Journalism Tips: Lessons And Concerns From A Month Without A Facebook Page

A little over a month ago my website lost its Facebook page after seven years of uninterrupted, yet slowly dissolving free exposure on the world’s largest social networking platform. I wrote about the incident on this very blog roughly six weeks back. Many of you reached out with words of support, and I want you to know those emails and tweets brought a smile to my face. Others reached out with suggestions for potential resurrection, but after many unreturned emails and calls I was ultimately forced to launch a new page instead. Goodbye 7 years of content-sharing and audience insight. Goodbye 10,000+ Likes.

I wish so badly that I could tell you that a month without the increasingly limited free exposure offered through Facebook pages to people who have already requested to see the things we post didn’t impact our traffic, but that would be a lie. Facebook may have lowered the per post exposure for all pages year over year since Pages launched, but it remains a vital platform for content exposure. We can complain about the changes the company has made to its UI and policies, and we often should, but as long as Facebook has a stranglehold over the vast majority of social media users it’s going to be a place every brand worth its weight in salt needs to be. This is undeniably true if your brand only exists online. The enormity of the battle for clicks is literally impossible to grasp, and it is essentially impossible to build any kind of following or recognition without direct connection to people on a user-to-user basis through apps and platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, etc.

Within the first week of my site being removed from Facebook I noticed a 40% slide in our traffic and I 60% decline in our shares. I’ve put a lot of work into our SEO over the last few years, so we were able to stay afloat with a steady flow of timely articles and features, but try as we might to leverage our other social media platforms there were none that could come close to the kind of clicks we had received from our presence on FB. Twitter was the best of the bunch, with Tumblr not far behind, but their numbers were only a fraction of what we would typically see from our Facebook engagements.

By the end of the month, those traffic stats had declined further to 45% lower than the month-to-month site average for 2015. The site was tanking, and to make matters worse it often felt like no one could hear our cries for help because again – we had no presence in the place where everyone talks about things. Staff shared their posts on their own networks, but no one wants to post a link to every story they write every day in their personal feeds, and more importantly no one reading those feeds cared for the sudden rise in entertainment news coming from a non-brand oriented channel. Hopes sank. Posts slowed. Things looked dim.

After much deliberation, a new page was created on Facebook. It felt weird walking through the process all over again, but I knew it was a necessary step to reclaiming the traffic and reach we once had. The response was overwhelming. As soon as the page was live, I wrote a quick update alerting people to the removal of our old page, and within minutes the Likes began flowing in. By the end of the first night we had over 700 Likes in total. It was a far cry from the 10K we had known a month before, but the fact anyone still gave a crap was enough to humble me a hundred times over.

If I learned anything from all of this it’s that Facebook, good or bad, is still a dominant force in content sharing. Whether you like to admit it or not, your wittiest blog post is only as good as the amount of people it can be exposed to, and right now there are few platforms making it easier to share content with targeted audiences than Facebook. I also learned that true followers and friends do exist. They number far fewer than your analytics may lead you to believe, but they do indeed exist. They are rooting for you. They depend on you. They are fighting the good fight right alongside you.

A question I often ask students and conferences when speaking on the road is whether or not anyone can name a music blog they organically visit every day. More often than not there are a handful of hands in the air, and if time permits I will ask those individuals to promote the sites they frequent, but the vast majority of people I’ve encountered on my journeys claim to love music sites far more than they directly support them. People, and I mean that in a very general sense, find their news through social media. They learn through the brands they follow and the friends whose timelines have yet to be hidden. If you want to reach new readers, or in some cases any readers at all, you need to have a presence on social media. It’s that simple.

What worries me, and I guess what inspired me to write this update in the first place, is the thought that we may no longer be able to develop news and opinion brands without the help of social media. The sharing capabilities provided by these platforms make them a necessary tool for promotion, yes, but have we crossed a threshold where people no longer commit the vast majority of URLs to memory? I think of the days and nights I spent reading copies of Alternative Press and Rolling Stone over and over again in my bedroom. I cherished those moments. I didn’t want to read just any magazine. I wanted to read the magazines that spoke to me and I supported them to make that happen. I want someone to be as excited about the writing my team and I are creating as I was reading physical publications all those years ago, but I don’t know that such a thing is possible. It’s not the end of the world if it’s not, but it would break my heart.

James Shotwell is the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also a professional entertainment critic, covering both film and music, as well as the co-founder of Antique Records. Feel free to tell him you love or hate the article above by connecting with him on Twitter. Bonus points if you introduce yourself by sharing your favorite Simpsons character.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.