News for Digital Journalists

September 28, 2011

Sept. 30: Facebook disables “update fans” feature from fan pages

Increasingly news organizations (and their staffers or project teams) have been using Facebook fan pages to engage their communities around their news brand, special events, and more. But one key feature that made fan pages especially useful for outreach will quietly disappear later this week.

If you rely on “update fans,” here’s what you should do today to prepare…

People who run Facebook fan pages have long used the “update fans” feature to send messages to everyone who has “liked” their fan page. This made ongoing engagement much easier in the cluttered Facebook environment—fans of a page were far more likely to notice a personal message (which gets a special notification) than an item appearing in their news feed. (Facebook users never see the vast majority of items in their news feed).

Since this social media communication channel is opt-in (people have to like your page before you could send them messages this way), it worked well—as long as fan page owners didn’t abuse it by sending out too many messages. From the many Facebook fan pages I’ve liked, I’ve received messages mainly dealing with special announcements, such as upcoming gigs of a favorite band, meetups and special event announcements, and urgent news or calls to action.

But Inside Facebook reports that earlier this month Facebook began notifying fan page administrators that the “update fans” feature will be disabled on Sept. 30. So if you’ve been using this feature to transmit alerts, invitations, and notifications, that option is about to vanish.

Facebook’s Help Center entry about the feature removal offered no explanation for the change, but suggested these alternate outreach options:

  • “Post content on your page Wall so people see your updates in their news feed. You can target your posts by location or language.”
  • “Consider using targeted Facebook Ads or Sponsored Stories to help grow and highlight your message within the Facebook experience.”

In terms of maintaining engagement, these options are poor substitutes since they’re unlikely to easily get the attention of your page’s fans.

What to do today if you manage a Facebook fan page and have been using the updates function for outreach: Set up an alternate outreach method not controlled by Facebook (such as an e-mail broadcast list) and before Sept. 30 send your fans a final update to warn them that Facebook is shutting down that communication channel. Ask them to subscribe to the new service if they want to continue getting your updates related to the fan page.

While most fans of your page won’t do this, some will—and that’s better than completely losing a way to contact them en masse directly.

Related post: The power behind the changes at Facebook, and what it means for news publishers (Robert Niles, OJR)

(Hat tip to Ned Berke, publisher of the hyperlocal site Sheepshead Bites.)

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.


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