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January 31, 2014 / Gina D.

The Great Facebook (Paper) Freak-Out

cracked-facebook-logo[WARNING: Hyperbole ahead…]

On Feb. 3, life as you know it will never be the same. That’s when you can download Facebook’s Paper app for your very own, and begin to wonder when all news apps will look and feel this way.

Until they change it. And then add more ads. And then start hiding everything your third favorite magazine posts. (It’s Facebook after all.)

But seriously.

By all accounts (and pretty much everything else I’ve read and seen so far), the UI is pretty sweet, favors photos and videos even more than Old Facebook (too soon?), and puts users in control of their incoming content.

Of course, it’s that last bit that has everyone in the news biz concerned.

How much control will users have? Will our current posting pace be enough? Will users see everything we post, or will our SEO have to be packed full of fairy dust to fight our way into a feed with the big boys? Will we get an initial referral lift that will slide away as user engagement slips? Will  the new Facebook app shoot the equivalent of Sriracha, bacon and rainbows out of your phone, making all of this fervor seem silly? (Remember when they unveiled the timeline? Yeah. Exactly.)

SRIRACHA and BACON and RAINBOWS ohmy
Source: The Oatmeal

Personally, I am wondering about that engagement factor. The new design encourages/perpetuates swiping and gestures, scrolling and flip-throughs. Tapping and typing? Not so much. More perusing and fast thinking. Less interaction….?

Unclear.

Likes, sure. Shares? Maybe. Comments? Eh, let me put it this way: Until Apple gets Swype into iPhones (please, God, yes), a big bunch of users are still commenting with two thumbs… So we’ve got that going for us. For now.

STICK TO YOUR GUNS, PEOPLE

One thing I keep hearing — and seeing (in survey results, referral numbers, observed engagement) — from readers is that for the most part, they want local news from us anywhere they find us. And if Facebook slants their algorithm to favor larger media entities but obscure the rest of us, readers will notice. And they will not be pleased. Granted, we might endure a dip before Facebook decides that keeping those — and oh, so fickle — mobile users happy outweighs whatever benefits they’re reaping from media giants (like maybe steady content streams with wide reach that cost Facebook nothing?).

On the other hand, it’s very possible those mad Facebook scientists already figured out that local news has value to its user-base. Think about it: So much of this new app, from its interface (did you catch how some of those posts “unfold” like a newspaper?) to its name (“Paper”? They could have called it a million other things…) speaks to the familiarity of your local daily newspaper. Nostalgia FTW.

So until I read (or am told) otherwise, my approach is going to be to:

KEEPCALM_bricks_mortar

a) Download and use the app myself (of course)

b) Monitor our Facebook referral numbers especially closely through February, March and beyond

c) Stick to the bricks and mortar, wherein: Content is king.

In terms of content strategy, I expect the core of our Facebook strategy to remain constant: Promote compelling and local content on our core Facebook channels, encourage engagement, and look for opportunities to expand our reach.

Through all the changes, on our side and theirs, from redesigns to updates to entirely new technologies — and through all the glitches in between — there has always been one constant truth: Readers want good stories, they want to know what’s going on where they live, and they want less noise in between.

After looking through all the touring materials myself, my one encompassing thought is that if news organizations learn nothing else from the upcoming Facebook change-up, my guess it that it will be (or should be) how to design an app that people actually like.

But we’ll see how it shakes out.

THE NUTS & BOLTS AS WE KNOW THEM

If you want the guided tour, check out this video *EVERYONE* is sharing:


Source: Introducing Paper from Facebook on Vimeo.

If you’d rather wander around at your own pace, you can meander over to Facebook’s explainer site for Paper, or pick at Facebook’s not-so-specific news release, which really just amounts to little more than a vague precursor with a hidden gem of discussion inside. And then there’s the Journalists on Facebook page, which might a good place to turn if (when?) things go crazy; I advise checking the notes versus any actual posts.

PARTING THOUGHTS

• Hey, if you’re in DFM, don’t forget that we have a built-in support group. Contact Steve Buttry to get on that discussion list.

• I wonder if there will be any issues with the fact that there’s already a pretty cool app out there called Paper. Probably not, with that “Fifty-three” bit at the end there. But… It could happen. #justsayin [UPDATE 02/03/2014: How could I forget about the aggregator Paper.li?! If anyone has a chance of being ruffled by this app, it’s those guys.]

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