Tag Archives: Facebook

Want Facebook virality? Put it in an image

(Note, 12/4/13: When I wrote this post almost two years ago, everything here was true. Now, much of it no longer applies.

The timeless summary: Experiment with different forms of posting, watch your own data, adjust based on what you see.)

“You can’t always control who walks into your life but, you can control which window you throw them out of.”

Sure, some people might overlook the misplaced comma and find it moderately funny. If you had made that your Facebook status, you might get a handful of likes.

Now take two minutes to put it in all caps in red Comic Sans on a black background, like so:

That has 1,087 shares as of the time I’m writing this. People like sharing photos. It requires much less of them than reading and digesting an entire story.

As far as journalists/social media folks are concerned, it means we have to look for opportunities to post our stories as photos, not links. Then you put a link in the description and reap the benefits of the increased virality.

I’m not suggesting you do this:

Rather, look for opportunities to create images like this:

The image came from a blog post by ProPublica’s on-fire Dan Nguyen. But instead of posting a link to the blog post, we posted that as a stand-alone photo, then linked to the full news app in the description. As of me writing this, it has 17,210 likes,  10,121 shares and 1,293 comments.

For comparison’s sake: on a typical ProPublica Facebook post, we get somewhere around 10-20 shares, likes and comments. When we first launched the SOPA Opera app, we posted the link and got 32 likes, 55 shares and 2 comments. Another posting later in the week got 69 likes, 73 shares and 14 comments.

Importantly, we’ve gotten a lot of traffic from people clicking through to the app from the link in the photo’s description. And we picked up about 1,000 new fans for the Facebook page, which is a huge chunk considering we had about 26,000 to begin with.

So the take-away: If you have great art, whether it’s a graphic or a photo, let it be the main attraction. You don’t have to post everything as a link. Imagine the missed opportunity if we had presented the same thing like this:

(Side note: If you wish to share this post on Facebook and you’d like to help make the point, you might consider sharing this image created specifically for this post.)

Facebook delivers interviews for breaking, after-hours story

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It was almost 6 p.m. when we discovered in the newsroom that Andrew Stack, the pilot who attacked the IRS building in Austin, was a graduate of the Milton Hershey School, right in our backyard.

For my first 2.5 years at The Patriot-News I covered the residential school for underprivileged children, so I offered to help find classmates who knew him in the 30 minutes I had before I needed to leave for another commitment. I first checked the two main online forums where alumni gather — the Milton Hershey Alumni Forums and TheMilt.com — but no one was discussing it yet.

So I turned to Facebook. I searched for “Milton Hershey School,” but there was no discussion on the school’s main fan page, nor in several other general groups. I searched for “Milton Hershey School alumni,” but no luck there either.

Then I tried “Milton Hershey School Class of,” hoping to find his specific graduating class. Wouldn’t you know it…the very first match was a 33-member group for the Milton Hershey School Class of 1974, which was Stack’s year. As Maeby Funke would say: “That was a freebie.”

Less than an hour earlier, one classmate had written on the group’s wall:

I’m in disbelief…it’s apparently our Andy Stack that crashed his plane into the building in Austin Texas today…I read his “manifesto” online, and he even mentions living in Harrisburg after graduation…I can’t belief it…

I sent him a message, respectfully explaining that I was a reporter who was looking to speak to classmates who had a recollection of him. I sent the same message to four others who had posted recently on the group’s wall.

At this point, as is always the case with using social networks for reporting, you simply cross your fingers and hope that someone is motivated to respond. I find my success rate is usually about one response for every five or six messages I send out. I personally had to get going — my dodgeball team was counting on me! — but I had given the classmates our city desk number, so I was free to leave.

I was literally standing up from my desk to leave when an editor said someone was on the phone for me. It was one of the classmates, and it had been less than five minutes since I had messaged him. I can miss the beginning of the dodgeball game for this, I thought, so I took the call and got a great interview. From my story:

Several years ago, trying to find lost graduates of the Milton Hershey School class of 1974, Mike Macchioni tracked down a man in Texas whom he hadn’t seen in 35 years.

“He was polite, but very abrupt,” Macchioni recalled. “He said he didn’t want to have anything to do with anyone from the Milton Hershey School or the Milton Hershey School itself. He didn’t give the reasons why, but he said, ‘You know, it’s nothing against you personally. That’s just the way it is.’ ”

Macchioni then asked if he could update the man’s contact information in the school’s directory.

“He said he didn’t care one way or another,” said Macchioni, a Hershey native. “He was always very short-tempered. He always struck me as very odd, but brilliant. Smart as hell.”

I filed that and a little bit of the locally relevant material from his “manifesto,” assuming it’d be an addition to an AP story or a break-out, then got up from my desk to leave.

