Here’s the hard part about Facebook and news — it’s there, but users only find it accidentally

As the media industry continues to be disrupted by what we like to call the “democratization of distribution” produced by the social web, platforms like Facebook have become more and more important for news outlets as a way of reaching new readers. Unfortunately for media companies, using these platforms is not always as simple as it seems, and a new report from the Pew Research Center illustrates one reason why: it found that while many users come across news on Facebook (s fb), they don’t go there specifically looking for it.

In other words, finding news on the giant social network is more of an accident than it is a deliberate event, and that complicates how news outlets handle what they do there. It’s not enough to just have a page, or a social-reading app, like the ones the Washington Post and Guardian spent a lot of time developing — if anything, it reinforces the idea that news content has to be designed and implemented to be as shareable as possible, or hardly anyone is going to see it.

The study, which was done by the Pew Center in partnership with the Knight Foundation, found that news is “a common but incidental experience” on the world’s largest social platform. Of the 30 percent of adults who said they consume news on Facebook, less than a quarter said that they went looking for news specifically, while the vast majority said that they see news when they are engaged in doing other things, like socializing with their friends.

Facebook and News

According to Pew, only 4 percent of those surveyed who find news on Facebook say that it’s the most important way they get news. As one respondent put it: “I believe Facebook is a good way to find out news without actually looking for it.” That said, however, the study also confirms that social platforms are becoming a crucial way in which some people find the news:

“If it wasn’t for Facebook news,” wrote one respondent, “I’d probably never really know what’s going on in the world because I don’t have time to keep up with the news on a bunch of different locations.”

The Pew study also showed that having a presence on Facebook and encouraging users to follow or “like” that page not surprisingly increases the level of engagement that readers have with a media outlet’s news: about a third of those who get news on Facebook have news organizations or individual journalists in their feeds, Pew said, and those who do are far more likely to say that they see the social network as an important source of news than those who don’t (58 percent vs. 38 percent).

According to the survey, those who follow a news outlet or a journalist are also almost three times as likely to click on news links, and twice as likely to post or share stories, and to “like” or comment on them.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user George Kelly