When Facebook released their Best Practices guide for media last week, I admit I thought it was cute. In my world, I consider Facebook sort of my ‘private life,’ a space I reserve to share thoughts and internet things with people I actually know, whereas I consider Twitter my more public persona, where I follow strangers’ opinions. Facebook’s advice seemed like they were pointing out the obvious (‘have your content creators use the ‘Follow’ button’) in a last ditch attempt to make the social network as relevant as Twitter, especially in the wake of the all the ‘social media as wire service’ talk since the Boston marathon bombings and manhunt.
But that’s sort of a fallacy. In fact, one billion people still use Facebook, all the time. When I’m honest with myself, my newsfeed is just as full of wedding photos and lunch break musings from my real-life acquaintances as it is new posts and headlines from my favorite media outlets, just like Twitter. And Facebook is starting to get savvy about helping those publishers garner traffic and reader engagement. It’s not a bad product.
Slate is the best example of a using Facebook to successfully engage their readers; it’s even the case study in the handbook. They’ve doubled their Facebook referrals between the second quarter of 2012 and the first of 2013. The media team at Facebook points out that there are very clear, technical reasons for this. They have good headlines, they’ve optimized the share dialog and, probably most importantly, they’ve optimized their Open Graph tags so everything looks good and they can track posts accurately. In fact the main takeaway from the Slate example is that if you want your stories promoted on Facebook, and want engagement on Facebook, you need to talk to your social media team about the Open Graph tags.
Other than that, even Facebook admits that Slate’s success is due to two things: headlines and content.
- Their headlines: the headlines they use on the website and on social media are always provocative and often updated. You could even say they’re sort of incendiary and guaranteed to garner immediate comments, likes, and shares. Take a look at this post from yeterday, where there’s already a fight discussion among readers a mere hour after it was posted. In fact, their links to articles always ask readers to respond, and most of those headlines end in question marks.
- Their content: Slate is the quintessential online magazine. It’s not news, it’s always opinionated. Their writers take stands, and anytime you have anyone taking a strong stance on topics like motherhood, gun regulations, or the ‘end of men,’ you’re going to get people riled up.
While the Slate example is a great advertisement from Facebook to news pubs, there’s nothing really particular about Facebook that explains their success on the platform. Everything else is just solid, classic, good social media practices. And stellar content, crafted to intrigue and go viral. You can add share buttons and question marks and calls to actions all you like, but if the content isn’t compelling, no one will go out of their way to market your publication for you.