Once again, my phone rings.

It’s another of the classmates I had messaged. This one considered himself friends with Stack. Stack was the bassist in his band — he even remembered the band name, The Mythical Maze — and offered some insight into Stack that no one else would be finding:

“Even though we were practicing all the time and really trying to do well as a group, Andy was still distant,” he said. “He was a part of the group, but he wasn’t the party kind of guy. He wasn’t the type that wanted to get together with his buddies. He was off on his own.”

At this point, I know I’m not playing in any dodgeball game tonight.

I quickly type up the two interviews I’ve got, and all of a sudden I’ve got a 15-inch story that came out of nowhere and took less than an hour to assemble. Just when I hit the send button, I get a message from a third classmate on Facebook:

“Andy was always a little off and unsteady,” Mottin, of Sewell, N.J., wrote to The Patriot-News. “He also had a hair-trigger temper. Plus he had a brilliant mind. Combined, they were a highly volatile cocktail just waiting to explode.”

A few things to remember out of this (the final story is here):

1) I would not have been able to find these sources if I weren’t already familiar with the school and the advanced searching abilities of Facebook. What if the aforementioned online forums, not Facebook, were the home of all the discussion, and I didn’t know those forums existed or how to find them? It highlights why, as a beat reporter, you need to know where every ounce of online discussion in your area is happening.

2) This all came together in less than an hour, after hours, but any reporter familiar with using Facebook for reporting knows there’s nothing extraordinary about what I did. If you’re in a hurry, you have to know how to use these tools before they’re quickly needed.

3) If you’re a reporter who happens to be well-sourced with every graduating class of the last 40 years in every school district in your area, more power to you, but most of us aren’t. For the rest of us, the value of a network like Facebook really shows up in stories like this.

Early success and struggles, and why Central PA NewsVote isn’t Spot.Us

When Central PA NewsVote first launched last week, the initial post got 36 comments, many of which were story ideas I was very happy about. (Catch up on my new blog, in which I solicit story ideas from readers and allow them to assign me their favorite via polling, in my older entries on the subject.)

But the follow-up post, in which I actually put their ideas into poll form, had gotten just 68 votes as of 10:30 a.m. Monday. The poll had been up for several days, and it’s a high-traffic web site. That’s a very low number.

I had done my best to promote it via social media, tweeting the heck out of it and promoting it amongst my interested friends through Facebook. I suspect that led to a lot of out-of-town journalists voting, which is nice and all but not exactly what the blog needs to thrive.

Such low numbers leave it open to gaming, as I suspect one of the subjects might have started an e-mail campaign to boost its voting numbers. I noticed a quick rise in one of the story ideas.

Since I put the poll up Thursday, it had never been promoted on the home page of PennLive as the original post had. So shortly after 10:30 a.m. I got the OK to put a teaser up in our breaking news blog, which has its headlines displayed prominently on the home page. We’ll see if that improves the numbers, because I’m seeing now how important it is to have a true cross-section of readers if this is going to work.

In the future, there will be more consistent promotion in the breaking news blog and the print edition, so I’ll be less worried about voting numbers. The Web site folks did a great job promoting the launch, and I probably should have lobbied to get significant promotion for the first poll, too.

Other thoughts:

— Though it wasn’t voted on, opening myself up to story suggestions led to an A1 story that ran above the fold Saturday.

I got an e-mail from a reader with a simple idea: When someone is laid off, what do you say to the person? Does anyone really know what to say in that situation?

It was a great idea I wouldn’t have come up with by myself, and ended up being a somewhat interesting read.

— Several people have drawn the comparison to Spot.Us, and I can see why. Spot.Us, for the uninitiated, allows anyone to pitch stories, then others can vote with their wallets by donating money to hire reporters for specific stories.

David Cohn, its founder, dared to tweet yesterday that Central PA NewsVote is smarter than Spot.Us because the news organization absorbs the cost of reporting. I happen to think that’s silly modesty, as Spot.Us is a much more innovative concept in that it operates outside the traditional news organization. Anyone can reshuffle chairs inside the news organization, but it’s something else to establish a completely new model.

But that’s a silly “argument” to have. What’s important to note, though, is that Central PA NewsVote is really working in a different area than Spot.Us. There’s a big difference between the community features my blog is soliciting and the investigative stories being pitched on Spot.Us. So we’re talking much different levels of reader engagement and different ways that readers are going to use our sites.

What we do have in common, though, is an acknowledgment that democracy has a place in the news process. The more people are trying similar concepts, the more we can find out where it fits.

— I’ve been thrilled and highly appreciative – yet slightly unsettled – by all the attention the idea has gotten so far in the journalism community. Among my favorites: Alana Taylor had a nice analysis on beatblogging.org, and Jay Rosen discussed the idea in a podcast with Dave Winer (about 28 minutes in).

