5 things journalists need to know about new Facebook subscription feature

Facebook's new Subscribe button, a major feature for the social network, has important implications for journalists.

The Facebook Subscribe button gives the user control over how much they want to see in their news feeds.

Until today the only way to connect with someone’s personal Facebook profile was to become “friends.” But now there’s another option. People can subscribe to see your public updates in their news feed, without adding you as a friend.

This is a big shift in the way Facebook works. Here are five key things journalists should understand about it.

1. First, you have to opt-in. You must visit this Facebook page to enable subscriptions to your account. Only then can other Facebook users visit your profile and subscribe.

2. Many journalists may find they no longer need a separate Facebook Page. Pages had two primary advantages over profiles: People could subscribe to page updates (by liking them) without being your Facebook friend, and there was no limit to the number of fans you could have.

While users are still limited to having 5,000 personal friends on Facebook, they can now have an unlimited number of subscribers. That enables a journalist or other public figure to build large followings around their personal profile without worrying about the friend limit anymore.

There are two possible reasons you might want to keep your Facebook Page: You already have such a strong following there you don’t want to disrupt it, or you need to use the apps and extra tabs that Pages allow you to add.

3. Facebook continues to encourage publicness. By creating a distinct audience for public updates, Facebook is motivating users to share more things publicly.

People who have a lot of subscribers may feel pressure to share most things publicly, and just keep a few personal updates private for friends and family. If that happens, Facebook Search will become a more useful tool for journalists and others who want to search public posts like they do on Twitter.

4. Each subscriber controls how much they see from you. This could be a good thing or a bad thing for journalists. But each person can choose to see all of your updates, most of your updates or only the “most important” as determined by Facebook.

The upside is that your most loyal followers can choose to see all of your posts. Under the old system, fewer than 8 percent of Facebook Page followers actually saw each post on the page in their news feeds.

5. Facebook is positioning itself as the social network for everything and everyone, by incorporating the most distinctive features of Twitter and Google+.

Until now, there had been a balance of power among social networks -- a sort of détente where networks had largely distinct roles. Facebook for private sharing among family and real life friends (plus some public pages for brands and stars), Twitter for public broadcasting of quick information to anyone who cares, and Google+ for maximum control over privacy and sharing with circles.

Now Facebook takes on Twitter with the new Subscribe button (there’s also a feature to send all your public Facebook posts to Twitter). And earlier this week Facebook announced new ways to build and share with lists of friends, similar to how Google+ circles work.

If these efforts succeed, even modestly, news organizations may have to rethink their social media strategies.

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    Jeff Sonderman

    Jeff Sonderman is the deputy director of the American Press Institute, helping to lead its use of research, tools, events, and strategic insights to advance and sustain journalism.


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