Facebook’s already one of the most crucial street corners on the web for hawking news, and here’s an indication it might be gaining traction as a place for gathering news, too: 50 percent more Facebook posts were embedded around the web in the three months after FB Newswire’s launch than in the three months before.
When it debuted in April, the free service from Facebook and Storyful promised to surface verified, newsworthy Facebook posts. It feels best suited for news organizations without the need or ability to pay for sophisticated third-party discovery tools.
The time period since FB Newswire was introduced includes the World Cup — 350 million users generated 3 billion interactions related to the event, according to Facebook — and fighting in Ukraine, Gaza and Iraq, major world news stories.
Facebook is the dominant social media platform in the Middle East, said Liz Heron, head of news partnerships. More than 90 percent of Internet users in five Middle East countries use Facebook, according to a study from Northwestern and the Doha Film Institute. So although you’re still more likely to see Twitter embeds on news stories around the web, user-generated Facebook content is particularly useful for stories from those areas. (Facebook only introduced the ability to embed posts about a year ago.)
For example, Mashable has recently embedded Facebook posts about fighting in Gaza alongside Instagram videos, YouTube videos and tweets. Yahoo News linked to Facebook content from a father whose daughter was killed in the Malaysia Airlines plane that was shot down in Ukraine, and the photo taken by a passenger before he boarded the flight was published by news organizations from ABC News to Business Insider.
Last night, FB Newswire started compiling statements about the death of Robin Williams:
— Liz Heron (@lheron) August 12, 2014
There are two big reasons news organizations should pay attention to the content users are posting on Facebook.
One, of course, is scale. Despite journalists’ fascination with Twitter (which sometimes leads us to deemphasize Facebook), it has more than a billion-with-a-B fewer monthly active users than Facebook does. As Heron put it: “I firmly believe that news has been happening on Facebook every day for a while.” With that many users, how could it not?
The second reason is what Facebook allows users to posts. “You have more room to say what you want to say, and you can also say it in a variety of different ways,” Heron said. “You can write something short, you can write something long, you can say it with an image, you can say it with a video, you can say it with five images.”
The maximum number of images you can post on Twitter at a time is four. Lengthy videos — like this one of a hot-air balloon crashing into power lines — and long statements from celebrities and government officials are poor fits for Twitter for obvious reasons. But they work on Facebook.
After more than three months of FB Newswire, “We’re definitely not looking at the number of likes on a post as a measure of success here,” Heron told me. That makes sense. News organizations that choose to embed a FB Newswire post or link to it probably aren’t going to like it or comment on it.
And while the fact that 50 percent more posts have been embedded since the launch can’t be tied directly to FB Newswire — an increase would have been likely anyway due to the news cycle — the embed statistic doesn’t account for other ways news organizations are taking advantage of the platform, like showcasing footage within their own videos or posting screenshots instead of embeds.
It’s unclear how much more sophisticated FB Newswire can become without cutting into Storyful’s core business of making verified content discoverable, but the ability to search and filter FB Newswire content would go a long way toward making it a more important destination for journalists who struggle to take advantage of the 1.3 billion potential sources on Facebook.