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How news sites can connect to their readers through Facebook’s social plugins

Facebook‘s new social plugins offer news sites a great chance to build closer relationship to their readers and become more relevant in presenting the news.
[iframe http://www.facebook.com/plugins/recommendations.php?site=betatales.com&width=540&height=210&header=true&colorscheme=light 560px 220px]

The world’s most popular social network, Facebook, now tries to be the global social glue. A new set of social plugins make it much easier for web sites to integrate with to personal networks of readers.

Last year I made an internal note describing how my employer Aftenposten might use Facebook Connect to create a closer relationship with our readers. One suggestion was to study whether we could develop a solution in which readers could see which stories at Aftenposten their friends had recommended on Facebook.

Now Facebook has made this very easy to implement. The new recommendations plugin lets you include friends’ recommendations in just a few minutes. This is the plugin you see above – and it was also immediately implemented on the the front page of Aftenposten.

The recommendations plugin is only one of several tools launched by Facebook to help web sites make their content more social.

“Why Newspapers Need to Heed Facebook, Now” wrote Chris Treadaway in ReadWriteWeb.  I agree. A few years ago many newspapers tried to build their own social network. Many have given up. People tend to gravitate to a very few global social communties. In my own country, Norway, Facebook is now dominating. 40 per cent of Norwegians now visit Facebook daily.

Given the dominance of Facebook it makes sense for most news sites to connect to this social network rather than trying to build their own.

The new social plugins give a number of great opportunities:

  • I have already mentioned the recommendations plugin. It picks up stories on the site recommended by your Facebook friends. If you are not logged in, it will give you the stories that are most often shared by all Facebook friends. It is truly a great tool – and it literally only takes 10 minutes to implement.
  • The Like Box displays some of the members of your Facebook page.  I fyou are logged in at Facebook, some of your friend will be among the photos displayed. This box has proven to be a highly efficient way to recruit new fans of a Facebook page.  Here is how the box looks like for Aftenposten:

[iframe http://www.facebook.com/plugins/likebox.php?id=213833765515&width=560&height=220&connections=9&stream=false&header=true 560px 220px]

  • The Activity Feed displays the activities of a user’s friends on your site. What stories have they shared or liked?
  • The Like Button makes it easy to like or share a particular story – and users can also see how many other site users have liked or shared the same article.
  • The Live Stream is great if you want to offer readers a chance to communicate with each other when they watch an important live event.

These plugins are extremely easy to install in its basic form. Even I, without any programming knowledge, was able to install the recommendations plugin on my site Asiaobserver.com in less than 10 minutes.

But there are some more sophisticated solutions as well that should be noted. The most obvious is the Open Graph Protocol. This is great for categorized elements like restaurant reviews, films, celebrities, sport names, etc.

Say your site has a number of restaurant reviews from your city. Using the Open Graph Protocol you can tag them by category, name, etc. These pages then will show up on a number of different places in the Facebook universe.

How to use these possibilities? The opportunities are limitless as far as I see it. But it does take time to think through what is the smart route to follow.

Personally I like quite a lot how Washington Post has implemented Facebook Connect in its socalled Network News. The box for this new service pops up on almost all articles. Users are encouraged to “like” articles and can see what are the most liked articles among their friends.

Some more articles to read on this subject:

I would love to hear your thoughts about how Facebook’s new social plugins can be used by news sites!

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About the author: Experienced media manager and journalist. Enthusiastic about digital media – and eager amateur photographer. Currently Chief Communications Officer at Schibsted Tech Polska in Krakow, Poland.

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