News Leadership 3.0

April 06, 2009

Facebook: Engaging young people in news

Two experiments look at ways to engage young people with news (and potentially with advertisers!)

Is Facebook a potential missing link between young people and news consumption?

With a third of young people saying they get no news on a given day, two just-launched experiments are putting their content on a new Facebook application and using an “Action Team” model to engage young users.

One Facebook test is by, the online arm of the student newspaper at the University of Minnesota. The other test, called Hot Dish, is from the environmental news site Grist. Both are powered by an application developed by NewsCloud. The experiments, which will last two months, are funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. (Disclosure: I do consulting for Knight on unrelated projects.)

At The Daily on Facebook,  users can get campus-related stories from The Minnesota Daily and other sources. In additon, they can sign up to participate in the Daily Action Team, which gives them points for certain online and offline challenges, such as posting stories, sharing them with friends or participating in certain campus events. Users are then eligible to redeem the points for prizes.

Vadim Lavrusik, editor in chief and co-publisher, explains:

“Not only can you get your news on this application, but can also win prizes and feel connected and engaged in a campus that often feels too big. It doesn’t have to be.

“The application features Daily stories along with other campus-related stories, and readers can sign up to participate in the Daily Action Team, which gives users points for certain online and offline challenges, such as posting stories, sharing them with friends or participating in certain campus events.

“Users are then eligible to redeem the points for prizes, such as “I Get it Daily” T-shirts or Twins tickets.”

Here’s the idea for a business model, according to the Daily:

“But there is also a potential business model for news organizations that are struggling to make money on the Web. News organizations could use the incentive-based model to make revenue by working with businesses to post challenges for users that they would gain points toward prizes.

“The challenges could be specific to businesses, such as receiving points for visiting a business’ Website or going to a restaurant’s happy hour, which gives advertisers direct results and rewards users for their actions. It is similar to promotions that newspapers have done through their print product, allowing readers to get coupons or participate in other giveaways, but this now puts it on the Web.”

Lavrusik said the staff was preparing to approach advertisers late last week after 1,200 users had joined the Facebook application. “Since it has grown so quickly, we now have something to offer advertisers. We will be using tradition display advertising as well as incorporating commercial-type challenges that we sell to clients.”

Similarly, the Hot Dish site invites users to get points by contributing and sharing stories or taking actions that promote environmental quality. Prizes include art, electronics and even a trip to the Arctic.

I am also excited to see how to directly apply news to community engagement and advocacy,” NewsCloud founder Jeff Reifman said in an e-mail. “The action team challenges that Hot Dish members are performing are incredibly exciting. You can see examples of completed challenges with member captions and photos in the We Did This section of challenge pages. e.g. Take an online action, Bring your own bag, Green your drink. Three members have scored between 6-8,000 points.”

Reifman NewsCloud, says prizes may not be critical to getting people to participate. “We don’t think it’s necessary to provide prizes as incentives. For many communities, being seen as an active online member is enough recognition. However, for the purpose of building a large community quickly for this research, we decided to test the use of incentives for this project.”

University of Minnesota researcher Christine Greenhow will use the data provided by application users in April and May to investigate how online social networks can engage young people in world events, build online community and generate real world impact. The study, with an anticipated publication date of fall 2009, seeks to discover which strategies work best to engage 16 to 25 year-olds in current events and how the Internet can be used to educate, inform and connect students in new and powerful ways, according to the Knight Foundation press release.

Reifman’s NewsCloud startup, based in Seattle, also is working with students at the University of Washington during spring term to put their newspaper on Facebook and will release the open source code for the Facebook application in May. I’ll post more about NewsCloud’s plans later this week.



That’s an interesting study, but there were counterparts to Facebook long before such as Orkut, but I doubt that they had the same role as to update the young with the news. So what is the specific feature on Facebook that makes it informative?!

Farhood Azarsina

While this is interesting, there’s another issue at hand here. The question is: Do we really _need_ to stay constantly updated with the news? Sure, some news are important for everyone, but in todays society we’re constantly bombarded with news of varying importance. I think we need to become more selective. -John from best food processor

A very good experiment though. The youth today are not aware of current events and this study might be helpful. But as days go by, there is always a big possibility that they may be bored or will be less interested again and may see it as less important just like the other applications. -Mike Dillard Review

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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