December 22, 2014

Overcoming Facebook’s Limits on Your Content

Facebook is hoping page administrators will begin to pay a few bucks to get their posts displayed more prominently in user news feeds. Beneath each post, Facebook now displays the number of people reached, along with the option to pay $5, $10, or $20 to reach even more people.  

I don’t have a problem with Facebook’s strategy, but we need to know what our true reach is before we decide whether paying for additional exposure is a good idea.

It turns out we can overcome Facebook’s arbitrary limits on our status views, if we put some effort into creating interesting stuff for readers.

Badmath

Check out the screen capture from two posts on the same page. One post reached 356 people, and one reached 230 people. But they both appear to have reached 10% of fans. So what’s going on?

Turns out the two numbers aren’t measuring the same thing. The percentage displayed does NOT include non-fans who have seen the post through sharing.  These are what Facebook calls “viral” views.

Screen Shot 2012 06 20 at 1 36 37 PM

You can see what’s happening by checking out the second screen capture, taken a few minutes later. The more viral post has now reached 404 people. But only 237 of them are fans of my page. So even though Facebook may limit the percentage of fans who see my content, it’s possible to blow past that limit by offering especially sharable content.

In addition, offering sharable (“viral”) content may boost the number of fans who see your post, because every time anyone likes or comments on a post, that activity appears in the news feed of other users (fans and non-fans alike) who are currently logged in.

WordPress and Facebook – The Overlooked Killer Feature

A new plugin for WordPress allows easy, deep integration with Facebook. It’s potentially a great way to make your site more social, and reach people on Facebook who otherwise might not see your content. And it includes a killer feature that’s been overlooked in most descriptions of the plugin, but that I believe will be a game-changer for “socializing” your WordPress site.
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More signs you should be using Facebook to promote your hyperlocal site

eMarketer has released a report estimating 132 million people in the US will log into Facebook regularly this year.

And though a lot of old-school journalists still pooh-pooh Facebook as a playground for young people, the evidence continues to dispute that.  Growth will be driven primarily by increased Facebook use “among older boomers and seniors,” according to the report.

If you don’t have a Facebook presence for your local site, you’re missing fantastic opportunities to put your stories (and your sponsors) in front of the people in your hometown. A Facebook page is easy to set up, and caring for the page is not a lot of extra work, compared to the work you’re doing on your website already.

My own experience with Facebook has been fantastic.  If you’re using Facebook to promote your site, what’s your experience?

EveryBlock Goes Social

MSNBC.com has relaunched the hyperlocal site EveryBlock as a much more social experience. Paid Content reports that the new site features a prominent place for visitors to share their own information with neighbors.  That sharing feature has been available for a while now, but it’s much more front-and-center in the re-design.

The changes seem designed to rebuild the site as a social network for a user’s neighborhood (there’s even now way way to “follow” specific locations in order to see updates related to a specific neighborhood) and, indeed, EveryBlock repeatedly draws parallels in its blog post on the announcement between its new features and those that exist on Twitter and Facebook.

Paid Content also runs the numbers and finds that EveryBlock’s traffic is pretty anemic. An average of 450 unique users per day in each of its cities.  (And that’s only in big cities.) Break it down by neighborhood, and you’re only talking about a handful of visitors, per neighborhood, per day.

 

Another Hyperlocal Success in Britain

The Digital Journal points to another success story in hyperlocal news, called My Welshpool. The site covers local businesses, sports, and everything in-between. And it’s getting nearly 6,000 visitors a week, according to co-owner Graham Breeze:

“The success is because we are giving people just what they want and instantly and in exactly the form they want it. There’s no in-depth articles or opinion. We are getting the facts to the people wherever they are by using technology.

“The dilemma for weekly newspapers is that they are just what it says on the tin – weekly. The area is covered by excellent weekly and daily newspapers but we are able to send breaking news to people via their Facebook accounts as it happens – and they love it.”

This is very similar to what I’ve seen on my own site — and I’m curious what other hyperlocal sites are finding, too. Facebook is a fantastic way to deliver breaking news, mainly because people are on Facebook all the time. As the Technorati have learned to turn to Twitter when news breaks, most people are finding breaking news on their Facebook walls.

And what about money for the site? Breeze says the revenue is growing as the public responds.

How Your Hyperlocal Site is Better Off than the NY Times

Believe it or not, if you run a hyperlocal website, you are, in some ways, better-positioned than companies like The NY Times.

The Times announced today it is erecting a paywall that will require frequent viewers of their site to shell out money for unlimited access. Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing executes a nimble takedown of the whole idea today.  One point jumped out at me:

Yes, I was going to hate this paywall no matter what the NYT did. News is a commodity: as a prolific linker, I have lots of choice about where I link to my news and the site that make my readers shout at me about a nondeterministic paywall that unpredictably swats them away isn’t going to get those links. Leave out the hard news and you’ve got opinion, and there’s no shortage of free opinion online. Some of it is pretty good (and some of what the Times publishes as opinion is pretty bad).   (Emphasis mine.)

The editors at the Times would squawk about that point, but Doctorow is right. No matter how good The NY Times is, for most of its content, there are plenty of other places to go. And even for enterprise pieces, the very popularity of the Times ensures that facts it reports will soon spread everywhere.

