Like many other online publishers, OVB24 created fan pages for our news sites early on and posted links to selected articles. We acted in a fearful state of mind, not wanting to cannibalise our home page traffic. We were afraid users wouldn’t have reason to directly visit the news portals anymore.

Then in 2012, a little experiment with a fan page for a Web site we were operating for our local Octoberfest event opened our eyes. We put real effort into that fan page. As a result, its user base ourgrew our news fan pages quickly, and the amount of traffic it generated for the Web site was staggering.

It made us realise the true potential and importance of Facebook as a traffic generator. We started shifting our focus completely from Google, making Facebook our top priority. We had to move from thinking SEO to thinking social media. Social had to become part of our DNA.

In late 2012, we completely revamped our social media approach. We set up goals of reaching 90,000 fans and posting at least 15 stories per page per day, which was a change from our previous 13,000 fans overall and posting only two or three selected stories per page per day.

To reach those goals, we started using fan-page-like ads aggressively and promoted our Facebook pages on our news sites. We trained the newsroom intensively. From that point on, the manager of the home page had to manage Facebook posting, too. The whole newsroom had to take responsibility and post on our fan pages.

When it comes to eyewitness reports and minute-to-minute updates about the local community, it’s hard to beat the speed of social media.
When it comes to eyewitness reports and minute-to-minute updates about the local community, it’s hard to beat the speed of social media.

We quickly realised our earlier fears were unfounded. We tapped into a new user market. Home page traffic grew at the same pace as before, but our overall growth accelerated dramatically, from 20% in 2012 to 40% in 2013 and to 45% in 2014.

In January 2014, we had more traffic from Facebook than from Google for the first time. By the end of 2014, we had reached our goal of 90,000 fans within two years.

Our bet on social had paid off. However, what we hadn’t bet on was an ever more important side effect: generating story leads for our online newsroom.

As our fan base grew, we saw something fascinating happen. Our fans not only interacted by commenting on our posts and likes, but people also started communicating directly with us via the fan page message feature.

Not just for chitchat either. They asked personal questions about stories, but also began sharing unexpected information they had on incidents they witnessed, things they had heard, and stories we should follow.

Not only does Facebook make it easy to gather story leads, it also allows reports to converse with a source instantly and easily verify the credibility of a lead.
Not only does Facebook make it easy to gather story leads, it also allows reports to converse with a source instantly and easily verify the credibility of a lead.

Our editorial team began getting great story ideas via Facebook. Messaging turned out to be a lower barrier than mail for both sides. The newsroom could assess the value of a lead faster by directly messaging back and forth, and the user got instant feedback and recognition. Our audience felt like they were being heard.

In the summer of 2014, we did our first evaluation and found that about 50% of articles on our news pages, produced by our own newsroom, were based on leads and information we got from users via Facebook. Facebook had become our No. 1 editorial network. 

Ever since, the share of Facebook-generated leads has not fallen below 30%, and many of our most important stories are based on first contact via Facebook.

We have learned three things as a result of this shift:

  1. For the newsroom to embrace and live and think social media, everyone has to share responsibility. Full participation allowed us to create a social media managing function in the fall of 2015.

  2. Facebook fan-page-like ads are a very good investment to quickly grow your fan base.

  3. Take your fans seriously and answer all their communication. They will start trusting you and start giving you better leads.

You just never know where a little experiment will take you, do you?