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How newspapers are using Facebook to connect with readers

 

Much attention has been focused lately on how Twitter is revolutionizing the way that news is disseminated. Now Facebook is stepping up to the plate, trying to convince media outlets that it is an equally important social media tool for engaging a wide and far-reaching audience.

To this end, the social networking giant  announced the launch of a new page called “Journalists on Facebook” in April, as well as a “Facebook Journalism Meetup” program – both of which are aimed at helping reporters “find sources, interact with readers, and advance stories” using Facebook. The announcement also pointed out that for the past year or so, Facebook has been working with media organizations to “help make their content more social and empower readers to experience news through their friends.”  As a result, Facebook says the “average” outlet using this service has reportedly seen a 300 percent increase in referral traffic from the social network platform.

As inVocus previously reported, a number of newspapers have already fully embraced Facebook by choosing to forego a dedicated website altogether in favor of simply maintaining a fan page. But even those papers with their own sites can benefit from an active and engaging Facebook page.

According to the annual Bivings Report, the most successful newspaper Facebook pages of 2010, measured by total print circulation compared with number of Facebook “fans,” were (in order):  The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Arizona Republic, The Denver Post, San Jose Mercury News and New York Times. Several factors can account for why these outlets in particular are doing a better job than their competitors at utilizing Facebook. The Washington Post page offers some special features such as custom tabs for “discussions” and “questions” that are designed to encourage the public to interact with the paper, the report notes. Meanwhile, Arizona Republic benefits from its collaboration with AZCentral.com, an online portal that brings in additional traffic and whose Facebook page directs readers to the Arizona Republic fan page.

Media blogger Chris Snider closely monitors which papers are seeing the biggest gains in terms of “likes” from readers visiting their Facebook pages. According to Snider, the Lexington Herald-Leader saw a 109.9 percent increase in the number of fans on Facebook in March 2011. In an email interview, Snider discussed some of the ways in which papers can see this kind of increased activity on their pages. One way “is simply letting people know you have a page,” he said. When newspapers put a Facebook “like” box on their website homepage, “they see an instant increase in ‘likes.’”

Another big way to grow on Facebook is by holding a contest or a giveaway, Snider suggested. For example, a recent link to the Lexington Herald-Leader’s page brings the reader to a promotion that states  if you “like” the paper you can enter to win passes to a local food show. But perhaps most importantly, a paper can see an increase “simply by using Facebook well,” said Snider. He suggests that outlets should “share content throughout the day, and interact with readers. Use photos and videos on your page and ask questions. Pay attention to what people respond well to, and do more of that.”

Stephanie DePasquale, social media editor for the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa, is in charge of overseeing and updating her paper’s Facebook page. She explained in an email interview how she helps reach out to readers using the social network. While DePasquale updates the paper’s Twitter feed more frequently, she said she posts links to three or four “carefully chosen” items on Facebook daily. “I always like to include a question of some kind in the link description that invites conversation about the story that has been posted,” she said. Since DePasquale was hired in her position in August 2010, traffic from Facebook to the paper’s website has doubled. “So I must be doing something right,” she said.

While Twitter is an undeniably important tool for newspapers to increase the scope of their audience, most would be well served by paying equally close attention to their Facebook presence. For Snider, Facebook is even more important to newspapers than Twitter. “Sure, many newspapers have more followers on Twitter than on Facebook,” he said. “But Facebook is a much more refined tool for reaching your audience. Once you get readers to ‘like’ a paper, you can reach them with your message every day for years and years to come, even if they never come back to your website.”

–Katrina Wolfe

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