How News Organizations Hope to Benefit from Facebook’s New Features

Facebook’s new plugins, which help integrate the social networking site with the rest of the Web, have presented news organizations with an opportunity to think more creatively about how they can use social media to meet their audiences’ needs.

I talked with journalists at The Washington Post, ABC News, ESPN.com and other news outlets that have begun using Facebook’s new features to find out how the integration of these tools fits into their overall social media strategies. Here’s what they had to say.

ABCNews.com sees 250 percent increase in referrals from Facebook
 
ABCNews.com’s home page, section fronts and story pages now feature a customized “ABC News on Facebook” module that lets users who are signed into the site via Facebook Connect see the number of people who have “liked” a story.

The site has also has a “Like it, Tweet it, Digg it,” box that shows how many people have interacted with the site’s content using Facebook, Twitter and Digg.

Jonathan Dube, vice president in charge of ABCNews.com, said he hopes the new features will motivate people to stay on the site longer and ultimately decrease its bounce rate. So far, the results have been promising.

“We’ve seen an over 250 percent increase in referrals from Facebook to ABC News since the launch of the Social toolkit on ABCNews.com,” Dube said. “Since we added the new ‘Like it, Tweet it, Digg it,’ buttons, we have also seen a more than 50 percent increase in referrals on weekdays from both Twitter and Digg.”

ABCNews.com readers can also see what others are reading by looking at the site’s “Most Popular” box, an older feature that shows the stories that have been most viewed, most commented on and most e-mailed. Now, it appears lower on the home page than it once did.

“We’ve opted to place the Facebook recommendations higher than the most popular recommendations, and the reason we’ve done so is because we believe that recommendations from people who are friends of yours are probably more likely to be stories that you’re interested in than a general ‘Most Popular’ list,” Dube said.

CNN hopes to make social media a bigger part of the daily news cycle

When users who are logged into Facebook visit CNN.com’s home page, they’ll see a module in the right-hand corner showing the stories that their Facebook friends have shared and commented on.

CNN.com is giving its readers the option to “recommend” stories rather than “liking” them. (Some Facebook users, meanwhile, are still awaiting a “dislike” button.)

“Facebook worked closely with us to address any potential drawbacks we saw out of the gate — such as the complexity of our users ‘liking’ a story that might be tragic or controversial,” said Jennifer Martin, senior director of public relations for CNN Worldwide.

Martin said the new plugins allow CNN to think more strategically about how it can better integrate Facebook into its daily social media strategy.

“We really went to the drawing board and said, ‘What’s going to be most useful and respectful to the community every single day?’ ” Martin said by phone. “We feel like we’ve taken the next step in that direction.”

CNN has designed the module so that when users recommend a story, only their Facebook friends can see the recommendation. (On other sites, such as washingtonpost.com, anyone can see what a Facebook user has liked unless the user has made his or her profile private.)

Adding this setting was CNN’s way of trying to respect the privacy of its users. The module also features a “What’s this?” link that users can click on for a brief description of the module’s purpose and for information about how to disable Facebook Connect.

“We really respect our users and we want them to feel open and engaged but not forced,” said Martin, noting that feedback so far has been mostly positive.

Washington Post aims to increase user engagement, revenue

The Washington Post has launched a “Network News” feature, which integrates Facebook’s new plugins in a module that appears on the Post’s home page, article pages, blog posts and videos. 

Washington Post Managing Editor Raju Narisetti said the goal of the feature is to help increase engagement on washingtonpost.com and give people a way to see what their Facebook friends are reading without ever having to leave the Post’s site.

“We find that, increasingly, it’s important for us to go where audiences are,” Narisetti said by phone. “A lot of our content is circulated on Facebook, so we ought to make it easier for our readers who are on Facebook to share content and also see what their friends like and are reading without having to leave our site.”

Network News, Narisetti said, allows for “serendipitous discovery” on the site by helping to push content in front of readers who may not have otherwise seen it. In that sense, he said, the feature could ultimately help generate revenue.

“One outcome of this is that more Post content is consumed and that Network News could result in a more engaged audiences,” Narisetti said. “For a free site … more engaged readers have an impact on its ability to attract more advertising and thus help fund more content creation.”

Not everyone finds Network News engaging, however. In a live chat last week, some readers told Narisetti that having the module appear on washingtonpost.com violated their employer’s internal rules against accessing Facebook while at work.

To accommodate these people and those who don’t want to see what their Facebook friends like, the Post has created an opt-out button that gives people the option of not seeing the module.    

ESPN.com and New York Times transition to integration

Some news organizations, such as The New York Times, are taking a slightly different approach from CNN, ABC News and The Washington Post.

Jennifer Preston, social media editor of The New York Times, said via e-mail that the Times has been working with Facebook on a site integration that would provide an added layer of personalization and social activity for Times users. It’s too early, she said, to give more details on what the integration will entail.

Others, such as ESPN.com, are implementing the tools incrementally. ESPN.com has featured Facebook’s “like” button on some of its live coverage, but not on every story, according to Rob King, editor-in-chief at ESPN.com and vice president and editor-in-chief at ESPN Digital Media. For now, the site is easing its way into the integration and seeing how users respond.

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“We’ve only just really begun figuring out how to make this work,” King said. “I think what we want to do is make sure we’re making it as easy as possible for folks. You don’t want to just wade in and throw modules on the home page. We want to make the doorways as hospitable as possible.”

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