Why news sites should add Facebook's new 'Subscribe' button

By Cory Bergman 

Facebook exec Joanna Shields just revealed at a conference that the social network is poised to roll out a “Subscribe” button that will allow users to subscribe to other users’ updates. Think of it as a Twitter “follow” button for Facebook, embeddable on any site.

(Update: the buttons are now live right here.)

“We will soon launch the Subscribe plugin, an extension of the Subscribe button, that publishers and other developers can add to their websites to make it easy for people to connect to reporters and public figures in one click,” Facebook said in a statement to The Next Web.

Back in September, Facebook launched its subscription feature, and the “subscribe” button is a logical next step. With subscribe, you can keep friends as friends (still capped at 5,000 max) — no more awkward pressure to “friend” someone you don’t know — and everyone else can subscribe to your posts (no upper limit). For reporters and other TV talent, this clears up the double profile-and-page identity issue: Facebook recommends that public figures enable subscriptions and focus exclusively on their profiles.

While Facebook’s “People to Subscribe To” recommendations (in the upper right-hand corner of your news feed) has been driving organic subscription growth for some, the “subscribe” button will entice news organizations and other media sites to plop it right next to Twitter “follow” buttons in story bylines and “about us” sections. Some might hesitate, however, because it means promoting the semi-personal, all-in-one Facebook profile for their talent. (See our earlier column, “Should TV organizations promote their talents’ social media accounts?”)

Personally, I believe just about any mention of a reporter/anchor’s name on a news site should be accompanied with a Twitter follow and Facebook subscribe button. Beyond the value of growing brand reach through your people — and the referrals that come with it — it’s also a valuable resource for consumers who may be interested in that person, and by extension, want an easy way to connect with him/her. For reporters who are lukewarm on all of this, if their subscriber count suddenly surpasses their Twitter follower count, perhaps they’ll be motivated to publish status updates to a larger audience beyond their Facebook friends.

That’s what Facebook is counting on. The “subscribe” feature has been all about luring a media audience that’s more familiar with publishing on Twitter than Facebook. Will it work? Anecdotally, I’ve seen an uptick in Facebook activity among my social news friends/subscribers, but not a wholesale shift. The subscribe button is one more way for Facebook to lure the media crowd with an old-fashioned metric we understand: reach.