Facebook Fundamentals: A new program for LION, INN members highlights need for social media capacity-building

Over the summer, the Center for Cooperative Media launched an initiative with the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN) and the Local Independent Online News Publishers (LION) aimed at Facebook.

This initiative, funded by the Knight Foundation, is essentially structured around two key goals:

  • To help nonprofit and local independent news organizations better exploit Facebook’s tools to improve their journalism and grow their businesses.
  • To surface issues and ideas that INN and LION members have about Facebook directly to Facebook. (Most of us don’t have the kind of relationships with the platforms that big news organizations like The New York Times or CNN have had.)

We started with a big survey of INN and LION members to get some high-level data on their proficiency with Facebook and what they needed help with. Then at the end of June, we began intensive one-on-one work with six pilot news organizations. Later over the summer, the News Revenue Hub included questions about Facebook in a gap analysis it did for news organizations ahead of their participation in NewsMatch.

Among the high-level things we learned right away were:

  1. These were necessary relationships we were building. The kind of relationship we have been developing with Facebook, and specifically its news partnerships team, is sorely needed for independent and nonprofit news organizations. We saw small successes on both sides quickly, and we want to continue working with the company to ensure it considers local news and information needs in its product decisions.
  2. We were hitting people with information overload. It’s true that Facebook has made a ton of guides, training videos, tutorials and case studies available for all facets of what it offers. But, it’s simply too much for most small and medium-sized news orgs. They don’t know where to start and don’t have the capacity — or the need — to learn it all.
  3. We had work to do to get everyone to a standard baseline. As many as half of INN and LION members needed help with fundamentals — and by this we weren’t really talking about editorial fundamentals. There was basic strategy-setting and access to the right tools that needed to happen.
  4. And of course, there was higher-level help needed. Those news organizations with more sophisticated audience development strategies had a completely different set of needs.

We decided to tackle these issues from a couple different angles. The most significant is the Facebook Fundamentals program we launched in October.

The Facebook Fundamentals program

The original idea for this effort came from Sherry Skalko, director of INN’s Amplify audience development project, who audited the Facebook footprint of every INN member, and Susy Schultz, president of Public Narrative, an INN partner organization. We were solving for two problems: First, how could we help INN and LION member organizations think through their social media strategy? And second, how could get a large number of INN and LION member organizations set-up with the tools we identified they would need to implement their strategy?

Here’s how the program worked: After completing a survey, we set each organization up with a consultant hired by Public Narrative for a one-on-one session. Before and during those sessions, we’ve been helping the news outlets with the following items:

  • Applying for access to Facebook’s tools for news publishers.
  • Applying for Facebook verification.
  • Installing Facebook Pixel.
  • Setting up a Facebook ad account and basics on how to use it (this includes the basics of accessing Business Manager, too).
  • Signing up for the Social Good program (for nonprofits).
  • Applying for CrowdTangle access.

After a session, we follow-up with each news organization to set up more in-depth strategy sessions, now that they have access and some understanding of the tools they’ll need. The organizations also receive:

  • Further training on tools for news publishers. (Facebook provided)
  • Further training on CrowdTangle. (Facebook provided)
  • Help as needed to install Instant Articles.

Data we’ve gathered so far

Through the end of November, a total of 75 news organizations responded to our survey and roughly 60 have completed their set-up and training sessions.

Of the 75 news organizations that completed the survey, 77% were nonprofit outlets. Among some of the other interesting data points we found from the group:

  • 85% either did not have access to Facebook’s tools for news publishers or didn’t know those resources were available. Access to these tools is important because it allows news organizations to submit requests like name changes, flag issues like potential copyright violations and communicate with Facebook.
  • Of those outlets that knew what verification was, half had a verified badge and half did not. It’s important to note that verification is an issue for many news organizations; especially for smaller and independent outlets, being rejected for verification by Facebook was a common complaint.
  • When we asked whether news organizations had uploaded their logo as a “Brand Asset” via their page — which will allow their logo to be shown near their news headlines on the platform — 60% didn’t know what this was or hadn’t uploaded their logo.
  • CrowdTangle, a social monitoring and analytics platform owned by Facebook, was still a mystery to many; 73% either didn’t have access to the tool or didn’t know what it was.
  • The majority of the news organizations that responded, 77%, already had a Facebook ads account set up.
  • The vast majority, 88%, were not using Instant Articles.

What we’ve learned and next steps

Admittedly, working through strategy coaching and the setup/training for these tools has been messy process. Many of the nonprofit and independent newsrooms we are working with are small and don’t have someone whose specific job it is to think through social media strategy and execution.

Coordinating this kind of training, setup and coaching is inherently best done with a one-on-one approach, but we’ve also been trying to implement more of an “assembly line” approach so we can help as many news orgs as possible.

Also, Facebook is a large company and small tweaks and updates are made to its products all the time; luckily but frustratingly, we’ve found answers to quite a few questions buried in tutorials, guides and case studies on the platform.

We’ve learned a lot, and are now in the process of doing a deep dive into the data we’ve collected so we can improve and expand this program for 2018. There are definitely a few key trends that have emerged, including:

  • Many of our news outlets are looking at Facebook as a component of their audience funnel, rather than only as an engagement/distribution platform. So, there is a need for more guidance on Facebook’s powerful ads platform — what makes a good ad, when to use ads, how to effectively target your ad, how much money to spend, when to pay to boost posts, and how to effectively use Business Manager.
  • The need for help using analytics and selecting metrics to track success.
  • The need for more guidance and examples on best posting practices for pages.
  • And of course, the need for continued overall strategy coaching — when and how to use Facebook’s tools, and ensuring your use of the platform directly ties in to your revenue and/or audience goals.

Next up: We’ll share what projects we’ve been working on with our six pilot sites and what they’ve learned.

Want to learn more about this project or find out how you can get involved? Drop me an email at murrayst@montclair.edu.


About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. The Center is supported with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and Democracy Fund. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. For more information, visit CenterforCooperativeMedia.org.

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