Digital

How To Deal With The Ch-Ch-Ch-CHANGES To Facebook’s News Feed Algorithm by Robin Dienel

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See original article via CBC Automotive Marketing

Change. It’s inevitable!

This time, it comes by way of Facebook. In January of this year, Mark Zuckerburg announced Facebook would be altering its News Feed algorithm to prioritize “meaningful interactions” between people. Think less public content from businesses, brands, and the media, and more Posts from your best friend about her new St. Bernard puppy, Lucy, eating her favorite pair of heels last night.

This change is a concentrated effort from Facebook to combat fake news and internet trolls that have plagued the social network’s Feeds for the past few years. But what does this mean for your dealership’s organic presence on Facebook?

Ultimately, Facebook Page Posts will not get the same amount of air-time on the News Feed as they once did. Instead, Facebook will be favoring content they believe people will want to engage with by prioritizing geographically popular Posts from friends, family, and businesses they follow, while filtering out “engagement bait” type content that goads people into commenting on Posts.

“Engagement Bait” content can be anything from Posts that include phrases like, “Comment if you like baby turtles…” or “Like us if you like chocolate.” Obviously, everyone thinks baby turtles are cute and enjoys eating chocolate, so this type of “engagement bait” will be monitored closely by Facebook’s algorithm and Posts containing it will be downgraded to the bottom, if not removed, from the News Feed.

Overall, this change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It does mean, as a dealership, you’re going to have work harder to create genuine interactions with your followers on Facebook. But it also means those followers who do engage with your Facebook Posts will become more important for your bottom line. According to CBC Automotive Marketing’s Research Director, Faith Logan, this type of “meaningful interaction” can help build rapport with your customer base and ultimately turn your followers into “Attitudinally-Loyal” brand advocates for your dealership. For more insight into this concept, read Part 1 and Part 2 of Faith’s research on how to cultivate these kinds of relationships with your customers.

In the meantime, here are a few tips from the CBC Digital Team on how to help your dealership combat this Facebook News Feed algorithm change.

Think Local

Becoming involved in your community on Facebook–whether it’s through tagging nearby businesses in a Post, joining a local Facebook Group, responding to Facebook Reviews (both positive and negative!), or other engaging content–boosts your Page’s relevance amongst your followers and promotes reactions, comments, and shares. Facebook likes this kind of back-and-forth engagement. They want brands to think outside of the marketing-box and stop posting only what great deals you have this month or baiting followers into commenting or sharing a post. This change in thinking will help generate genuine engagement on Posts and push them to the top of the News Feed.

Quality, Not Quantity!

The days of posting to your Facebook Page ten times in one hour are long gone. Scheduling quality content, like a Happy Customer photo, a Photo Album of your employees working at a local charity event, or even starting a Facebook Live video, will be more beneficial for generating local engagement amongst your followers than blanket posting to your Page’s Feed about monthly deals. We recommend finding what makes your dealership stand out from the rest. Whether that’s your customers, your community involvement, your employees, your dealership’s building, etc., and highlighting those differences in a fun and creative way through different kinds of Facebook Posts.

Videos Are The Future

A few years ago, trying to load a video on a mobile device would take at least five minutes, if not more, of buffering time. But today, video load times are almost non-existent. According to Sprout Social, Facebook now gets over 8 billion average daily video views and 100 million hours of video watched every day. That’s A LOT of videos. Of those video views, people are five times more likely to watch them on a smartphone than on a desktop. Now’s the time for your dealership to take advantage of the huge percentage of people who are watching and engaging with videos on Facebook.

As a dealership on Facebook, we recommend ensuring your TV Spots are adaptable to social by including captions and keeping them under 30 seconds in length. If you don’t have your own TV Spots, create a quick video yourself using programs like Adobe Spark, or custom gifs on Giphy’s Gif Maker. Go the extra mile by starting your own Facebook Live videos, which Sprout Social notes are watched three times longer during the actual stream than on replay. Live video examples we’ve seen perform well have included showing what vehicles are newly in stock, introducing an employee of the month, announcing a local raffle winner, or doing a walkaround of a new vehicle. These types of videos are rich in content and are proven ways to generate genuine engagement with your followers.

