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5 reasons Facebook is better than you think

The UK faces another vote this Summer. Whatever the impact on how the country is governed, we can be certain that the election process will generate a fresh round of speculation about how social media, and principally Facebook, is influencing political views/wrecking lives/creepy/sinister (delete as appropriate).

It won’t surprise you to read that we have a slightly different view.

Yes, advertising on Facebook is frustrating, or creepy, depending on strongly you feel about it.

Yes, you can end up in an echo chamber talking to lots of other parents, neighbours, liberals, conservatives or whomever you choose to Like and Follow.

But let’s not forget that away from the political agenda and news cycle, Facebook offers some simply amazing features that help organisations respond and inform in a way that would have been unimaginable 10 years ago.

1. Safety check

If Facebook thinks you’re in the vicinity of a major incident, such as a terror attack or natural disaster, it will ask you if you are safe. Tap ‘I’m safe’ and your status will be updated. Think it’s a gimmick? Suspend judgement until you depend on it.

2. Explaining something

Facebook is optimised for video, and our increasingly short attention spans. Facebook knows what we do when we’re on there, so it makes sense to play the game. Organisations such as the National Crime Agency do a brilliant job of explaining their work and making the most of the channel.

 

3. Targeting information

Facebook advertising is incredibly frustrating when it appears crudely in a sidebar, reflecting whatever we’ve been Googling 2 minutes ago. But when advertising is targeted well, it is incredibly powerful and essential for businesses and other organisations who need to target specific groups of people in certain areas of a country.

What’s more it’s measurable, which makes it cost-effective. This is the reach and transparency that the Yellow Pages and local newspapers can only dream about.

4. Gathering information

We write a lot about the importance of channels such as Facebook for gathering people’s views and opinions. Facebook is also an important source of information to find witnesses and understand context. It’s a first port of call for media, so it should be a go-to place for investigating authorities too. Just remember that even if someone’s profile is unlocked, you’ll need to talk to them first about using their content.

A Facebook post complaining about Croydon tram drivers speeding, before the major tram crash in 2016

5. Raising money

If you were fundraising 10 years ago, your supporters might have enjoyed some success promoting a link to a web page or payment details on Facebook, for their sponsored swim. Since 2015 charities benefit from a simple Donate Now button that not only makes donation straightforward for new supporters, but helps friends of supporters to donate.

Before we all get too swept away with stories about how much of a bad influence Facebook is, let’s keep in mind the things Facebook can be good for too.

The Apple and the Worm: Stories in an online age

Stories today are shapeless, slippery fellows who slip through the fingers of all those who try to grasp them. To demonstrate this let’s look at the made-up story of the Apple and the Worm.

1986

Charles bought an apple from the Acme Fruit & Veg stall.

Apples by Michael Dorausch, Creative Commons, Flickr

When he got it home he took a bite and found that there was a worm inside.

Angered by this unexpected visitor, he called The Morning Post and told them about it.

A journalist from The Morning Post went to the Acme Fruit & Veg stall to find out more.

Acme Fruit & Veg were very surprised and showed the journalist all their other apples which were fine.

Satisfied, the journalist wrote a small article about the man and the apple which was published on page 13 of their Monday edition. There was no photo and only a few members of the public read the story.

The End.

2017

Charles bought an apple from the Acme Foods superstore.

When he got it home. He took a bite and found that there was a worm inside.

Angered by this unexpected visitor, he took a photo and tweeted about it. A journalist replied and asked him to direct message them. Other people on Twitter and Facebook claimed that they had also found worms in their apples. Thousands of users saw the story.

The journalist contacted Acme Foods and asked for a comment. However, Acme Foods didn’t know about Charles and refused to comment.

Meanwhile the hashtag #BoycottAcmeFoods had started trending.

The journalist published an online article. It contained lots of accounts from people who claimed they had found various animals in their fruit. One man had found a spider in his banana. The article was shared widely online.

Acme Foods finally issued a statement online but it was lost in all the negative coverage.

This was not The End. The story continued to rumble on.

An alternative 2017

Charles bought an apple from the Acme Foods superstore.

When he got it home. He took a bite and found that there was a worm inside.

Angered by this unexpected visitor, he took a photo and tweeted about it.

Apple and Worm by Adam Langager, Creative Commons, Flickr

Jane, an employee at Acme Foods who was monitoring all online mentions of @AcmeFoods as well as associated keywords (“Acme” AND “apple”) saw this tweet and alerted her boss. Her boss asked Jane to contact Charles to find out more.

A journalist also contacted Charles and asked him to direct message them. Other people on Twitter and Facebook claimed that they had also found worms in their apples.

Jane alerted her boss that the situation had worsened. They prepared a statement which they tweeted from their account.

They spoke to Charles on the phone and offered him their sincerest apologies and a shopping voucher. They also posted a message on a Food Safety forum where #BoycottAcmeFoods had started trending.

Charles tweeted that he was happy with Acme Foods’ speedy response.

Other people, however, demanded compensation. Acme Foods sent a tweet reassuring customers of the freshness and safety of their produce and asked that all enquiries be directed to their hotline.

Acme Foods issued a short subtitled video from their Head of Quality Control. They also put a statement on their website and paid some money so that their statement would appear at the top of searches.

An online media article was published containing both sides. It was shared on social media channels but several major food companies and bloggers spoke up in support of Acme Foods’ response. The social media noise quietened down.

This was still not The End. Jane continued to monitor social media channels for any future references to apples and worms.

The rise of online media has fundamentally altered how stories are made. Previously organisations played a pivotal role in shaping the narrative of a story. Now they are an afterthought.

However, it is not all bad news. As our third story shows, there is still a small window of opportunity for organisations to influence a story by:

  • monitoring smaller channels such as Facebook groups and online forums
  • monitoring associated keywords as well as mentions of your organisation
  • building online relationships with stakeholders who can support you in a crisis
  • finding trusted voices within your organisation to be spokespeople during a crisis
  • ensuring that you have the right processes (e.g. permissions/budget) in place to reply quickly and efficiently

Online stories will carry on with or without you. By implementing some of these tips you can ensure that you are helping to create the stories rather than just reading them.

How Doris kicked up a social media storm

One of the topics we discuss during crisis training is the way journalists use social media to find context for stories, including photos and videos they can use in their reports.

We show participants examples of how, before journalists even arrive on the scene, rolling news reports on their websites feature updates from eyewitnesses and emergency services.

A tool we recommend is Advanced Searches on Twitter. This helps people to find relevant hashtags, tweets from particular accounts and gives them the ability to narrow results down by location.

In the case of #StormDoris this allowed local journalists to find relevant tweets from the area they cover.

My 11 year old son’s half-term football camp was dramatically interrupted as a gust blew the entire roof off the clubhouse and on to a nearby cricket pitch. Thankfully, no one was injured and the coaches did a great job in keeping the boys safe.

He had his phone with him and by the time I had arrived to take him home, my son had managed to film the aftermath. I tweeted his video with the hashtag #stormdoris and it was picked up by Matt Cannon, Digital Reporter for the Birmingham Mail. He asked permission to use the footage and was kind enough to tweet back and let us know when the news story went live.


This type of reporting has huge implications for those managing social media accounts in a crisis. Like many of his friends, my son thinks visually and his first instinct (beyond survival!) was to film.  He and his friends are growing up in an increasingly visual online world. The challenge for organisations to keep pace, continues.

It is impossible to stay ahead of what is happening on social media. However, understanding the tools that journalists and others use, allows organisations to monitor, respond, and manage a situation online.