Four lessons I've learnt about Facebook

teaches Online Journalism at Birmingham City University

My experiment last week in running a blog entirely through a Facebook Page quietly came to the end of its allotted four weeks.

It's been a useful exercise and I'm going to adapt the experiment slightly.

Here's what I learnt:

1. Facebook suits emotive material

The most popular posts during that month were simple links that dealt with controversy - Isle of Wight council talking about withdrawing accreditation if a blogger refuses to pre-moderate comments; and the wider issue of being denied access to public documents or meetings on the basis of blogging. This isn't a shock - research into Facebook tends to draw similar conclusions about the value of 'social' content.

That said, it's hard to draw firm conclusions because Facebook's Insights data only gives numbers on posts after 9 June (when I posted a book chapter as a series of Notes), and the network effects will have changed as the Page accumulated Likes.

2. It requires more effort than most blogs

With most blogging it's quite easy to 'just do it' and then figure out the bells and whistles later. With a Facebook Page I think a bit of preparation goes a long way - especially to avoid problems later on.

Firstly, there's the choice of whether to start one from scratch or convert an existing Facebook account into a Page. Secondly, there's the Page name itself: at first you can edit this but after 100 Likes you can't. That leaves my 'Paul Bradshaw's Online Journalism Blog on FB for one month' looking a bit silly five weeks later. (It would be nice if Facebook warned you that this was happening.)

And if you want to write more than 420 characters you'll need to use Notes (ideally, when logged on as the Page itself, which will result in the Note being auto-posted to the Wall).

If you want to link phrases without littering the note with ugly URLs, you'll need to use HTML code.

Next, there's integration with other online presences. Here are the apps I used:

RSS Graffiti (for auto-posting RSS feeds from elsewhere)

SlideShare (adds a new tab for your presentations on that site)

Cueler YouTube (pulls new updates from your YouTube account)

Tweets to Pages (pulls from your Twitter account into a new tab).

There's also Smart Twitter for Pages which publishes page updates to Twitter; or you can use Facebook's own Twitter page to link pages to Twitter.

Finally, I was thankful that I had used a Feedburner account for the Online Journalism Blog RSS feed. That allowed me to change the settings so that subscribers to the blog would still receive updates from the Facebook Page (which also has an RSS feed) - and change it back afterwards.

3. It isn't suited to anything you might intend to find later

Although Vadim Lavrusik pointed out that you can find the Facebook Page through Google or Facebook's own search, individual posts are rather more difficult to track down.

The lack of tags and categories also makes it difficult to retrieve updates and notes - and highlights the problems for search engine optimisation. This created a curious tension. On the one hand, short-term traffic to individual posts was probably higher than I would normally get on the blog outside Facebook. On the other, there was little opportunity for long-term traffic: there was no footprint of inbound links for Google to follow.

This may not be a problem for local, hard news organisations which have a rapid turnover of content; no need to rank in Google News; and little value in the archives. But there are too many drawbacks for most to move (as Rockville Central's blog recently did) completely to Facebook. It simply leaves you too isolated, too ephemeral and too vulnerable to changes to Facebook's policies.

4. It should be part of a network strategy

So, in short, while it's great for short-term traffic, it's bad for traffic long term. It's better for ongoing work and linking than for more finished articles.

It shouldn't be viewed in isolation from the rest of the web, but rather as one more step in a distributed strategy: just as I tweet some things, Tumblelog others and just share or bookmark others, Facebook Pages fit in somewhere amidst all of that.

Now I just need to keep on working out exactly how.

Paul Bradshaw - @paulbradshaw - is founder of the Online Journalism Blog and the crowdsourcing website Helpmeinvestigate. He is a visiting professor at City University, London, and runs the MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University. 

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