Embrace Your Facebook Advertising Dollars

If you’ve relied only on your organic Posts for visibility on Facebook until now, then you may need to rethink your strategy. Although your organic content will be put through the News Feed algorithm ringer, your paid Facebook Ads won’t experience the same scrutiny. There will be no changes to your paid ad’s ranking on Facebook. The only difference now is that if you are not generating engaging content organically on your Facebook Page while also not running Facebook Ads, then you more than likely will not be reaching any of your potential customers on Facebook.

With Facebook Ads, you can create a custom targeted audience by focusing in on your market intenders, identifying your dealership’s interest groups, and lassoing in geographically specific locations to ensure your advertising dollars reach the right person in the right place at the right time to generate a low funnel lead.

Change can be scary. But understanding that change and rolling with it proactively is what will put your dealership above the fold, even with this News Feed algorithm change!

The Impending E-Book Apocalypse, or Not by Robin Dienel

   
  
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     Politics and Prose Bookstore and Coffeehouse has been open in northwest Washington, DC, for over two decades. (Credit: Robin Dienel, American University)

Politics and Prose Bookstore and Coffeehouse has been open in northwest Washington, DC, for over two decades. (Credit: Robin Dienel, American University)

As you pull open the double doors of northwest Washington, DC’s Politics and Prose Bookstore and Coffeehouse, the familiar smell of paper immediately floods your senses and invites you in.

   Situated on Connecticut Avenue and Fessenden Street NW, two stories of books, and an under-construction café on the lower level, welcomes Washingtonians with curiosity and excitement. Look up, and colorful cardboard signs dangle from the ceiling above detailing countless genres of books within reach, ready to take readers on whatever literary adventure they desire. 

   Turn to the left, and see books of fiction, new fiction, non-fiction, biographies, politics and more adorning bookcases and tables around the room. Continue left, and an entire room dedicated just to the imagination, named Fiction Room, unfolds around you.

   
  
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      Every surface of the bookstore is covered in books, ready for reading. The Fiction Room is on the left ready to feed hungry imaginations. (Credit: Robin Dienel, American University)

Every surface of the bookstore is covered in books, ready for reading. The Fiction Room is on the left ready to feed hungry imaginations. (Credit: Robin Dienel, American University)

   Walk across the store to the sounds of drawers springing open and scanners ringing purchases for customers at almost every cash register, despite the early morning hour. To their left, small racks of CDs and records lead to even more books. A man and woman are sitting at a table in the back of the store, discussing politics - a common occurrence here. A child walks by them, leading his mother eagerly by the hand downstairs to the children's section to find a book about sharks.

   Five years ago, analysts would have predicted bookstores like this one would have been shut down by now. Why’s that? E-readers.

   E-readers, the anticipated achilles heel of print. Far and wide, analysts were screaming the demise of print was within reach thanks to these devices. 

   Then, in 2015, digital sales slowed sharply, and the earliest e-reader adopters were now returning to print. Amazon, the leader of e-book sales thanks to its Kindle e-reader and online store, opened its first brick-and-mortar bookstore in Seattle, Washington, in November 2015. 

   According to Entrepreneur, Amazon is leveraging its online data to create offline sales by stocking its physical stores based on online consumer reviews.

   “It’s data with heart,” Jennifer Cast, vice president of Amazon Books, told Forbes. “We’re taking the data we have and we’re creating physical places with it.”

   The American Booksellers Association counted 1,712 member stores in 2,227 locations last year, up from 1,410 in 1,660 locations just five years ago despite the competition from e-book sellers like Amazon.

   
  
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      Donna Wells, a children's book seller at Politics and Prose, stands in front of her section downstairs at the store. (Credit: Robin Dienel, American University)

Donna Wells, a children's book seller at Politics and Prose, stands in front of her section downstairs at the store. (Credit: Robin Dienel, American University)

   In DC, community-based bookstores are rising as well. Politics and Prose, leading the charge, now has three satellite stores stationed in Busboys and Poets restaurants around the city. In the past year, two new brick-and-mortar independent bookstores, Upshur Street Books and Walls of Books, opened their doors.

