What journalists need to know about Facebook’s new interest lists

Facebook just announced a new feature called interest lists that collect posts from people and pages related to a certain topic into a separate, specialized news feed.

If Facebook's interest lists sound pretty much like Twitter lists, they are. Facebook is using the same idea -- a user can create lists of friends, pages and subscriptions on their own, or follow lists others have curated already.

This has implications for journalists in both newsgathering and distribution.

Make lists of your news organization’s journalists

The Washington Post, for instance, has a list of all its Facebooking staff members as well as narrower lists of politics or style reporters. This way loyal readers can quickly subscribe to a bundle of individual journalists.

The Washington Post includes 115 of its journalists on its new interest list.

A few caveats:

  • Facebook Pages cannot create interest lists, so a social media editor or other individual will have to build them from his or her own Facebook account.
  • Be sure to set these lists as public so others can find them.
  • Be sure your journalists know that any posts they want list subscribers to see must be set to “public” visibility. And you can reassure them that their private posts will still only be seen by friends.

There’s really no downside to building lists for your readers to subscribe to. All it costs is some time. But it does remain to be seen whether Facebook users will actually embrace interest lists. Twitter lists, which serve the same purpose, have been used only minimally and were de-emphasized in the latest Twitter website and apps redesign.

But even if Facebook’s new interest lists don’t attract many casual users, journalists and other power users can certainly take advantage of them.

Stay on top of your beat

Think of interest lists as a way for you to follow sources, journalists or other news outlets.

Your lists could be a great way to sift through social media for news leads, without polluting your main news feed of friends and family. You can set these lists to private if they’re intended only for your own use.

Remember that you can follow lists that someone else has created and shared, so you may want to see what’s already out there before you go to the trouble of building a new list.

For Facebook, interest lists could, as Lauren Goode speculated, be yet another signal the company can use to target advertisements to each user’s declared interests. Facebook has not said whether it will do that.

Interest lists are a followup to the subscribe feature -- another attempt to pivot Facebook toward following instead of just friendship, to organize social connections around what you know instead of who you know.

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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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