What we learned from Facebook and Instagram at ONA 2017

October 12, 2017

Written by NewsWhip
Controversial brands good social

If you’re a cool, cutting edge journalist or publisher, then ONA is the must-attend conference in the U.S. to learn all of the latest trends in digital publishing.

Obviously, we were there.

For those of you unable to make the trek to D.C., we have you covered. We attended Facebook and Instagram’s presentations on what publishers need to know to succeed on social.

Here’s what we learned.

Facebook Trends

How can you get your content in the newsfeed? How do you find more compelling content ideas? Peter Elkins-Williams, Facebook’s Lead for Newspapers in the U.S., shared some tips with ONA attendees.

The newsfeed’s values are that friends and family come first, content in the newsfeed should inform, and content in the newsfeed should entertain. So what does this mean? Below are some tactics that Peter outlined for us.

1. Make shareable content
We already know that Facebook is used by 2 billion people — all consuming content in their newsfeed. In fact, according to Peter, there are 473 million unique links shared on the platform weekly.

“Sharing is primarily what drives newsfeed behavior,” Peter said. It’s key to take into consideration how shareable a story is. Not everything is necessarily shareable; breaking or hard news may be less so, but it’s worth asking yourself whether you would share the content.


(The most shared video from a news publisher so far this month, this video from NowThis is heartwarming and definitely share-worthy.)

Peter revealed that 40 percent of total video watch time comes from shares. For a look at the most shared videos on Facebook, Instagram, and the web right now, you can take a trial of NewsWhip Spike.

2. Mobile-first
More and more users are consumer content from mobile devices, especially video content. Half of all mobile traffic is video, and that number is expected to rise to 75 percent in the next five years.

Consider your mobile users when you upload videos. As we noted in our “five quick things to know about successful Facebook video”, this means considering your format, video length, making it watchable without sound, and packing in exciting visuals.

For articles, this could mean testing Instant Articles, which are often indistinguishable to users, Peter says. Instant articles see 30 percent more clicks and shares, and users are 70 percent less likely to abandon them.

3. Go long with video
According to a recent internal study from Facebook, videos that are over 90 seconds long are shared 30 percent more on average. This conclusion came from a study of 2 million videos from verified news pages.
We have noted recently that the length of viral videos on Facebook is rising. There’s more time now to tell a compelling story.

4. Tap your audience for news gathering
Many publishers are experimenting with Facebook groups, which presents a unique avenue for news gathering. Publishers can poll their readers and ask for their reactions and thoughts on content or ideas.
The Atlantic and Boston Globe have a subscriber-only group, which has a feeling of exclusivity for its members. The Washington Post has PostThis, where readers are encouraged to ask reporters how and why they cover stories. The New York Times has “Paying Till It Hurts” for readers to discuss U.S. healthcare.

“You don’t need to spend money on Facebook to be successful,” said Peter, “Only spend money if you’re hitting specific objectives fit for you. Organically, in the newsfeed, great content will be shared.”

Instagram Trends

Though we’ve done a lot of extensive research on Instagram recently, including a handy infographic, it’s always helpful to get words of wisdom directly from the source, or in this case, Lila King, the head of news & publishing partnerships at Instagram.

She shared both ways that content creators can find unique content, and how to more effectively distribute their own content for better discovery.

1. Find content: Use locations
Are you a local publisher? Covering an event like Comic Con? Want to get some insights into what life is like in Jakarta, the most Instagrammed location, according to Lila?

For unique stories and perspectives from users, Lila suggested using locations through the explore tab. We’ve already seen INSIDER travel turn user-generated content on Instagram into viral video on Facebook.

2. Find content: Create a fake Instagram account that’s highly specific
This will help you find content from smaller, impassioned, niche users — not just influencers who are already well-known and potentially less effective.

For example, this is the Explore tab of a rabbit-focused Instagram account. By following other bunny-based Instagram accounts, the user’s Explore tab populates with more related content to follow.

3. Distribute content: Be very specific with your own locations
To make your content more discoverable, Lila advised tagging content posted to a specific location.

Be specific as possible because it will roll up into the bigger location — so if you’re posting from Hallgrímskirkja Church, that will roll up to the Reykjavik tag, and then the Iceland tag as well.

4. Distribute content: Create content across formats
To increase your content’s chances of making it into the Explore tab on the platform, it’s worth creating content across formats — photos, video, stories, and live stories. There are spaces on the Explore tab for each of these.

There is no magic number, Peter Elkins-Williams said, of getting into the newsfeed, and the same follows for Instagram. Good, shareable, and relevant content should do well.

So go forth and tackle Facebook and Instagram with a bit more confidence. We’ll keep tracking the trends in the data, to help you hone your strategy and find out what’s working.  

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