Millions of Facebook users embrace the Open Graph for news

In the last 10 weeks since the company's 2011 f8 developer conference, Facebook users have shared more articles thanks to publication integration. News social apps have also seen solid growth.
Written by Emil Protalinski, Contributor

Facebook has always helped its users spread and discover news via their friends. Three months ago though, at its 2011 f8 developer conference, the company announced an update to its Facebook Platform that allows publishers to build a new kind of experience for reading news. The social network also introduced new settings so people can control the experience: whether you want to install a social news app, who can see your activity with it, and the ability to change your settings at any time.

Facebook doesn't want to build its own products for music, video, news, gaming, and so on. Instead, the company wants to enable its users to share with each other the content they are consuming from the various third-party websites and services that serve it up. Facebook announced 17 launch partners at the event (hundreds more are working on building more social apps with the Open Graph) instead of its own solutions to compete with them.

Facebook would not say how many articles have been shared using the Open Graph news apps in the last 10 weeks since f8, unlike for music apps (1.5 billion listening activities on Facebook in six weeks). It's possible the results aren't that great, or maybe Facebook is waiting for the updates to start appearing in the upcoming Timeline revamp, and not just the Ticker, before sharing numbers.

Either way, Facebook has shared some individual results for the following media partners:

  • Yahoo News: Built a deep Open Graph integration into its site. More than 10 million people have chosen to turn on the new social news experience to share and discover news from friends. Yahoo News has seen a 600 percent increase in traffic coming from Facebook, and people who connect to Facebook on Yahoo read more articles than the average user.
  • The Independent: More than 1 million monthly active users are connecting their Facebook accounts to the new social news experience. The integration has bumped up older articles that have gone viral through social distribution. The organization found that many of the "most shared" and "most viewed" stories on the site have been from the late 1990s, a result of the increased social virality.
  • The Guardian: Built an app for Facebook.com and has been installed by nearly 4 million people, generating, on average, almost 1 million extra page impressions every day. Additionally, over half of the app's users are 24 and under, "traditionally a very hard-to-reach demographic for news organizations," said Andrew Miller, chief executive officer of Guardian Media Group.
  • Washington Post: Built the Social Reader app for Facebook as a companion for its website that has drawn more than 3.5 million monthly active users so far. The Social Reader continues to grow, especially among international audiences and younger readers, with 83 percent of readers under 35 years old.

Once again, growth like this isn't too big of a surprise: many know the advantages of leveraging Facebook with its 800 million active users. Still, I'm sure Facebook and its partners are happy, although both will undoubtedly be looking to see whether or not the numbers continue to rise.

The fifth partner for the initial Open Graph news push was The Daily, but Facebook did not share data for this publisher. Instead, it announced that the The Huffington Post has decided to become the latest partner with the launch of its new Open Graph-enabled app on Facebook.

Instead of talking about some of the major problems with social news apps, Facebook shared its best practices for them:

  • Show recommendations to increase engagement. Keep people engaged by prominently showing friends' recently activity on your main pages and pages with high exit rates. When no social content is available, surface personalized recommendations based on users' interests on Facebook and clearly explain why you're showing each recommendation.
  • Create compelling objects. Maximize the click through rates of your stories by specifying Open Graph tags for all your articles and including compelling images, titles, and descriptions. Avoid misleading images or titles to prevent your app from being marked as spam, which will negatively impact your app's distribution in the News Feed.
  • Leverage your existing user base. If you have an existing site, be sure to make connecting a prominent option for existing users. And if people are already sharing your content on Facebook, consider sending referral traffic from Facebook into a flow that makes it easy for people to have a social experience on your site.
  • Make the benefits of sharing clear. Open Graph apps are designed for people that want to share. In your app, you should clearly explain how your app works and the benefits of adding your app to their Timeline. Choose an approach that makes the most sense for your users, whether that's an informative dialog, in-line marketing messaging, house ad inventory, and/or a learn more page.
  • Keep users in control. People are more active when they are in control. In addition to the privacy controls on Facebook, the company encourages you to build controls into your app that fit how people use your app.

"Media companies have long been early adopters of Facebook Platform tools, including the Like button, Facebook Login, Comments Box, and most recently, the Open Graph, to drive traffic to their sites, engage readers and attract new audiences," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. "The early results from social news partners are encouraging, once again showing that news sites that focus on building social and personalized news experiences will see the most dramatic increases in traffic and engagement."

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