– Rory O’Connor
RZ: The concept of “the trusted referral” is integral to the success of content sharing on Facebook. We’ve found that it is tremendously more powerful to get a piece of content – an article, a news clip, a video, etc – from a friend, and it makes you much more likely to watch, read, and engage with the content.
We are beginning to see journalists and news/broadcast companies creating a significant presence on Facebook to engage with Facebook users and help facilitate this notion of the trusted referral to assist with the viral spread of content. When journalists can really engage with this audience and enlist Facebook users to market and share their content, that is such a powerful way to share credible news and information and tap into the implicit trust that people have with their friends.
ROC: The conventional wisdom in academia is that social networks do the opposite, they serve as polarizing echo chambers where users reinforce their own views rather than being persuaded to listen and perhaps agree with others. Why or why not does Facebook fit this mold?
However, if you only looked at the profile, you’d be ignoring a tremendous amount of activity that takes place, on Facebook and other sites. Facebook users join groups to discuss issues, topics, and activities that are important to them. They become “fans” of celebrities, brands, public figures, and businesses. They use applications to see photos of their friends traveling the world, read their friends’ blog posts, and keep up to date with news and content.
And most importantly, people use Facebook to learn new things about their friends and the world around them. Our mission as a company is to encourage people to share information that is important to them with their friends. Through the news feed on a user’s homepage, Facebook users see what their friends are doing, thinking, and talking about. They discover new books, new articles, new videos, new places to visit, and new people to become friends with.
I can’t even begin to tell you how many new things I have personally discovered through Facebook and how my Facebook friends have broadened my horizons and introduced me to new things I never would have discovered before. On many days, I hear about the current events because my Facebook friends will post articles and write thoughts about it… even before I discover it from a news site. I have discovered new places in the world to visit, have been introduced to new and incredible people, have discovered new music and bands to follow, and have had my views challenged on everything from politics to taste in Broadway musicals.
ROC: Journalists are using Facebook in unanticipated ways. What are some of the main trends you have noticed? Are you surprised at these novel applicaitons? Can you give us details about your interaction with ABC in the past and where you hope to take things in the future? What has your interaction been with other media outlets and individual journalists?
RZ: I think journalists are only beginning to discover what a powerful tool Facebook can be for their content. In my discussions with many mainstream media companies, I constantly hear them talk about why they are squeamish about posting their content on other sites – their content is their lifeblood, it’s all they have… why would they give it away for free on other sites?
However, I see more and more media companies understanding the importance of allowing people to consume content anywhere they want to consume it on the web, not just at the media company’s website. As I mentioned before, I don’t think expert journalism will go away – people will always want a trusted, expert opinion when it comes to news, politics, current events, and important topics – but people would rather get that content on a site they are already on, like Facebook, rather than traveling off to another site if they are already on Facebook engaging with friends and doing other things.
When we worked with ABC on the presidential primary debates, we built a really powerful tool together in the “US Politics Application.” In this area on Facebook, we allowed users to consume ABC News content and set up special pages for the reporters who were on the campaign trails where they could blog about their experiences and engage with Facebook users. We also strove to make this area extremely interactive, by turning almost every article, piece of content, and question into a “debate/discussion topic” where Facebook users could post their viewpoint and see what all of their friends thought about a specific issue. This information helped power some of the pundit commentary for a high-profile, televised primetime presidential primary debate for the New Hampshire primary.
Understanding that there is still a struggle in which media companies prefer to keep their content on their own site, we recently launched a product called Facebook Connect, which allows companies to incorporate Facebook’s social tools into their website. Facebook users can log into other sites with their Facebook login and see what content their friends are consuming and activity their friends are taking on that site. Companies like CNN and CBS have done a great job implementing connect and this is clearly only the beginning.