Earlier this year, Pew Research released a report which showed that the percentage of Twitter users who follow breaking news on the platform is twice as high as those who do the same on Facebook. The finding underlined that Twitter is the place for breaking news coverage, the platform social media users turn to for updates on developing stories and issues. Twitter's real-time, fast paced news stream makes it the perfect medium for users to get quick updates as events unfold, and a large part of that, of course, is Twitter's openness, the fact that (almost) everything published via tweet is made public and accessible to all. If you want to add your thoughts to a trending news story, Twitter's where you go to do it.
But Facebook wants to make itself a bigger part of that process. In recent months, Facebook has introduced a range of tools and additions to better position itself as the place to be for journalists and news makers - and by extension, news consumers. There was the introduction of 'Instant Articles', which encourages journalists to post content direct to Facebook by providing better publishing tools to improve the reading experience. Then Facebook updated their algorithm to factor in time spent reading, which, of course, benefits longer form content, giving journalists more incentive to post inside Facebook. More recently, Facebook opened up access to their new live-streaming tool to journalists, urging them to post breaking news and content direct to Facebook, and Facebook's 1.49 billion users.
Clearly, Facebook is very keen to have more journalists posting more news content on the site - more exclusive material means more content for users to read, which means users stay on-platform for longer. In line with this, Facebook has launched a new tool for journalists to help them discover trending content and information on the stories and issues resonating with the Facebook audience. And given Facebook is now the leading source of referral traffic for a great many sites, reaching that audience is increasingly critical.
Called 'Signal', Facebook's new tool is a dashboard which journalists can use to discover relevant content from across the Facebook network.
From the official announcement:
"Journalists interested in seeing what conversations are resonating on Facebook can monitor which topics are trending and then quickly display related content that has been shared publicly-unranked and in chronological order- from both people and Pages for deeper context on those trends."
This type of search functionality has traditionally been difficult to navigate on Facebook - while you can use the 'Trending Content' tab to find out what's being posted about current topics on the platform, what's displayed via Trending Content is specific to you, based on your historic actions and preferences. Signal's listings provide a more general, unfiltered perspective on what's popular, enabling users to find wider insights and trends.
As you can see in the image above, the Signal's main dashboard is, essentially, a bigger version of the Trending Topics page, with the option to take a deeper look at the issues generating the most conversation on the platform and a separate tab to look at stories which are 'emerging', based on mention velocity. In left sidebar, you can see a range of options including 'Leaderboards', search and display publishing tools. Each of these elements (aside from publishing) helps users narrow their content listings to more specific, targeted topics and data, enabling more refined topic search to locate the most relevant material.
Finding the Signal
Where Signal sets itself apart is in these deeper search options, in adding new capabilities to help users find more specific information about the most resonant content across the Facebook eco-sphere. For instance, in 'Leaderboards', users are able to access lists of public figures ranked by who's being mentioned most across the platform in real-time.
The leaderboards listings can be filtered by various entity options, including actors, authors, influencers and journalists, providing solid oversight on who's being most discussed and the percentage of the conversation they currently hold. While many of these will be obvious - Kanye West, for example, would have held a big percentage of the Facebook conversation when he recently announced his plans to run for President - but the most important part of this data is it's Facebook-specific. These are the entities and topics driving conversation on the largest social media network in the world - insight like this can be extremely valuable when used in a targeted way.
And it's worth noting that while the focus of Signal is journalists right now, at some stage this is likely to change - as per the wording of the official release:
"This is a first step in helping journalists use Facebook and Instagram more effectively and we'll gather feedback and iterate to make Signal as useful as possible for industry professionals."
Given the utility of being able to search for trending content and people of influence, there's no doubt significant value in the tool for marketers and advertisers-alike, and that access will hopefully come in time.
In the Post
Another key element of Signal is a new search functionality, with separate search streams for both Facebook and Instagram and the ability to search for posts from different source categories - for example 'Public Figures - Musicians'.
"Using location-tag and topic-related search functionality, journalists can search Instagram for public posts related to specific hashtags, associated with specific public accounts, or tagged with locations using an interactive global map."
These tools will help uncover more targeted and refined content, which journalists will then be able to use as reference material for their work. The use of location tags is particularly interesting - in a journalistic sense, this will enable creators to find relevant content around news events and add that to their posts for context, quickly and easily. In a marketing sense (if/when Signal is opened to more users), it could give marketers and advertisers the ability to look at how other businesses and individuals are discussing specific events and what's resonating, helping to create better content.
Signal will also provide demographic data for specific topics, which will likely provide similar insights to the monthly Facebook 'Hot Topics' reports.
Overall, Signal seems like a pretty good package, and any further access to Facebook's data is always beneficial. As noted, Signal is currently only available to journalists (who can apply for access here), but the indications are that this will be rolled out wider at some stage, which will provide further context and insight for marketers and advertisers.
Will it get more journalists posting exclusive content to Facebook? It's hard to say. Definitely, Facebook holds a massive draw in the form of unmatched audience reach - and logically, all journalists and news outlets want to reach more people. Making it easier for journalists to do so, through an increasing range of publishing and research tools, is a good way for Facebook to ingratiate itself with that sector. The true proof, however, will be in the utility of the platform and the access it provides - if the insights are solid and lead to great, fast results, it's not hard to imagine Signal quickly becoming a critical piece of the journalistic research process.