   Donna Wells, a former Barnes & Nobles employee, has worked at Politics and Prose for the past year as a children’s bookseller. The difference between here and the big stores she simply says is, “customers like having someone to talk to.”

   Shown evidently throughout the bookstore on this cloudy Wednesday, employees can be seen welcoming customers as soon as they walk into the room. 

   An employee in the fiction wing is helping a man publish his own book on Opus, the store’s own book making machine. Another is showing a woman the latest Stephen King novel, and talking to her about the upcoming Hulu series starring James Franco based on his fictional book on the Kennedy assassination, 11/22/63. The event calendar by the register shows nightly author talks at the store. Tomorrow is David Greenberg discussing the history of the American Presidency. Can’t make it? Their website shares mp3s from these events. 

   “Excuse me, do you know the difference between comic and graphic novels for kids?” a father asks of Wells while she stands at the help desk in the children's section. She excitedly leads him away to the graphic novel section, explaining how graphic novels are more complex and told in one or two books, while a comic tells a story over many issues. They pick out an issue of Minecraft: Creaturetopia together for his son.

   Is the e-book apocalypse just running late? Or have customers found the value in their community-based bookstores? Time will tell. 

   For now, the centuries long tradition of words on paper will live to see another day, at least at Politics and Prose.

By Robin Dienel, 27 January 2016

Knight Lab: Computer Assisted Reporting Reimagined by Robin Dienel

Richard Gordon, professor and director of digital innovation at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, is bilingual, but not in the way you’d think.

He speaks two “languages”: journalism and technology, and has worked throughout his career to combine the two in an effort to translate yesterday’s old world news to today’s online world.

In 2007, Gordon was one of the first-round winners in the Knight News Challenge, which awards monetary funds to journalism innovators. When he first heard about the grant opportunity in 2005, Gordon says in a phone interview he believed, “we could, at Medill, propose to use some of the Knight News Challenge money to apply for, and get a news challenge grants, to people in our journalism program with computer science backgrounds.”

In the average journalists’ minds at that time, the two schools of thought, journalism and computer science, couldn’t be more opposite. Gordon believed differently.

After a mocking mention of the opportunity on the tech blog Boing Boing, which Gordon says was the most successful thing he did for the scholarships marketing program, two scholarship winners were chosen and the initial program officially launched.

Gordon’s experience with online media traces back to his college days in the late 1970s at the University of Pennsylvania, where in addition to being a managing editor at the schools newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, he also took computer science courses. It was in those computer science courses, he says ironically, he received the worst grade in his college career.

Fortunately, in a time when desktop computers, or dumb terminals, were only used at newspapers to manage the workflow of an organization, Gordon says he was astute enough to see that, “whatever this computer thing was, it was going to be big.”

When he was appointed the first online director at The Miami Herald Online in 1995, he was tasked with the job to translate the printed version of the newspaper to an online audience, something that very few editors had done before him at that time.

“I thought I was being hired as an editor at a new publication when I took this job, and it really turned out I was being a publisher. I had the responsibility of both the editorial side and the business side,” says Gordon.

He hired the staff, designed the online layout, assigned editorials, and found himself hunting down advertising. During his last two months there, before taking the teaching job at Medill, Gordon is proud to say The Miami Herald Online experienced its first, but short-lived, profitable months.

But then came the dot-com bubble, when American Online, or AOL, and Time Warner signed that infamous $350 billion agreement. Jobs were loss, retirement accounts were emptied, and newspapers sifted relentlessly through executives, all in a chaotic response to the rapid extinction of profit in the news reporting industry. 

Gordon says he left the newspaper industry not out of foresight of its imminent doom, but out of a need to do something different. He says he felt there were things that journalism needed digitally that the free market was not providing.

