July 18th, 2012 by Adam Tinworth
Martin Belam, Emblem
The Guardian on Faceook – launched as one of the first batch of social apps. Was built in five weeks, and they were surprised by the level of traction. You can read, watch and listen to Guardian content in Facebook. Any shared link is “hijacked” and pushed to the app – but there is a clear opt in. There’s a sharp change in attitude to installing the app and sharing at 25. The older people wouldn’t install the app.
Some reaction was negativeâ€¦ somebody said they would happily kill the children of the people who designed it. Bit unfair on Martin’s daughterâ€¦
77% of the referrals from Facebook to The Guardian pre-app bounced back after reading one page. The Guardian team’s premise was that was because reading the article interrupted their Facebook experience. If you allow people to stay in Facebook, they might consume more. They also wanted to change what related content they showed. In Facebook you had more freedom to show trivial content as the next step after a more serious read.
That wasn’t the metric that got changed. They actually shifted their demographic downwards. The average age of their Facebook apps users is 29 – against 44 for the paper.
It was an experiment – and one they could do cheaply because the Guardian has an API. They only had two developers on The Guardian side. Adoption was so fast it looked like they could have more traffic in the app than on the proper site. Any page could go viral, of whatever age. It taught them to be more active in managing archive content and how it appears. A good story is still a good story, whatever its age. A 2009 story on female body image was read over 1m times in Facebook. It’s not an issue that goes away. They had over 1000 new comments in Facebook. The comments on the main site had been closed two years ago.
There was some editorial snootiness. X-Factor content was popular. So were short football clips. It’s not journalism, but then neither are TV listings. So what are the digital equivalents of TV listings? Over a third of the views of a video of a young man being racially abused by a policeman were in Facebook – it was the perfect demographic to share a video like this.
At one point The Guardian got more referrals from Facebook than Google – something Martin never thought would happen in his lifetime. People cutting and pasting headlines into search rather than using the app? Great – brought people to the site. And they saw that in the metrics.
They added an Agree / Disagree button, built with Facebook people in the US, and launched over flaky hotel WiFi. As soon as they launched, the algorithm grabbed hold of it as something it had never seen before, and gave it the hero treatment. Open Graph reads are at the bottom of the Facebook resonance curve. Is there an opportunity to add more just above it?
Would he do it differently now? They ended up taking a lot of stuff out that seemed important to the newspaper at the start – what section something came from, they moved the byline. etc. The most important thing thing for a publisher using the Open Graph is to stop thinking about being a publisher. One guy in the US can make a tweak to the Facebook code that will have more impact on how your content looks than you will ever haveâ€¦