Facebook: Hey, We’re a Great Tool for Journalists Too!

Does Facebook have a little Twitter envy? The smaller of the two social-media tools has become virtually synonymous with journalism — thanks in part to the fact that it is more of an information network than a social network, and to the example set by journalists such as the NPR’s Andy Carvin in how to use it for real-time reporting on events such as the recent revolutions in the Middle East. Now Facebook seems to be trying to reach out to the media industry by offering more resources for journalists, including a dedicated page that the giant social network launched Tuesday.
The Facebook page says that it plans to become an ongoing resource for journalists who want to figure out the best ways to use the network, and will be highlighting “best practices” engaged in by a number of media outlets and reporters who use it well. The blog post announcing the launch of the page also points out that Facebook has been helping media companies become more social for the past year or so by integrating plugins and “like” buttons as well, which the social network says has produced “a greater than 300% increase in referral traffic from Facebook” on average.
Although it is a much smaller service in terms of the overall number of users (how much smaller exactly remains a matter of some debate), Twitter seems to have realized relatively early on that it is a perfect tool for journalists — both the professional kind and the amateur kind. This became fairly obvious even before the recent uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, during news events such as the Hudson River plane landing in 2009 and the Haiti earthquake last year. And Twitter has been working to capitalize on that for some time.
The service has had a media page that shares best practices — including lessons on how to think about hashtags — for almost a year now, and has a media team that includes Chloe Sladden — who was featured on the cover of Fast Company magazine recently — and well-regarded writer and blogger Robin Sloan. Among other things, the team has talked regularly (including at GigaOM’s NewTeeVee Live) about how Twitter can be used to amplify the reach of media events such as the Academy Awards by increasing audience engagement, something media companies are not good at.

The one thing that Facebook has going for it over Twitter, of course, is sheer reach. Close to half a billion people go to the site daily, and millions more interact with Facebook content via its open-graph plugins and “like” buttons. News sites such as The Huffington Post have made great use of this kind of integration to drive engagement and traffic, and Facebook is clearly pushing this idea as part of its latest launch. Things like hosting a live address by President Obama will probably help as well.
There are also some great examples of journalists using Facebook, including New York Times writer Nicolas Kristof, who has been posting to his page from the Middle East and elsewhere, and is perhaps one of the most engaged mainstream journalists I know of. His page has 200,000 fans, and he routinely gets hundreds of comments on the things he posts, which in some cases appear only on Facebook. NPR under Andy Carvin has also made great use of Facebook, as I described in a recent post.
Those examples aside, however, the challenge for Facebook is that while Twitter seems perfectly designed to be a real-time news and information network, many users still likely think of Facebook as a place to socialize rather than be informed — a place to play games, or look at funny pictures and videos, but not necessarily a place where journalists are active. Those things may not be mutually exclusive, but it’s going to take some work to make them feel like they belong together.