In a report predicting the “Digital Life in 2025” published by The Pew Research Center in March 2014, 2,558 canvassed experts and technology builders foresaw a future with, “an ambient information environment where accessing the Internet will be effortless and most people will tap into it so easily it will flow through their lives ‘like electricity.’”

These experts agreed this would have a profound impact on a variety of things, especially business models established in the 20th century, including publishing. Newspapers needed an upgrade if they were going to stay relevant for consumers.

In December 2010, Gordon, along with Larry Birnbaum and Kristian Hammond of McCormick School of Engineering and Owen Youngman from Medill, took the scholarship program one step further and founded the Northwestern University Knight Lab, thanks to a $4.2 million grant to the university from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The Lab’s mission is simple: “to advance news media innovation and education.” It consists of a variety of technologists, journalists, designers and educators who together brainstorm ideas and develop tools aiming to help translate information in a more meaningful and interactive way on the Internet.

However, what started as a small school program in an overlooked room off a wing on the school’s engineering building has turned into a full-fledged, bustling lab in the school’s communications building with its digital tools utilized by publications around the world.

The Lab’s online site shares both new interactive web tools developed by the Knight Lab team as well as the latest in journalism technology news.  Its web-native tools listed in its free  “publishers toolbox” have been embedded hundreds of thousands of times on websites like RadioLab, VH1 and Al Jazeera America, according to the Lab’s website. It’s become a hub for both developers and journalists to come together and learn about the future of interactive web reporting, which Gordon hopes has built a respectable enough reputation as a leader in journalistic innovation to encourage future funding in the coming years as its initial grants come to a close.

Currently, the Lab consists of eight full time staff members, two fellows, and a handful of students. Ideas for online tools can originate from anywhere, anyone, and at anytime.

One of the drawbacks to this free flow of ideas is the Lab’s inability to do more detailed user research, says Gordon. Since its business model does not include a designated staff member to research every stage of the development process, it’s hard to “bottle a replicable process” for how the Lab can continue to develop successful journalism tools, like the Timeline JS tool from Emmy awarding winning interactive producer and associate professor at Medill, Zack Wise.

“The biggest problem for anyone with innovation as an end goal is finding something that people really need and being able to define it well enough to build it,” says Gordon.

With its future and reputation on the line, Gordon says he plans to work on doing more user research for future projects at the Lab.

Tech Overload by Robin Dienel

Accessing the news digitally has never been so easy, and so difficult.

The news is a wide-reaching, all-encompassing creature. It can lay upon a bedside table, pop up in the upper-right corner of a computer screen, project from a family room wall, or even materialize embedded on a lens in a pair of glasses. Due to an abundance of different devices and browsers clogging the digital world, developers are debating on how to exactly design the news for audiences today.

Designing Responsively

In the ageless rivalry of old vs. new, the battle between adaptive (old) or responsive (new) web design takes center stage.

Adaptive design uses multiple, individually designed sites specific to the browser and device the page is opened on, while responsive design adjusts a singular website’s size to the device it’s opened on.

Before 2011, developers were compressing websites from desktop to mobile versions, whereas now they are expanding websites from mobile to desktop, says Yuri Victor, senior user experience director at Vox Media, in an interview.

VOX, the newest editorial site founded by former Wonkblog editor at The Washington Post Ezra Klein, covers politics and news for Vox Media. It opened for online viewership on April 6, 2014, with a completely responsive design.

Spot responsive design:

  1. Open VOX in a desktop browser
  2. Minimize the window to be the width of an iPhone
  3. Watch the different boxes move vertically into one column
  4. Open VOX.com on a smartphone
  5. Notice it looks the same as the minimized version on the desktop
  6. That’s responsive design

“For news organizations, I don’t see the benefit in adaptive design,” said Victor, who works mostly with VOX's website. His latest work was designing a “Create Your Own Hyperviolent John Oliver Headline” generator for the website. )Yes, that’s a real thing.)

Victor went on to say it’s much easier to make a new site, like VOX, responsive, than it is to take a current site and convert it to a responsive design.

