Like any good relationship, you need to have a two-way conversation, a meaningful dialogue. When I started work at a newspaper in Oregon some years ago now, There was a slogan in use. “Join the conversation.” What struck me as funny was the fact that it wasn’t actually a conversation. We pushed out the news, vetted by editors, reported by reporters and drenched in integrity. You were expected to have the conversation about the gospel we were publishing each day.
I remember being asked to start a MySpace page for a newspaper I worked at. But the idea was not altruistic. My editor was simply looking for another way to push out content. Another delivery vehicle, a number generating miracle. This has always stuck me as odd. It is perhaps the one thing that turns me off about the news business in general. Turns out I was right. News, is a conversation. It’s a give and take between two or more people. It’s not a one-sided relationship. And many news agencies are learning that the hard way now that Facebook changed their Edgerank algorithm to favor better engagement over pushing links. About three weeks ago, we noticed a dip in Facebook referrals. We went from many thousands reached to just a few thousand reached with virtually no viral reach. We panicked. We went to forums and searched high and low for an answer. It seemed as if Facebook was finally forcing the revenue issue, and it looked like they were holding our hard-earned fans for ransom. If we paid Facebook some money, they would release a few more of our fans, and our precious referrals would return. But that’s not actually what happened. Vadim Lavrusik, a Facebook liaison to journalists, told us that it’s all about the kind of engagement we were doing. Links, banal headlines, self-serving content just wasn’t cutting it with Edgerank, because it wasn’t cutting it with our fans. He encouraged us to try a few different tactics for a few days. Instead of posting links with small picture embedded, we posted full pictures with links. We started targeting our stories to their impact audience. We started engaging with individual fans. We posted with our fans in mind, not with our own interests and needs at the top of the list. We posted less frequently, but we posted the best of our content. At first nothing happened. We called out Vadim on Facebook and whined a little. Then, incrementally, as you can see by the graph at the top of this page, we started to see an increase in engagement. Soon we saw more likes, more shares, more organic and eventually way more viral. These are not the only things you can do to increase engagement. We are experimenting with many other techniques right now. But these few things will improve your relationship with your audience and get back to a two-way conversation. The main issue is that most news organizations still view it as a one-way relationship. Even this setback may not help them bridge the digital divide. I hope it does though. When that Facebook crack goes away for a little while and your page views drop, it may be that come to Jesus moment many stodgy media outlets need. Then again, it may not. But I believe Darwin had a little something to say about that. Engagement is relationship, it’s a two-way conversation. I’m glad Facebook is finally holding people accountable for better engagement. If I had the controls, I’d do the same thing.