These tiny Gutenbergs (Part three)

In my first two posts about sharing media, I covered the reasons why we use social media to share information. The first part of These tiny Gutenbergs reviewed sharing information as a critical expression of free speech. The second part focused on the world of Twitter and why we retweet.

In this third post, I thought about how and why we share information on the much larger and more complex network, Facebook.

Facebook today is less face and more book

There are hardly any surprises Facebook can give users today because it has become so popular. It is popular among current users, current investors, future users, and future investors. But this popularity deceives us: Facebook is full of surprises, we just all notice them differently because each profile page is treated uniquely by a mysterious and confusing “algorithm” that determines what we see on Facebook and when.

Facebook’s most dramatic shift is that it went from a place primarily to connect with people to a place primarily to share with people. Social media in 2014 is less social than it is media. In fact, we should probably stop using the word social and refer to these networks as sharing media networks.

Facebook didn’t start out allowing people to share or stories, whether in text or video or audio or any other other media form. The network’s first big sharing option came in the form of an option to change your personal profile picture. Now you can share almost every kind of media available on Facebook.

Do the math, love the math, breathe the math: there is more information than people to share it with 

Cartoon (?) headshot, Math guy, Nate Silver, founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight. Image gracious courtesy of aforementioned media company. Go to fivethirtyeight.com and read stuff.
Math ambassador Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight. Image courtesy of aforementioned. Go to fivethirtyeight.com and read stuff.

There’s a reason why it’s easier to share information than it is to find a friend on Facebook: your rate of adding connections slows over time while the rate of your capacity to share media – a combination of the quantity of media available plus Facebook’s ability to let you share it – is infinitely increasing. You will never be able share everything known to man on social media. Think about that. Facebook’s platform exists in an ever expanding universe of content and tools.

The more Facebook expands sharing tools, the more complex and difficult it will be to understand outside of your personal experience with it.

Thank you for being a friend (who shares) 

Golden Girls Greeting card by Blake Roberts, ThePaintedPeepShow, now available on Etsy.com
Golden Girls Greeting card by Blake Roberts, ThePaintedPeepShow, now available on Etsy.com

Because of Facebook’s impressive integration with thousands third party applications and browser extensions, the platform is now like a gateway drug to the web. So I talked to some drugs dealers about why they deal. Ahem, content publishers – that is, I talked to people with experience sharing content on Facebook why they think people share information. I honestly don’t know if they share drugs.

Important note: All comments are a reflection of the personal sum of experience of these professionals and unless otherwise stated are not official statements on behalf of any company. They are reflections, not tips. 

Here’s what I found in discussing how and why we share on Facebook:

1. Facebook sharing is important but unpredictable, thus unknown. 

It is deceptively simple to share but complex to execute successful sharing; the rewards are higher today than they were ever before.

Even within this popular environment, the rate of audience and platform (specifically, the algorithm that determines what you see and what you don’t in your ‘newsfeed’, which is the primary homepage you see when you first log in) changes so often that it requires a constantly evolving strategy to get in front of people, even when they want to talk to you and see your posts.

Slade Sohmer, Editor in Chief, HyperVocal (@SladeHV): 

“It’s an unpredictable social game — stories I think people will share languish, and stories I wouldn’t personally share flourish. In fact, some of HyperVocal’s most shared stories didn’t even start on our own Facebook page, they just started bouncing around Facebook without our push.” 

Stefan Becket, Associate social media editor, New York Magazine (@stefanjbecket): 

“The potential audience on Facebook is massive, and drives significantly more traffic than Twitter. The audience is different, too: journalists and editors spend all day on Twitter. Their mothers and their mothers’ friends spend all day on Facebook. They outnumber the journalists.”

If you’re confused about how to measure the value of publishing on Facebook, it’s because you should be — the only thing constant about Facebook, as in life, is change. These changes include how and why Facebook lets you communicate with people.

Even though Facebook is a traditionally great way to share information, it’s hard to say who we are sharing with anymore:

Anthony De Rosa, Editor in Chief, Circa (@antderosa):

“The way Facebook has changed the rules so many times, it doesn’t seem to generate as much as before unless you’re paying to get promotion.

 Let me choose to see what I want rather than what Facebook thinks I want to see.” 

Here is the worst news about the modern Facebook era, whether you are sharing on a personal or brand page: the primary driver of sharing and traffic lies almost completely outside of your control. Unless you want to pay for that control through sponsored posts.

What’s the good news?

2. There is now a strong “Reddit” effect on Facebook regarding organic sharing on personal pages 

Facebook has a Reddit effect for stories, so much so that Facebook partnered with Storyful to collect highly shared content. While every major publisher still has a responsibility to put their best face on, individuals are doing more of the work of generating traffic than ever before.

Valuable organic traffic can occur via Facebook as a result of what other people share on personal pages, which makes the work of helping people share that information essential. That is, if you want people to share it, too.

Ben Dreyfuss, Engagement editor, Mother Jones (@bendreyfuss): 

“Organic sharing is key to driving driving traffic. We do it with social heds [headlines], prominent share buttons, etc… But at the end of the day content is what spurs people to share something so we come up with a bunch of stories just for social. Also, people love to share things that demonstrate Who They Are™ to the world, and god, and all their friends, so I try and give them an opportunity to do that.”

Micah Grimes, Social media editor, ABC News (@MicahGrimes):

“I find that people will share what is interesting to them. People want to share their world with others.

There is research to show that a “call to action” can increase sharing, but I want people to share content because they want to share content, not because we want them to share content. If we’re doing our job to deliver compelling content, we shouldn’t have to beg people to share content.”

3. Even if you aren’t seeing a lot of organic sharing, the value of connecting with people (on your personal or brand page) is priceless. 

The value of engagement most clearly seen in the local realm: stories for a specific audience, with a very specific topical focus. The word “local” can mean weather reports and it can also mean your personal news, as well as traditional news for the public, such as area school district changes or an upcoming county election.

Julie Whitaker, Social media editor, WNYC (@julesdewit): 

“A primary goal of our Facebook strategy is to get shares on personal pages. We also focus on the value of in-depth discussions and conversations, including conversations on show pages, such as the Brian Lehrer show page (example).”

 

4. The worst offenders on Facebook are your high school friends. 

It is a common thing to find  someone who will tell you a friend from high school on Facebook enjoys the practice of arguing on the network. When vaguely asked about the phenomena of Facebook spats, the reactions were clearly pointing to those people who exhaust us:

Whitaker: “High school friends do the most damage.”

Sohmer: “Everyone who participated in a Facebook argument should get a YOU ALL LOSE ribbon.”

Becket: “I don’t like that.”

De Rosa: “I tend to argue on Twitter.”

Final word: Your friends are worth it. So are your readers. 

Take your time editing what you share, whether for professional or personal use.

Whitaker: “Facebook is where I would go if something important happens to me. … I am most excited to share [personal news] on Facebook because those people know me. It makes me so happy.”

And that, my friends, is the best professional advice any expert can give you on social media or media or anything else: do something because it makes you and your loved ones happy.

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