There’s a really persuasive post by Oliver Reichtenstein of iA doing the rounds right now called Sweep the Sleaze.
It might appear to be critical of Facebook at first, but I don’t think it’s critical of the deeper mission of social media - rather the opposite - to me it’s fighting for that real mission.
At the last FT hackday, one of the things my team and I were trying to achieve with what we called Shortest Path was to reduce the distance between the producers and consumers of news. We won the judges’ prize (just thought I’d drop that in there) and there’s a chance we might get more time to work on bringing it into the newsroom as a tool for the editorial team. The tool has promise, but it will only fix part of the problem - which is what I more less realised when I read Oliver’s post.
This is because most publishers, including the FT, restrict interactions from their sites and apps to Like and Tweet buttons, which I believe increase the distance between readers and writers and shouldn’t be encouraged. This is important because we showed, using Shortest Path, that discussions about news (in this case business and finance) are happening everywhere and it’s up to journalists themselves to jump in and interact - but first we need those discussions to happen more often!
Oliver’s opinion seems to be backed up by Smashing Magazine, who are quoted as saying: “We removed FB buttons and traffic from Facebook increased. Reason: instead of ‘liking’ articles, readers share it on their timeline.”
In the long run, we think that encouraging more active interaction is better for everyone - better for Facebook because it would result in a greater volume of more meaningful interactions than plain ‘Likes’, better for Facebook users because they have those meaningful interactions and better for the FT because people have more and deeper discussions about our coverage, increasing our exposure and just generally encouraging comment, feedback and debate, which is always good.
In conclusion, what we’d really like (my team and I, not necessarily the FT) is for the editorial team to engage more actively on social media. The first step would be, as the article points out, to discourage passive ‘Liking’ and encourage the more active kind of posting that people would do otherwise. The second step would be to show journalists where these discussions are happening (using our tool) and lead them to participate.