The benefits of volunteering your PR skills through the Media Trust

Earlier this month, Third Sector wrote a piece about how the double whammy of diminished resources and increased demand for their services means that times are tough right now for small charities.

Few grassroots charities can afford to recruit a PR or marketing professional to shout about the great work they’re doing, and this can lead to fewer people accessing their services and less money in donations. So that’s a vicious cycle and a double whammy.

Media Trust is a UK charity that ‘matches creative professionals from every kind of media with charities that need their skills and experience’. All you need in order to get involved is around two years professional experience and to want to do it.

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I watched the brilliant Ken Loach film ‘I Daniel Blake’ (funny, tragic and hugely political, it won the 2016 Palme d’Or) a week or so after registering with the Media Trust and immediately offered to support a charity called Inspire Middleton who wanted help in developing a PR strategy.

Inspire Middleton is a local community charity that runs a food bank and also supports local people who need support with things like digital skills, careers advice, health and wellbeing support, community engagement and much more. A lot like the charity in I Daniel Blake.

Over the next couple of months I did plenty of reading around the issues, and put together a strategy based around story ideas and relationship building, to help them increase awareness of their service among local people who need support and others who might donate and volunteer. I got a brilliant response from them and we plan to touch base in a few weeks to discuss how they will implement it

Working with a charity through Media Trust was an interesting and rewarding experience and I’d recommend it to anyone. If you’re an in-house PR professional, like me, it’s great to get the opportunity to see things from a different angle by working with a different sort of organisation. It’s a bit like when footballers go out on loan. You learn a lot and then you bring it back to your day job.

The added bonus is that you get 20 points towards your CIPR CPD too!

To find out more about Media Trust visit their website.

Have you volunteered through Media Trust? Would you like to? Feel free to get in touch if you’d like more information.

9 things I learned at the Google & MediaCom digital marketing event in Manchester

On Thursday I took a trip with colleagues to the all-mod-cons MediaCom offices in Manchester for a special client-only event featuring a number of sessions led by experts at Google and MediaCom.

Kicking off the day I had some fantastic treacle drenched waffles for breakfast, fish, chips and halloumi for lunch and, peppered throughout the event, a big bag of pick ’n’ mix. It was wonderful. In between all of this, I learnt some things about digital marketing.

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The MediaCom offices awaiting the arrival of the day’s guests. Image by @kboneva.

1. Google knows loads about us as consumers
Through its huge portfolio of products, Google is able to piece together quite a detailed picture of who we are, where we live and what we are interested in. You can find out what they know about you here.

2. Data can be used to automatically select relevant adverts for individualsTHEY
If the aim of marketing is to reach a consumer with a message that will strike a chord with them at that particular moment, then programmatic marketing techniques make success far more likely. This technology picks up on signals such as recent searches, check-ins and location settings and serves consumers adverts that it thinks, statistically speaking, they will be most interested in at that time. Clever huh?

3. Consumers prefer adverts that are relevant to them
While it can seem a bit creepy that the brown brogues you found on Urban Outfitters are now following you around the Internet, research shows that more than half of consumers see personal relevance as the key reason why they would engage with an advert. Having a strong data foundation enables brands to more effectively target people with the right adverts.

4. Technology cannot replace great ideas
While it’s easy to get carried away by fancy technology, it’s important to remember that with consumers being hit by an estimated 5,000 marketing messages each day it’s harder than ever to ensure that your message is one that resonates. Getting the idea right will always have more impact than choosing the right channels. Start with the creative. The amazing Always campaign #likeagirl illustrates that perfectly. And 54 million views don’t lie.

5. There is a recipe for creative meetingsTHEY
To be effective, creative meetings should: take place in the morning, enable physical space, have a leader, have a relatively small number of people present and be between people who are comfortable to speak openly with each other. Using the sieve method, the first half of the meeting should value quantity of ideas over quality, with greater focus given to the better ideas in the second stage of the meeting. The flow method is all about killing off your inner critic and letting your ideas flow like insults in a rap battle.

6. Brands need to be ‘mobile first’
It appears that lots of brands are misinterpreting their data and assuming that because most of their sales still occur in-store and those that are online tend to be through desktop, their mobile site is not that important. However, figures show that while people may buy less often through mobile than through other means, their smartphone is now the device they use to surf, read, research and, ultimately, decide whether to buy that product.

7. Video will soon account for more than half of the Internet
The Economist estimates that by 2018, 60% of web traffic will be accounted for by video. Marketers need to make video a focus now.

8. Brands must use analytics to their full potential
Through Google Analytics, brands can now build a more detailed picture of their customers’ (increasingly complex) journey to purchase. So rather than looking only at final click attribution (which interaction led to the final sale), brands can now build a much richer picture of which communication led to their first interaction with a new customer and which other activities assisted in the conversion. These learnings can help brands to tailor communications accordingly and help them take a big picture view when deciding which areas to invest in.

9. In a way, nothing has changed
We can’t deny that there have been huge technological advances in recent years and, as one expert said, digital marketing is now data driven and technology fuelled. However, the one constant message coming through from Google and MediaCom throughout this event was that good marketing is still about getting the right message to the right person at the right time in the right place. Digital just makes that process a little easier.