Thanks to all who are excited by the idea, and I hope others try it elsewhere so we can compare notes.

I’m only uneasy because I’d like to see it produce first. I don’t want this to be a gimmick, I want it to be a legitimate gateway to great stories. I want it to be a genuine involvement of the readers. As of now, it’s still just an idea, and I’m looking forward to getting the real answers.

Another Twitter testimonial: The networked brainstorming session

A simple task every reporter has to deal with: Brainstorming story ideas. In this case, I needed to seek out a little-known charity or organization to feature.

Instead of sitting around and hoping a good idea popped into my head, or maybe e-mailing a source or two and crossing my fingers, I put my question out there on Twitter and Facebook.

I simply wrote: “Looking for a charity or organization in the HBG area that doesn’t often get press but could use some. Any ideas?”

The response was pretty incredible.

On Twitter, I got 13 recommendations from 12 different people.

On Facebook, I found eight more from seven people, plus a link to a directory that I didn’t know existed.

So lest you think all this Twitter nonsense is a waste of time if you’re a reporter, I just got 21 recommendations out of 19 people, most of them coming in less than an hour.

Any reporter, no matter how many times you’ve uttered the phrase “I just don’t get that stuff,” would have to love those numbers.

All it took was me typing two sentences, and the networked community took over. The implications of that for all forms of reporting are wildly exciting.

TimesPeople: An important first step

TimesPeople will be marked as the beginning of a key revolution in newspaper Web sites.

Not because of what it is — a pretty underwhelming social network based on recommending stories at nytimes.com — but because of the doors it’ll open to a more social experience in consuming news.

Shoving content onto existing social networks isn’t going to save the industry. Newspaper organizations need to focus on becoming the social network.

In addition to the obligatory forums and blogs, the newspaper site will be home to the mingling that’s happening on Facebook or MySpace, the dating that’s happening on Match.com, and the conversation that’s happening on Twitter. It will take the fun and utility of those other sites and infuse them with the one advantage every newspaper has: Local, local, local.

None of that is happening on TimesPeople, an effective recommendation system with few frills, but it does move us in that direction by the all-important step of introducing the reader profile. My profile just has my name, location, and a story I recommended for the sake of trying out the service.

But maybe that profile will expand and enable me to have the headlines I want, from only the categories I want, delivered to that profile page. Maybe all my activity on the site — forum postings, story comments and blog entries — will be displayed on that profile page. Maybe I’ll be able to RSVP to entertainment listings through my profile.

Maybe that profile will expand and enable me to include everything I have in my Facebook profile. Maybe that profile will enable me to declare that I’m single, and to search for other single Times readers.

Maybe that site will incorporate conversational tools, whether it’s wall postings, intra-site messages, instant messaging or microblogging.

The newspaper site will defragment the local Web space, centralizing it around the news product that we desperately need to sell. Meanwhile, it gives the readers the personalization, control and voice that they increasingly need.

When you think about what it could become in the future, TimesPeople seems pretty insignificant right now. But let’s use it as the starting point toward the radical rethinking that every newspaper site really needs.

I’m not dead yet. I don’t want to go on the cart.

grimreaper.gifIn a significant portion of the journalism blogging community, I’ve witnessed the following themes emerge:

  • We’re all going to die. We’re all going to freaking die.
  • There are two types of reporters: Those who “get it,” and those who “just don’t get it.” If you don’t know what you’re getting, then you clearly don’t get it.
  • Those who “just don’t get it” need to hurry up and “get it,” or we’re all going to die.

And then there are all of those journalists who aren’t blogging, but are complaining just as loudly about how the Internet is messing everything up.

It’s more of a spectrum than a dichotomy, of course, but no matter where you fall there’s a lot of negativity. We’re awfully short on working together, though, and it’s getting pretty nasty out there.

So I’m hoping to join the many blogs I’ve read that are somewhere between the bunkers.

I’m totally down with new media skills — I use Facebook and MySpace as reporting tools on a consistent basis (example here), and I’ll write plenty about my Hershey Home site that I set up as part of Jay Rosen and David Cohn‘s beatblogging.org project. I fully understand how a loaded RSS reader is essential in keeping me on top of my community and the larger culture. I’m trying to improve my audio and video skills.

But I don’t look down upon reporters who didn’t understand a word in that last paragraph, yet could report and write me under the table. There’s a place for them, too.

I would never claim to have any grand visions about how we can cure newspapers’ economic woes, how to pull life-sustaining profits from our Web sites or otherwise save this struggling industry.

My focus is smaller: The simple ways that any reporter can make journalism better, including but not limited to Internet skills.