For example, the Washingtonian magazine's website uses an adaptive design. Melanie Bender, their senior director of digital products and adjunct professor at American University, says in an interview they use Google Analytics to determine which platform their viewers are accessing their website on in order to decide what to design for.

“We’re looking at data for how many of our users are using a desktop...how many are using a tablet or mobile device?” she says.  Once a product has less than half percent of their user base, Bender says they stop designing for that device since it takes time to individually develop and test each platform design.

SPOT adaptive design:

  1. Open washingtonian.com in a window on the desktop
  2. Minimize the window to be the width of an iPhone
  3. Notice the site is cut off after a certain point while you’re minimizing it
  4. Now open washingtonian.com on a smartphone
  5. Notice the site resized to fit within the width of the smartphone, but not the minimized browser on the desktop
  6. That’s adaptive design

Other news sites, like The Washington Post, have tackled this mobile internet boom by converting their articles to responsive design while leaving their homepage as is. This, in part, is a response to the growing number of people accessing articles through social media applications on their mobile devices.

A February 2014 study by The Nielson Company measured that U.S. adults spend an average of 34 hours per month accessing the internet on mobile devices. In addition, 86% of their smartphone internet time is captured by apps, like Twitter and Facebook.

“If you’ve targeted like an iPhone screen [with an adaptive design], or that size screen, and then somebody opens it in Facebook or Tweetbox, that size is going to change because they [Facebook and Tweetbox] automatically add padding and borders and headers and footers and then all of a sudden all this time you spent making something specific for a certain size no longer works at that size,” says Victor. “With responsive, it doesn’t care. The equation runs in the background, does what it needs, and everything should look fine.”

But what does this mean for testing these different designs?

Test! Test! Test?

In the “golden age” of web design testing, developers only had to test their designs on the five major browsers: Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Opera.

Today, a comprehensive test involves over 34 browsers and countless device combinations. The cost of owning all these devices is enormous, and the time it takes to test on these products is endless. But, there are alternatives.

DC Device Lab opened in northwest Washington, D.C., in 2013 and is currently the biggest open device lab on the east coast.

Mariesa Dale, founder of D.C. Device Lab and adjunct professor at George Mason University, was in the process of finishing a website project for Marriott in 2012 when she went searching for a few different devices to test the new site on.  She was advised by fellow D.C. developers to travel "way out" (about 38 miles south) to Sterling, Virginia, to the AOL Fishbowl Lab to pick up a box of devices.

“I thought, this [D.C.] is such a vibrant tech community, I can’t be the only developer who wants one of these,” says Dale in an interview.

She then took two months off work to build the lab in a small corner of Canvas, a co-working community she currently works out of in northwest D.C., with funds she received from the city, as well as monetary sponsorships and donated devices from local businesses. The lab now contains over 30 donated devices from Samsung and Microsoft that developers can use to test their designs on for a rental cost of $5 per hour.

But the news doesn't sleep!

Although this is a very cost-efficient way for developers at non-profits and start-ups to test their designs, the pace of the lab, which is only open during work hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., does not work well within the 24-hour news cycle. When deadlines are pressing, designs need to be tested. Quickly.

To do that, many news sites use virtual emulators, like BrowserStack. These are online programs developers can use to test their sites aesthetically at any moment of the day, which Bender says is more realistic for news sites.

When asked if news organizations would use something like D.C. Device Lab, Bender says, “I know the nature of the work and the late hours and insanity of finishing projects, so I think [we won't] because internet based emulators and services provide instantaneous feedback.”

Both web-testing strategies have their drawbacks for news sites. Virtual emulators inhibit developers from testing the tactile functions of their sites, like link buttons on touch screen phones, while device labs present the obstacle of time to a fast-paced news cycle.

“I think we’re 75% of the way there,” says Dale. “We need to solve the problem of, you know, having a physical lab but maybe in your own virtual space, so you don’t actually have to travel somewhere to get to it.”

Samsung is doing something similar to what Dale suggests. They’ve started a remote testing lab in San Francisco where developers can hook into real devices virtually through a browser, like a virtual emulator, which Dale considers “some piece of the puzzle” to the open device lab movement.