better, but various studies have proved this not to be the case. Lavrusik notes that longer posts of higher quality get engagement, that is, posts that offer a bit more in terms of depth. This aligns with research from Wildfire that pointed out how Facebook posts of more than 140 characters do better than shorter posts. This all speaks directly to creating different content for different audiences, specifically for the two bigger social networks: Facebook and Twitter.
The Nieman Lab did an experiment back in November to determine the type of local stories that get the greatest Facebook engagement. The whole article is worth a read, but they found nine types of stories drove engagement: Place Explainers, Crowd Pleasers, Curiosity Stiumulators, News Explainers; Major Breaking News; Feel Good Stories; Topical Buzzers; Provocatives Controversies and Awe-Inspiriting Visuals. They’re all explained here, as well as in an infographic (see below).
Use the tech
Perhaps the biggest opportunity is the one that awaits: Open Graph. Facebook continues to roll out it graph search to users, though claims it’s still in beta. I still don’t have it on my personal page. Lavursik noted that one of the key components of any engagement is photos: bigger photos help increase engagement.
Specifically, links with thumbnails and teasers received 20 percent more clicks than those with just text. Also, size matters. Bigger pictures mean more engagement, but the picture size is really up to the website feeding it, not Facebook.
This is when Lavursik gave the room full of writers a chance to “speak geek” to their developers. He encouraged everyone to go back to the office and tell the developers that they needed to include an og:image tag and set the resolution to 1500×1500, though the file size should remain under 2MB. Facebook outlines other details on how to tag information for Open Graph in a document buried on its developer page.
Bottom line: good content means good engagement. Be human, be real and think about what your people want to hear, not just what you want to say.