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ABC-Facebook deal: Another election-time marketing deal

ABC News is teaming up with Facebook to bring some social networking into campaign coverage, The Times reports. [The partnership] allows Facebook members to electronically follow ABC reporters, view reports and video and participate in polls and debates, all within a new “U.

ABC News is teaming up with Facebook to bring some social networking into campaign coverage, The Times reports.

[The partnership] allows Facebook members to electronically follow ABC reporters, view reports and video and participate in polls and debates, all within a new “U.S. Politics” category.

And the deal is meant to be "deeper" than other media exercises with social networking, the companies said. “There are debates going on at all times within Facebook,” David Westin, the president of ABC News and a new Facebook member, said. “This allows us to participate in those debates, both by providing information and by learning from the users.”

So is this going to amount to anything different? Or is this just one of those content partnerships for which ex-chief Yahoo Terry Semel was so famous?

At Cnet, Caroline McCarthy says ABC is "late to the game here." In addition, she says, access to 56 million youngster Facebookers is not exactly a perfect fit with a broadcast news network.

Facebook might have 56 million users, many of whom are gleefully hooked on the site, but when some of the most popular pastimes include turning your friends into virtual zombies and rallying around a gag presidential candidate, a news organization might be slightly skeptical about just how much attention it'll snag. (Hey, Facebook addicts: When was the last time you actually watched ABC News?)

Indeed the addition of ABC-Facebook debates three days before the NH primary smells like a yawn-inducing marketing deal. Consider, for instance, this clarification from Facebook, reported by TechCrunch:

The exact tie-in details to the televised debate are in development, but this will not be a case where there will be direct questions from users like you’ve seen in other debates. It’s more about having an ongoing, online companion to a real-world debate. Facebook users will be participating in debate groups on the site through the U.S. Politics application before, after and during the televised debate. The most popular issues will be surfaced for the televised debate.

TechCrunch's Erick Schoenfeld says "ABC News would be smart to use Facebook to develop a consensus around which issues are most important to people, and to sharpen those questions before they are submitted to the candidates." He goes on that the CNN/YouTube debates were a disappointment because CNN didn't pick the best questions.

But this raises an interesting question: was it the questions or the format? I would posit that it's virtually impossible to come up a single question that is going to nail a candidate to the wall or brilliantly elucidate the debate. Where the professional media has disappointed in these debates is not in asking good initial questions but in failing to follow-up, failing to not take squirrelly evasions for answers.

Ultimately, I don't think Facebookers will provide better questions. I see no evidence that the mass of Internet users are more thoughtful or insightful than journalists. Just the opposite. But it does serve as a sort of polling center; reporters can watch concerns bubble up and catch fire. They can see how people respond to campaign ads and on-the-stump accusations. And if ABC is streaming a lot more political content Facebookers' way than they would see otherwise that's probably a good thing.

But as I said, this has a pungent odor of marketing about it, and Facebook marketing has given us things like Facebook Beacon, which analyst Greg Sterling described this way: "Facebook is using its community for the benefit of its advertisers. They're saying to users, 'We're going to use you to promote other people to advertisers. And the burden is on you to say no to that,'"