How Did Slate Double Its Facebook Referrals?

By David Cohen 

Journalists were all about Facebook Wednesday, as the company conducted its first-quarter earnings call. The social network returned the favor Thursday, offering up best practices for journalists and best practices for media companies’ pages, as well as a case study highlighting the successful run on Facebook by Slate.

Facebook said Slate doubled its referrals from the social network between the second quarter of 2012 and the first quarter of 2013, crediting the online newsmagazine for its use of optimized Open Graph tags to ensure that its content is displayed properly within News Feed, and with its use of “clean titles, detailed descriptions, and large thumbnail images, which leads to rich previews on Facebook that generate higher click-through rates and drive more traffic.”

The social network provided the following details behind Slate’s success:

  • Create compelling, shareable content: Stories with a strong voice entice people to both share the story and comment with their own perspectives. Slate’s stories frequently have provocative, attention-grabbing headlines such as, “The IRS Should File Your Taxes for You,” or, “Insane Baseball Salaries Demonstrate Perfectly What’s Wrong With This Country.” People are motivated to share content with their networks for a variety of reasons. According to a July 2011 study by The New York Times on the psychology of sharing, two of the top motivations that people have for sharing content are to stay connected with others and to make them feel involved in the world. Slate’s stories focus on current events and trends, so sharing them signals that a reader is engaged with what’s going on.
  • Make content easy to share: Part of Slate’s recent success comes from the addition of a share button. By placing the share button under the headline of each story, as well as at the end of the article, Slate gives people the chance to share the story from multiple points on the page. The share dialog, the technology that enables Slate’s share button, offers readers a seamless way to post articles from to Facebook. The share dialog prompts a user to add a comment to the article, creating a strong signal back to Facebook. story pages have both share and like buttons prominently visible, so readers can choose how they want to post the story to Facebook.

  • Package content to maximize its click-through rate and lifespan in News Feed: Slate doesn’t shy away from controversial topics when curating its page, and it doesn’t pull punches in describing them: The mix of stories includes both high-minded and low, and the editors’ descriptions are direct, which matches the tone of stories on the site. In addition, the descriptive comments from Slate editors often directly solicit feedback from followers. Frequently, comments are in the form of a question that encourage readers to talk back, like a link to a “Mad Men” recap that concludes with the simple question “What did you think of this week’s episode?” To make this kind of call to action crystal-clear, explicitly stating what you’d like readers to do (such as comment or like a post), is a best practice.

Readers: Have you ever engaged with Slate on Facebook?