How journalists can use Facebook’s “Pages to Watch” feature

How journalists can use Facebook's Pages to Watch featureBy Paula Wethington

Shortly before writing this post, I watched the Using Facebook as a Reporting Tool webinar recorded in June 2015 for Poynter’s News University.

While the presenter, Tory Starr, did a great job explaining pages vs. profiles for journalists, along with detailing which features that are currently working vs. which ones have been phased out, I think she overlooked a huge resource for beat reporters and social media editors:

It’s the Facebook “Pages to Watch” Feature.

Don’t delete your journalist page even if you have moved to profile + subscribe, or a group as how you communicate with sources and your audience, as Tory recommends for smaller market journalists.

You will need a page to access this function. And furthermore, perhaps there is a different list of pages you personally would like to monitor as compared to the list that is built for your newsroom’s page.

Here’s how you find it:

Log into Facebook via desktop and go to a page you admin. Now go to the “insights” tab. You’ll see page likes, post reach and engagement stats for your page.

Keep scrolling down that section. There’s a “Pages to Watch” dashboard at the bottom.

Type in the names of about five pages into the search bar – it will suggest some – but you can add others as you wish. It doesn’t have to be a page you follow on your profile, and the other pages don’t know who’s “watching” them.

Keep in mind this will only provide numbers for the past week. If you wish to track long-term trends on pages that you don’t admin, create your own spreadsheet based on the information you see on a recurring basis.

But this is what you will find:pagestowatch

  • Total likes on the page.
  • The percentage of how much the likes changed this week.
  • The number of posts for this week.
  • Engagement this week. The count is likes, comments and shares for the week’s posts, added into one number.

While you are in that dashboard, click on the name of each page you watch. You will see a pop up window that shows some of the most popular posts of the week. For further review, visit the actual pages and see what they did.

Here are some questions to include in the analysis, especially in situations where post frequency and engagement numbers don’t seem to mesh with fan counts:

  • There might be promoted posts in the mix. You will realize that the page is running sponsored posts if one crosses your feed or can find a post on their page that is obviously a promotion. But they also might be running a “dark post” in which a promoted post is on the news feed but does not appear on the wall.
  • The “fans” might not be the intended target audience; or outright fake. Facebook has explained why “artificially inflated like counts” through fake fans are detrimental to the success of a page. Unfortunately, it’s also possible through a legit advertising campaign to pick up people who aren’t the intended demographic. Since they are not really interested, there’s no interaction aka engagement. How do you know whether a page has purposely or inadvertently picked up likes from random or inactive people? Admins can review the demographics in page insights and take steps to weed out useless likes, as Social Media Examiner has explained. If this is someone else’s page, your only resource is “Pages to Watch.” So then ask yourself: do the engagement numbers make sense when compared to other pages of their size and focus?
  •  Look up the date the page launched. The launch date is usually on the right rail in desktop view. You also might be lucky enough to find dates for milestones such as reaching 1,000 fans. But here’s a historical reference point: most pages launched in 2013 or before had a huge running start in building fan counts. It was fairly easy at that time for niche topics, startups and small businesses to get likes, comments and shares without paying for promoted posts; but not so on the current news feed formula. That being said, the current formula does favor trending topics and breaking news, which is a benefit to newsrooms.
  • There might have been some “one off” success weeks or months ago. A post that suddenly goes viral, in theory, will bring new fans to your page. But not all of them decide to stick around. While fans can “unlike” a page when they move away or interests change, they generally don’t. They just kind of drift away; and some  hit “hide this post” instead of realizing they should unlike the page. Facebook will realize they aren’t paying attention to that page’s newly published content and show them other content they seem to be interested in instead. So while the fans are counted, they’re not active fans.
  • There might have been a change in admins. Fan count increases will slow down, level out or speed up based on how well the page is run in terms of content choices, scheduling and community management. Unfortunately, this isn’t clear in cases when breaking news will skew the results. A good admin team or leader is far more likely to prove his or her worth in how well they do on a slow news day and in the long range stats.

Now that you have a list, what can you do with it? Here are two very practical uses:

  • Beat reporters can watch pages for the agencies and organizations they cover. You are probably following those pages, maybe you have even set up an interest list on your profile. But you probably will not understand which content resonated with their fans. Use the “Pages to Watch” as a way to backtrack through the week and find the most popular posts.
  • Social media editors and news directors can watch sister papers, partner media organizations and competitors. In a “Pages to Watch” list, you can see what stories from those newsrooms and media outlets went viral and study why. While you will (naturally) think the breaking news or trending topic of the day is one detail, it’s not the only one. Timing has a lot do to with the success of a Facebook post, as does formatting, image selection and phrasing. You can also understand how well page admins know their audience by studying the content and dashboard analytics of their news outlets in comparison to competitors.

I host or co-host most of the social media accounts for a daily newspaper in Michigan. If you’d like to chat about digital media, find me on Twitter; and for a huge collection of social media tips and tricks, find me on Pinterest.

This post was written January 2016, updated June 2017.

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