MediaNext: Facebook Pages for Journalists and NGOs in UkraineAugust 31, 2009
During my training on Facebook in Ukraine, figuring out how to use the Translations application on Facebook to translate Facebook to Ukrainian and Russian opened up the possibility of training Facebook Pages. Of course, about a week later, I discovered that Facebook had simplified the process by putting a link in the lower left corner of every page that can easily be clicked to switch languages, saving a lot of explanation time. The funny thing about all of these Web 2.0 sites is that they upgrade without being too loud about it. There’s a lot of serendipity to working with them.
I really became a fan of Facebook Pages during this training, when I saw how much they could do for journalists and NGOs that just isn’t that easy to do elsewhere. I came to understand just how extraordinary they are as a marketing and communication tool. And in the context of Ukraine, it was clear that they presented a paradigm shift in how journalists and NGOs relate to the internet. Here’s essentially what I trained:
Tap Into A Quickly Growing Global Audience
In June Facebook had 122.6 million unique visitors in the world, up from 68.6 million in January. Therefore, going with Facebook enables you to tap into an audience that is growing quickly. Almost everywhere.
Admittedly, Vkontakte is the more popular site in Ukraine, so conventional wisdom might say to just stick with that. However, I believe that Facebook is the much more powerful site, particularly for what I trained on marketing and communication. And looking at the numbers, it is clear that Facebook is gaining steam in Ukraine. Vkontakte had a total of 116K unique visitors in its global market in June, while taking a look inside Facebook Pages Insight, I see that there are over 139K members who list Ukraine as their location (perhaps not all of them are regular visitors, but you can see the gap isn’t as wide as perceived).
Facebook also allows you to tap into the global audience. With the advent of the Internet, online news is no longer local-people are accessing it from everywhere. And for NGOs, particularly those seeking funding from abroad, being visible globally has become a necessity. By creating a Facebook Page, journalists and NGOs are joining the global party. By sticking with Vkontakte.ru, they are not only greatly limiting themselves technologically, but also in terms of their audience, over the long haul. It also gets you using the same technology that journalists and NGOs around the world are starting to use, essentially modernizing how you use the Internet (which was one of the goals of this training).
Portal to You or Your Organization
Pages make a great portal for you or your organization. On the Info tab, you can write a description of who you are and why you are, of course, which is an absolute must so people can tell at a glance what you are about. But also, you can provide links to your many other sites in one place. At the training, I recommended people put links to their Twitter pages, blog, the news company or NGO they worked for, and any other sites they might have, like their YouTube channel or Flickr page. That way, if people want to learn more about you, they can check out those links, as well. This alone opens a giant door for being able to market yourself (of course, I would learn that “market yourself” when translated into Ukrainian sounds like “sell yourself”, as in “that” kind of selling yourself. Good thing I said it repeatedly, without disclaimer, and didn’t learn this until after the last training).
Building an Audience
Facebook Pages has a number of ways that make it much easier to build an audience that is generally not available through regular websites, and to some extent, Vkontakte. First, they are searchable in Google and other search engines. So, people can stumble upon your Page searching keywords that relate to your Page, which can help attract new people without your having to actively promote your Page.
Second, you have Share options to post an announcement of your Page on your Profile, or send one to all of your friends on Facebook. Sending to your friends directly, you could then ask them to promote it. Nice that Facebook provides the “Suggest to Friends” link on your Page.
Third, you can promote your page with an ad, which allows you to target demographics on Facebook. Of course, this costs money. We didn’t actually get to the ad in our training, and the jury’s still out on just how effective these ads are (they tend to have low clickthrough rates). But it’s a relatively simple option that is not available on Vkontakte, and much harder through your own website.
Fourth, you can find similar Pages, fan them, and write something on their Wall or in their Discussions, and include your link. Classic blogger-style advertising.
