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Facebook vs. Twitter: The Future of News Distribution

I referenced an Inside Facebook post, Facebook for Journalists: More Work Than Twitter but with a Bigger Payout, earlier this week in terms of the Journalists on Facebook Page. My earlier post was “Facebook for Journalists – A New Frontier to Distribute News?

However, the Inside Facebook post was much more thorough than just announcing a new feature on Facebook. It was a discussion about why journalists should be using Facebook (despite the higher rate of return cited to stories told through Twitter) and the advantages thereof.

It was a good piece. I just happen to disagree with it. I’ll have to take it point by point to really share my thoughts on the subject. That looks argumentative but it’s not meant to be. It’s meant to be conversational.

First of all, the promise in the headline (“…with a Bigger Payout”) was not justified by the post that followed. There was no evidence that Facebook gave a bigger payout in terms of ROI, reach or influence than Twitter. There were a lot of assertions that were used to support the idea that there COULD be, but I’ll do my best to objectively evaluate those claims.

Twitter’s short-form nature means journalists aren’t expected to do much more than tweet the headlines and links to their articles, unless they also want to engage in discussion.

I’d say that almost all journalists want to engage in discussion. Yes, there are automatic feeds that send out an RSS feed of every article in a newspaper, section or other part of a news organization. But there are other news organization feeds that are hand curated and are used primarily as a way to instigate discussion. For instance, the @theledger feed has more followers than any of our other feeds, but we devote much more time to individual feeds that are hand curated to give interested readers a look at traffic conditions, weather, local politics, local business and local music. The journalists who run these accounts are specifically trained on how to engage readers and respond to inquiries, ideas or feedback. Many other large news organizations do the same thing on their hand curated Twitter feeds. In the end, if you’re just Tweeting headlines and a link, you’re doing it wrong.

Facebook on the other hand, requires journalists to craft compelling updates that stand out against the social content that is produced by their audience’s friends.

Yes, this is true. But the other major problem is that Facebook is considered as more friendly and conversational. I would argue that more people see Twitter as a professional tool and Facebook as a personal tool – one they use to look up their friends before a high school reunion or check up on how their cousin is doing raising her new baby. It’s not the place to go to find out what’s new in the world – it’s where you to go find out what’s new with the people you know. That sometimes collides into finding out your friends’ opinions and interests in certain world or local events, but these links are almost always generated from the content producer’s website itself and NOT a Facebook share function.

To have an impact on a user’s newsfeed, you need to have a directly influence on their lives (and, preferably, the lives of the people they went to school with, work with or live near). This is rarely done with a general news page – especially large news organizations who can cover several regional areas. Instead, you need to have a narrow focus to have a chance to break through to the interests of your readers. Probably several narrow focuses to more collectively harness the power of your audience.

Twitter does benefit from niche accounts, but overall news accounts can also do very well. That’s because Twitter is seen in more of a business capacity. People are there to specifically learn, share and click on links. Twitter is also a very skimmable medium – people continue to see the newest posts at the top of their feed with little interaction on their end. This is different from Facebook where people have to purposely click on “latest news” to see the latest content. Facebook users typically have specific tasks in mind when they visit the site, whereas Twitter has more of an on-the-spot “What am I going to find out today” mentality. So news content, even in a general, uncurated form, can do very well on Twitter.

There’s an air of mystery to the news feed that might be discouraging to journalists. WIth Twitter, if you tweet it, it will appear in a follower’s stream. But on Facebook, a journalist’s updates might not make it into the Top News feed, requiring users to actively sift though their Most Recent feed to find a journalist’s updates.

That’s definitely a major pitfall to Facebook versus Twitter for news and journalists – visibility. Because Facebook defaults users to the “Top Rated” updates on their homepage, updates from pages (like those that media companies would send updates from) may not appear. The algorithm is based on several things but includes how much you have interacted with that particular page/profile.

Many people, even if they are interested in the news or information an organization posts, don’t take the time to “like” the post or comment (although they may share it with friends). The algorithm is also affected by how many other interactions it’s gotten meaning that by the time it’s popular enough to be widely popular, it may also be widely out of date.

On the other hand, anyone who happens to be looking at Twitter five minutes after a news organization Tweets are likely to see the update. That’s more useful for news organizations who have a high pressure to be first.

Surprisingly, I haven’t exhausted this topic. Look later in the week for yet ANOTHER post on why I prefer Twitter over Facebook for breaking news, community engagement and professional networking.

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