The Financial Times reported this week that its sister publication, The Economist, is going to make a major social media push in the first part of 2010. This will include Facebook Connect integration on Economist.com, and trying to reach 500,000 Facebook fans along with 750,000 Twitter followers.
The Economist’s Facebook Page currently has 182,423 fans, so shooting for 500,000 shouldn’t be that tall of an order for a world famous publication, especially if they follow through with their quoted intention of spending “tens of thousands of (British) pounds”.
The Economist’s Facebook Page seems geared to drive comments and discussion about articles, both on the Page and by directing fans to Economist.com. The Financial Times quotes Economist.com publisher Ben Edwards, saying that he, “hopes that Facebook will help his site acquire new readers and develop a “deeper level of engagement” with existing ones,” which is a natural use for Facebook Connect. It will be interesting to see how deep Economist.com integrates Connect, as currently they only show a “share on Facebook” button to the right of articles, which isn’t that prominent.
Also, current comments on Economist.com do not feature profile pictures, which is a widely used feature when integrating Facebook Connect. The Financial Times piece mentions that The Economist plans to have an updated site in three to four months.
As far as the Economist’s goal of half a million fans on Facebook goes, as we mentioned, this seems reasonable. Ad spend alone could probably get them the 317,000 fans they need to reach that number, especially if they combine that with some form of offer, perhaps trial subscriptions of the print magazine, for example. In fact, the 500,000 number for their Facebook Page seems much more doable than the 750,000 followers they are hoping to get on Twitter where they currently have under 94,000 followers. Focusing more on Facebook may be a strong news move as well, as Facebook Pages are increasingly becoming a major battleground for breaking and debating news, as we recently saw with one of The Economist’s competitors, Newsweek.
Of course, The Economist reaching either of these numbers will be moot unless they receive a correlating increase in traffic and overall engagement on Facebook, Twitter and on Economist.com. However, as we’ve seen happen with other major news providers, social media can show very tangible results (especially around major news stories such as this year’s US presidential inauguration), and this should be a step in the right direction for the publication.