The Washington Post Adds Facebook Connect

In an effort to boost registrations and attract new readers, The Washington Post has implemented Facebook Connect on its website. By clicking on the blue “Connect with Facebook” badge on the Post’s sign-in page, users can log onto the site with their Facebook ID to peruse the paper’s content and share articles they read with friends.

The Washington Post, which has won 47 Pulitzer prices, is the most prestigious newspaper (and perhaps the most decorated news organization in general) to embrace Connect thus far. Connect could help the paper’s online efforts, which, like most of its competitors, have struggled. In the first quarter, the Washington Post Company said its online revenue totaled $22 million, a decrease of eight percent from the same time last year.

Online revenues similarly dropped across the industry in the final three quarters of 2008, the 2009 State of the News Media report revealed. “Of the $38 billion in advertising that the industry was estimated to have drawn in 2008, only $3 billion came from online,” the report added.

A big problem rests in newspapers’ inability to identify their audiences online, which prevents them from serving up relevant advertisements. Currently, newspaper websites create high barriers to entry for registration. Basic information (often coveted by marketers) such as date of birth and geographic location can be hard to obtain amidst people’s busy days. By adding Connect, newspapers could garner this important information quickly and with little user effort.

In addition, the comments left for articles on the newspaper sites could sport people’s real names and faces, as imported from Facebook, rather than faceless usernames with a bunch of random characters. With Connect, the action could be published on their Facebook News Feeds, increasing the chance their Facebook friends will click through to the newspaper’s website and read the article.

For now, the Post’s Connect implementation allows you to log in with your Facebook ID and share a story you read with your Facebook friends. The Post still relies on its previous commenting system for stories, however, a problem they will hopefully rectify soon.

Another issue: For me, connecting with my Facebook ID didn’t automatically import my data into my Washington Post profile. This should be a high priority for the Post if they want to leverage Facebook user data to help monetize the website. In a statement announcing the integration, the company sounds open to expanding the use of Connect on the site.

“Our long-term strategy is to move towards creating an increasingly personalized experience for our users, allowing them to carry their social network onto our site,” Goli Sheikholeslami, General Manager & Vice President of Washington Post Digital, said.

Another important benefit for newspapers could be attracting new readers. While Facebook touts people over 30 as its fastest growing age demographic, it remains a bastion for younger consumers of content, a group that hasn’t made newspapers part of its daily content diet. According to the State of the News Media report, only 31 percent of people aged 18-24 “picked up a newspaper yesterday.”

With Connect, hopefully readers of all ages will share articles, videos, and slideshows one-by-one. It might not save all newspapers and their websites, but it’s worth a try.