Facebook and Twitter: Friend, ...


Last year I wrote that PR should be treating Facebook like a media property.

While you can’t pitch Facebook — the  “Dear Zuck, next week company XYZ will announce the world’s first …” isn’t going to work — the fact that Facebook generates up to 20 percent of the traffic to news sites bears attention.

More on this point: Pew Research released a study showing that people increasingly depend on Facebook and Twitter for news. More than the absolute numbers, it’s the acceleration that caught my attention.News on the Rise 08-15In two short years, the use of Twitter and Facebook jumped significantly as a place to find news.

Here’s another way of cutting the data. Out of the U.S. adult population, 10 percent read news on Twitter and a whopping 41 percent find news on Facebook.Getting More News 08-15This is not a cheap parlor trick. It’s real.

Lest you think that snagging news on social media is the sole domain of the younger demographic, consider this. The 35+ crowd is trending the same way as its younger counterpart, up and to the right.Increase in Users 08-15The difference between the mature (a better word than “old”) demographic and younger demographic lies in how each values the news secured on social platforms. Roughly half of the users between 18 and 34 viewed the two social sites as “the most important” or “an important” way they get news, while the over-35 crowd came in at 34 percent for Facebook and 31 percent for Twitter.Younger News Users 08-15Back to the big picture, social media is helping the news find people as opposed to people plugging [What did Trump just say] into Google.

Here’s another way of looking at the equation. Facebook actually refers more traffic to news sites than Google. In the chart below from the Parse.ly Authority Report which examines referral traffic to the top 100 news site, you can see Facebook trending up and to the right while Google has been flat for some time. And again, it’s not just the under 25 crowd depending on Facebook as a news source.Facebook vs. Google Referral Traffic 08-15

Snapshot Analysis for PR

To haggle over how the folks over 35 perceive news gathered from Twitter and Facebook misses the point.

Most people depend on the two social channels for news in some form. Furthermore, the data suggests this phenomenon isn’t going away. Those under 35 will eventually join the over 35 category (you can quote me on this).

Even though you can’t pitch these platforms in the classic sense, it’ behooves PR to start thinking about how Twitter and Facebook might fit into campaigns beyond scheduling tweets and FB updates with links to your news.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I might be the only human being in Silicon Valley not on Facebook.

Still, it seems safe to assume that media properties want to monetize Facebook traffic in a more meaningful way. The raw click-overs derived from a person’s Facebook feed bring limited value. The person typically accesses a specific article, reads it and springs off of the media property with little care about the publication’s brand.

Facebook’s Instant Article is an attempt to bridge this gap. The initial phase includes relationships with the likes of The New York Times, BuzzFeed, The Guardian, The Atlantic and BBC News in which their articles will live on Facebook. With the tighter integration with Facebook comes faster load times, a critical factor for those reading news on mobile phones.

It will be interesting to see what type of content performs well in the Instant Article garden. Similar to catering to the Google algorithm to optimize content for search, there’s value in getting a basic understanding of Facebook’s algorithm governing Instant Articles as well as its News feed. Would a news pitch designed to resonate as an Instant Article carry more weight with The Atlantic? It couldn’t hurt. Of course, this assumes that The Atlantic’s journalists care about how their stories perform on Instant Article.

One final point on both Twitter and Facebook as channels of distribution for news —

There’s something to be said for experimenting with paid content on the two platforms. While not the same thing as organic feeds, it’s a low cost and low risk way to study the platforms and experiment with content.

Note: Rewinding the tape to 2012, The State of the Media report on what Facebook and Twitter mean for News offers historical context. For more information on Instant Articles, check out the Wired article “BuzzFeed and NY times Will Now Publish Stories on Facebook.”

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