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March 26, 2018, 10 p.m.
Audience & Social

Public broadcasters across Europe feel some tensions between their public service mandate and the necessity of distributing stories on and for dominant platforms like Facebook to reach new and wider audiences.

A Reuters Institute report released on Tuesday takes an in-depth look at social media team makeup and platform publishing strategies of public media organizations in Finland, France, Germany, Italy, and Poland, with a focus on Facebook, Instagram (owned by Facebook), and Twitter.

“In an ideal world, we would be present on all platforms to a similar extent. But due to limited resources, we need to prioritize where we want to be. And this prioritizing, of course, is influenced by [the balance of our own and the platform’s interests],” Christiane Krogmann, editor-in-chief of Germany’s Tagesschau.de, told the report’s authors, highlighting the difficulty of figuring out where to devote resources while keeping pace with the moving target of Facebook product launches and developments.

“For example, when Facebook starts to promote more long form videos on its own platform in order to sell more advertising, then we have to consider whether we can play our videos on Facebook, and to what extent, since we have to take care of our own platform,” said Timo Kämäräinen, the executive online producer for news and current affairs of Finnish broadcaster Yle.

“We used this feature a lot and it worked very well,” Thibaud Vuitton, editor-in-chief of Franceinfo.fr and France Télévisions, said of Facebook’s native video and article carousel feature. “Overnight it was cut off by Facebook.” (Franceinfo.fr and France Télévisions subsequently reduced — but didn’t totally stop — publishing native videos to Facebook.)

What engagement metrics to look at, and to what extent platform-provided metrics should inform content posting strategy, are often top of mind as well.

“We’re reliant on the social companies themselves for that data, and it’s been not entirely reliable,” Mark Frankel, BBC News social media editor, told the researchers. “There have been a number of instances where they have over-reported or under-reported things, where the data sets have been revised or incomplete. We are only getting data from Facebook, for example, related to video in that instance. The data that we get around non-video content is still very limited, although we’re working on that.”

“We are a public service news media, so there is sometimes important news that we publish even if we know that it’s not what will necessarily work best [in terms of reach or engagement],” Vuitton said. The site though, looks at a tailored set of criteria for stories when deciding what to post during “peak times”:

Often, the teams working on shaping their outlets’ social presence are a tiny proportion of the full newsroom. Italy’s Rai News, for instance, has one social media editor. The BBC, meanwhile, has seven general social media editors, editors for topic-level pages, teams in Singapore and Washington, D.C. to manage overnights, and more than a dozen reporters focused on user-generated content:

The full report, which relies on 14 interviews with senior editors and newsroom or social media managers conducted in November 2017 and January 2018, is available here.

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