Broadcast Many Places at Once
Once you’ve built up your audience, you can do something that I think unleashes the power of Facebook in ways that just publishing on your blog or on your website can’t. When you publish something on your Page’s Wall, it also publishes automatically on the newsfeeds (aka “Home” page) of all of your fans. So, instead of just publishing in one place-like with your blog or your website-you publish in many places at once. The New York Times has close to 500K fans, so every time they publish something on their Wall, it also goes to 500K other pages, dramatically increasing the probability that more people will see that story.
The best part is that you can crank that up a notch by having your Twitter updates and your blog automatically publish on your Facebook Page, thus also automatically publishing on all your fan’s newsfeeds.
Learn About and Interact with Your Audience
This is where Facebook can be really powerful, especially in Ukraine. First, as a journalist or an NGO, you can learn about your audience. Assuming they haven’t hidden every last detail behind the privacy wall, you can see what kinds of groups, causes, music, films, etc. your audience is into. This can give you an idea of what kind of content to focus on. If you see that a large percentage of your audience is into a particular TV show, or groups that focus on helping orphans, you can tailor your content in that direction to increase their loyalty to and interest in your content.
Second, you can quantify your audience. Facebook conveniently provides an ability to see how many fans you have, and even compare those numbers to your contemporaries and competitors. In my training, I kept saying again and again that any media or NGO manager should care about numbers like this, that if you run a Page that has a lot of fans, you can show it to your boss and say, “See, I have this many fans. Clearly I am doing something right. I am valuable to you”.
In my experience, Ukrainian journalists and NGOs don’t tend to quantify their audiences, and leverage those numbers to increase advertising, pay, or donor organization funding–>Facebook makes it much easier to do this, giving it the potential to be a powerful tool. (We didn’t even get into Insight, which opens a Pandora’s Box of numbers for you that you just can’t get from Vkontakte or LiveJournal).
Third, and here’s the big one: you can interact with your audience. You can hold public discussions on your site, raising controversial or provocative issues in your area of focus, testing public mood on issues, and so on. And, you can make them feel like they are much more connected to the news and the story itself. Instead of just being walking dart boards that you shoot your content at, you can actually engage them, talk to them, see who they are, get their blood flowing. It’s just like in a training-people get much more fired up and motivated when you have them talk during the training, rather than just sit there and be talked at.
Learning about and interacting with audiences, rather than just being a unidirectional purveyor of information, is a real paradigm shift in and of itself in Ukraine. Facebook Pages are a vehicle that can make that really easy. Especially once people start using them more.
In The End – Facebook Pages is Better to Train in Ukraine than Vkontakte or LiveJournal
I keep coming back to this question of whether or not it would have been better to focus on Vkontakte and LiveJournal. They are, after all, exponentially more popular in Ukraine, based on the numbers and general public awareness.
However, technologically, they are just too limited, compared to what you can do with Facebook Pages. Sure, you can use them as a portal to your organization, tap into a large online audience, build your audience, broadcast in many places at once, and learn about and interact with your audience. But, it’s kind of like comparing a Lada Classic to a Mazda 3. Both will probably get you to point B (though it’s always a question mark with the Lada), but only one of them is really the model of a well-conceived and engineered industry leader in functionality and reliability, while the other is really just a cheap clunker. Facebook Pages do all of that work in a much more sophisticated and easy to use way. And, developers are producing dramatically more apps for Pages that will continue to broaden the possibilities, while there is so very little room for much innovation in the way Vkontakte and LiveJournal were built.
The real issue, in my opinion, is that encouraging journalists and NGOs-the disseminators and connectors for so much of the online information in Ukraine-to start using Facebook Pages, and writing about their use of this tool, will only encourage the rest of Ukraine to follow. Especially when they see that today’s Mazda 3 can really rip.
Author’s Note: This is part of a series of posts on my experiences doing New Media trainings with Internews-Ukraine in June and July 2009, as part of their MediaNext initiative, in partnership with European Journalism Centre. These views are my own, and do not reflect those of Internews-Ukraine or European Journalism Centre. Just so we’re clear on that.
Photo 1: The Lada, which you will see all over Ukraine, though generally sans spoiler. Courtesy of James Duncan.
Photo 2: The Mazda 3. Courtesy of IFCAR.