In platform collapse, an opportunity for community

We’ve been here before, but now the major social platforms are collapsing at once.

Meta threatened to remove news from Facebook altogether and made business decisions to deprioritize news throughout the year. Twitter is making rapid changes under Elon Musk’s leadership that will affect how creators and publishers reach their audiences on the platform.

We were here not long ago, pivoting from Facebook Live to news video to every form of vertical video until we fell over. We worked with Snapchat news, we put our swipeable stories on Google search and Instagram, we translated our visual stories on every platform. We experimented with Vine and six-second videos, long-form documentaries, and all the other new things that we were paid to try for the next six to twelve months.

After a decade working with platforms, negotiating user experience features and product requirements and accepting their short-term payments to keep up editorial production, I’ve learned that at best, tech platforms’ business objectives will occasionally — sometimes coincidentally — overlap with news goals. There are many earnest, smart, well-meaning journalists working for platforms and fighting the good fight to make product and revenue updates on our behalf. But we can’t change the tides of tech platform leadership deciding if and when news and reported information isn’t necessary to engage users anymore — as we saw with Facebook.

Because this has happened before, we know how to deal with it. If we remember hard-won lessons in the great social pivots past, this is an opportunity to redefine how you reach not only your audience, but how to serve your community — the people who need to know the information your newsroom is covering — as part of a functioning democracy.

As we enter a new year, it’s worth taking the time to plan on building a more resilient audience strategy and withstand external changes like the social pivots we’ve grown to expect. Integrate your audience team and best practices into your reporting and attempt to listen to your readers, listeners, and viewers on how relevant and useful your coverage is to them, and how they want to continue staying connected if not on these platforms.

Recognizing the need to listen and adapt to what their communities want covered, Honolulu Civil Beat invited readers to connect in person over pop up newsrooms in public libraries across Hawaii in order to invite more transparency and learn about what people want them to cover. Ahead of the Georgia runoff election, The Courier Eco Latino and Davis Broadcasting hosted ten remote events interviewing voters at barber shops and beauty salons and an event at the Columbus Library across from the only precinct open for early voting, which drove the largest number of ballots cast in Muskogee County history. Mvskoke Media adopted an editorial strategy that prioritizes “a forecasted approach” on what its Indigenous community needs to know, rather than breaking news.

Mastodon and Post.news are interesting experiments that we can expect to also depart from news (or data privacy) objectives in the future for their own business needs. These are worth experimenting on to see how you can engage with your communities and generate revenue in novel ways. But in the long term, what ways can you connect with your community in active ways with your coverage? Have you asked your top readers how they feel about Twitter and Facebook and if they plan to stay, or only your colleagues in journalism?

A worthwhile gauge to do every so often is to see how many stories might step on each other’s traffic on social, with some succeeding and some never read. Is all of that coverage useful and necessary for your community? Are your reporters and editors incentivized to push forward your journalistic mission through their everyday work, or are they just feeding the beast? How can we prioritize and go for the goal of covering news and distributing information that is useful to the people in our areas and provides a window for others to see what’s happening in our corner of the world? Step back from the social chaos and see what opportunities you have to do better work for the people who need to stay informed around you.

Elite Truong is vice president of product strategy at the American Press Institute.

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