Compare that with your hyperlocal site. The whole point of hyperlocal, done right, is that you’re covering stuff people can’t get anywhere else. Or you’re covering it better, in creative ways. You’ve carved out a niche that delivers exclusive value to readers. And if you haven’t, you need to think about how you can tweak your coverage to do it.

My own hyperlocal sports site is a case in point. The local newspaper covers high school sports, but it comes out weekly, and it has limited space. Nobody else is offering daily (sometimes-live) coverage of almost every sporting event in town. If people want it, they know there’s just one place to find it.

By building that exclusivity of coverage, you make yourself valuable to readers first. Then to advertisers. You become a part of the community that people rely on, and your product is just about as far from a commodity as it can be. Yes, it’s a much smaller scale than The NY Times, but your content is probably more valuable to your readers than the TImes’ content is to 90% of its subscribers.

“Neighborhood Blog or Website” Is a Huge Local News Source in London

The Guardian’s Social Enterprise Network has published an article about how “social entrepreneurs” can use hyperlocal sites to spread their reach.  The most fascinating tidbit was this nugget about where people in London get their news:

While 7% said “television” and 11% said “local newspaper”, 63% said “neighbourhood blog or website”.

The survey consisted of Web users only, but that’s still a pretty high number for hyperlocal sites, in comparison to traditional media. The hyperlocal space seems to be far more developed in the UK than in the US, but I think the lopsided popularity of hyperlocal sites as a news source is a sign of where we’re headed as journalists and media business types figure it out.

Main Street Connect Takes a Slower Approach to National Hyperlocal

The dream of building a national network of hyperlocal websites is still alive and well. Main Street Connect is hoping to take on AOL’s Patch, and according to Ellie Behling, they’re taking a more slow-and-steady approach to growth:

Main Street’s hyperlocal model, Tucker explained, is focused first on building profitability in one group (or “pod”) of 10 sites in Connecticut’s Fairfield County (e.g. TheDailyNorwalk.com). He said they’re on track to be profitable in 12 months, enabling them to raise a second round of funding.

This makes more sense to me than Patch’s fast expansion, but I’m still not convinced any national network of hyperlocal sites will pan out financially. The value of hyperlocal is not just in the news coverage, but in the relationship a hyperlocal journalist has with local business owners. A regional sales rep can never emulate that relationship, and without it, I don’t think most hyperlocal websites can turn a profit.

What do you think? Are Patch or Main Street Connect viable options financially? Or does the sales staff have to be as hyperlocal as the journalist?

The Psychology of Bloggers vs. Journalists: The Flip Side

Jay Rosen has a long and thoughtful post about what drives the ongoing rivalry between “bloggers” and “journalists.”   He points to five sources of stress on journalists, driven by the rise of blogging:

One: A collapsing economic model, as print and broadcast dollars are exchanged for digital dimes.

Two: New competition (the loss of monopoly) as a disruptive technology, the Internet, does its thing.

Three. A shift in power. The tools of the modern media have been distributed to the people formerly known as the audience.

Four: A new pattern of information flow, in which “stuff” moves horizontally, peer to peer, as effectively as it moves vertically, from producer to consumer. Audience atomization overcome, I call it.

Five. The erosion of trust (which started a long time ago but accelerated after 2002) and the loss of authority.

From my time in a newsroom, this list rings true. All the stuff  above is stressing out the journalists I worked with, whether they fully realize it or not.

But what’s stressful for traditional journalists is liberating for bloggers who are doing journalism themselves. And that outlook is what motivates a lot of the bloggers with hyperlocal news sites.

Here’s the flip side of Rosen’s list, seen from a blogging journalist’s perspective:

  • One: The collapse of the traditional advertising model frees up money for blogging journalists, many of whom have other jobs, and who started their sites as a hobby.  Digital dimes don’t feed the family, but they can help blogging journalists buy a few extra things they couldn’t have afforded otherwise.
  • Two: Competition? What competition? Blogging journalists have nothing to lose, so they’re usually ready to cooperate at every turn. Being open to cooperation, instead of protective of an existing business, leads to innovation in coverage, and a better product.
  • Three: As beneficiaries of the media power shift, blogging journalists don’t often think in terms of “us” and “the audience.” For many hyperlocal sites, for example, the concept of audience participation is baked into the coverage from the beginning. Besides, when you’re a 1-person operation, accepting help from others is not really optional.
  • Four: The peer-to-peer spread of information is great for blogging journalists, partly because audiences have shifted their expectations about what they’re reading in the news. Starting with the rise of 24/7 coverage, readers have begun to realize that real-time journalism can lead to some speculation — and they’re okay with that, as long as the speculation is clearly labeled. Blogging journalists are often more willing to post a piece of the story, letting readers in on the coverage process as it happens.
  • Five: Trust is much easier to build as a person than as an institution. And this is where blogging journalists shine.  Hyperlocal bloggers are part of the community. The most successful ones don’t remain detached, but let their personalities seep into the news coverage. People respond to that — and earning the trust of a community is invigorating. That trust alone is enough to keep many blogging journalists motivated.

The stresses of hyperlocal bloggers are entirely different from those of traditional journalists. For the most part, they’re self-imposed: “I need to post more often,” or “I could be making more sales calls on clients.”

For traditional journalists, the stresses are institutional–built into the nature of their jobs and the businesses they work for. That’s why the rivalry between “journalists” and “bloggers” will continue to exist, even after most of the other distinctions between the two have broken down.