When Vadim Lavrusik left Mashable and joined Facebook, social journalists who know him rejoiced. Suddenly, the biggest social network had a face and a real-life friend for the media. Lavrusik is very responsive to requests, questions and concerns from online journalists, especially in a very active social journalists Facebook group.
Being that face has also made Lavrusik, the journalist program manager at Facebook, a target of criticism over Facebook’s recent major changes. He has handled it well, and he had a great opportunity to talk about why the changes were made, and how they could work for journalists Friday morning in front of a small, incredibly packed room at the Online News Association conference.
Lavrusik started by rattling off the breath-taking stats:
* 800 million users
* 500 million active in one day
* 4 billion pieces of content shared a day
* Washington Post saw a 280 percent increase in traffic from Facebook in 2010
* Became No. 1 referral source for TPM
* Huffington Post saw 22% increase in pages views, 8 more minutes in time spent for users who signed in through Facebook
We all know Facebook is a beast, and on the heels of the major changes to the service announced and implemented in the past few days, Lavrusik had some interesting thoughts to share.
On timeline, which he called “beautiful”: “I think of it as a digital scrapbook.” You can go to 2005 and see what you and your friends were posting. Relationship status changes, getting a new job. “The great thing about it is you can add things to it retroactively.”
Timeline is going to be the “new profile,” Lavrusik said.
"You can always hide old things, you can always delete old things," he said in response to people worried about those drunk pictures from college.
He said for journalists, it’s going to make it easier to tell whether a source is authentic. You can go through their timeline to better identify whether you’re dealing with the real account of a person. It also helps with sourcing when you’re looking for historical context, Lavrusik said.
"The other big thing I’m really excited about is easier access to your own archive of content. Easier to go back in time and find an article you were working on."
For photographers, he said it will be easier to showcase their photos (they are bigger). profiles gives a large cover photo in timeline. “It’s going to be a great way to feature your work,” he said.
On the redesigned news feed: ”The new layout puts top news and most recent into one stream. The idea was to simplify it, not complicate it,” he said.
Lavrusik said he was “pretty involved” with the new news feed, so “you can yell at me” if you don’t like it.
He said, however, that this isn’t going to be a bad thing for news organizations, which are worried that their content is going to be buried.
Getting into top news has to do with your connections,” Lavrusik said.
He pointed to the new “ticker” as a feature that will help keep content front-and-center.
"The ticker is a completely raw feed," he said. "It can be a news organization sharing a link." Pages and profiles show up in the ticker.
"Your content is actually being exposed more. Breaking news is going to have more prominence."
Lavrusik said one of his big contributions was to have information pop out when you hover over the ticker.
New, much-longer updates: Lavrusik said the news feed now has a 5,000 character limit. If you want to post in-depth content, you can now. You have 5 seconds to edit your post (just like comments). After the 5 seconds is up, you have to copy, edit and delete the post. Users will see a truncated version, but can expand it to the full 5,000 characters.
Searching public updates (a journalist’s tool): Lavrusik pointed to Facebook.com/search (or if you type in the search box, you can click on “see more” to land on that page. You see updates by people who set their profiles to public or make individual posts public. Example: During East Coast earthquake, you could find sources to interview. Lavrusik says Facebook is looking to add location, other filtering data (please do!)
Storytelling tool: Pointed to Ian Shapira’s moving story, told through status updates. Storify makes this much easier now.
Finding sources through groups: You can use the groups search function to find out who the key stakeholders are within a topic. Some groups you can see information without joining the group, others are more private. You can turn off recent activity so it won’t show that you joined a group if you don’t want it.
Finding individual sources: People search allows for location, education and workplace filtering. “The great thing is once you find them, you can message them.” Lavrusik said most people have privacy settings configured so you can message someone without becoming their friend. Vadim told a story about how he found a great source because he connected with her through Facebook. He says she responded to him because she knew more about him by checking out his Facebook profile. It humanized him, he said.
Putting out a call: Lavrusik talks about reporters or organizations putting a call out for help. You ask your community for help on a story, and you can get a response.
Having a presence as a professional journalist: Pages, which function very differently from profiles. “Basically with a page, you have a profile and you admin the page,” Lavrusik said. “You create a page that readers or viewers like.” The big thing, Lavrusik said, is you can’t message people privately with a page. He said it’s great for “big brands,” and celebrity journalists. For the majority of journalists, Lavrusik recommends that you use subscriptions from your private profile. You can decide what is public and what is just for your Facebook friends. Lavrusik said this helps avoid having two separate presences on Facebook. “It’s great not just for people subscribing to you, but it’s great for subscribing to politicians” and other sources, which avoids appearance of conflicts of interest.
In response to a question about journalists who have a page but now want to do subscriptions, Lavrusik joked, “Tough luck.” Actually, to quell those worries, he said here will be a migration tool that will be released after timeline is released. Timeline should come out in the new few weeks, he said.
Journalists are worried that journalism-related posts meant for subscribers that goes to friends will turn off friends. Lavrusik’s response: You need to give your friends more credit. Also, he said that your friends can filter their newsfeed to tone down your nerdy journalism posts. Plus, the newsfeed will automatically filters out content that they haven’t interacted with in the past.
"The thing I always tell people is you’re journalists 24/7," he said. "I think a lot of your friends are interested in quality content."
The questioners in the crowd were skeptical and said they wanted a way to post content just to subscribers.
The audience was definitely interactive and interested in what Lavrusik had to say. When Facebook talks, journalists are listening. It’s great to see that two-way conversation.