‘Best Healthcare Campaign’ at the CIPR PRide Midlands Awards

I’m really pleased to announce that a research-based campaign I led at Slimming World received the Gold award for ‘Best Healthcare Campaign’ at the CIPR PRide Awards for the Midlands on Friday (14 November).

The ‘What’s Your Tipping Point?’ campaign was designed to encourage people to be mindful of how drinking alcohol past a certain ‘tipping point’ can lead to us drinking more than intended, making more unhealthy food choices and cancelling physical activity plans. I think the full English breakfast and lack of a Park Run on Saturday confirm that there is at least some truth in our findings.

The event took place at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena on Friday night, which had just been purchased by the Rugby team ‘Wasps’ (an announcement was published by The Guardian at about the same time as we arrived at the venue). Yet while we definitely detected a buzz in the room, for the 300 attendees, tonight was all about the CIPR PRide Awards.

This was the first CIPR event I had attended but having learnt so much from their Diploma course I already had a pretty good impression of them. After watching these two dudes do football tricks on stage that positive impression was set in stone.

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It was a well-presented event with an air of professionalism that matched the CIPR’s reputation. There was an interesting video about the CIPR council, a three-course dinner and, for once, free wifi! Could it get any better?

Our shortlisted ‘What’s Your Tipping point?’ campaign was released back in April and we had been delighted with the results achieved. Our report generated more than 150 news articles, led to more than 70,000 people taking an online quiz to find out how alcohol might be affecting their weight and kick-started ongoing discussion among politicians and health experts about the benefits of adding calorie counts to alcohol labels. A campaign evaluation showed that 29% of the UK population heard about the report in the 2-weeks after the launch and, of those, 23% reported drinking less as a result. So it was a strong campaign, but we still didn’t expect to win.

There seemed to be a gap of X Factor proportions between announcing the nominees and revealing the winner, but fortunately our campaign struck all the right notes with the judges (ba-dum-ch!) and we were announced as the Gold winners. The CIPR commented:

“Strong objectives with defined measurability, this was a campaign talking about something people often deflect from engaging with – drinking too much. The team used research well to understand the audience and how best to reach them – through creative and equally main stream channels. Excellent results showed true behavioural change and impact on people’s health.”

The CIPR PRide awards recognise excellence in public relations and communications work, so it’s a real honour to win one of their awards. Having also been named ‘In-house PR Team of the year’ for the Midlands at the PRCA DARE awards in April, it’s been a pretty good year! Here we are on-stage collecting our award.

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Slimming World’s PR team collecting our award from CIPR Midlands chairman Lisa Jones (far left) and Sky News presenters Tom Parmenter (second from left) and Lisa Dowd (far right). From left to right in-between, Slimming World PR and Public Affairs team members Megan, Jenny, me, Amy, Nicala and Sarah.

So there you have it, our second award of the year and the perfect end to a very busy week. We’d hit the majority of the papers on Wednesday with our announcement of a remarkable lady called Bríanán McEnteggart, who lost 20st, as Slimming World’s Woman of the Year 2014. So, as you can imagine, after winning the ‘Best Healthcare Campaign’ award we were even more in the mood to celebrate. There was champagne and we definitely passed our tipping point!

ps – you can see our entry used a case study on the CIPR website here.

How to use the national news agenda to get your brand into the media

After attending an incredibly useful Gorkana media briefing with BBC Breakfast and BBC Radio 5Live a few weeks ago I posted my top-5 take-outs from the session.

It seems to be advice worth following too as, since the briefing, I’ve managed to place a guest on the BBC Breakfast sofa (watch the amazing Brendan O’Donnell who lost 11st with Slimming World talk calories on alcohol labels) and provided another to the Radio 5Live breakfast show. Woop!

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The key to both of these stories was linking to the national news agenda. Here’s how it’s done:

#1 Monitor the news in your industry
At Slimming World we use media cuttings agencies to source news relating to diet and obesity, while also setting up Google alerts and monitoring social media channels. This enables us to have a really clear view of what the big stories are and an understanding of ongoing issues. Regular monitoring also ensures we know which journalists cover the sorts of stories we’re interested in, so we know who to target when an opportunity comes up.

#2 Decide your company view
As soon as you have spotted a story that you might wish to comment on you need to start thinking about your company view. Start by reading everything you can in connection with the story so that you can be sure that you are making an informed comment. You should then think about how your organisation can add value to the story and demonstrate its leadership in this area. If you can add genuine insight you’ll have a far greater chance of success.

#3 Pitch your expert or case study
Whether you pitch by phone or email you need to be really clear on what you’re offering. Let the journalist know which story you’re getting in touch about, who your spokesperson or case study is and the general point they will be making in any interview. Be clear and concise and include a written quote in any email to print journalists. Pitching a spokesperson or case study as soon as a story lands shows that you’re on the ball and if you have a strong company view and a high quality interviewee on offer then you’ll have a great chance of being part of the conversation.

#4 Brief your spokesperson or case study
Once your expert or case study has been selected for interview you need to start working with them on a brief. Consider the three key messages your brand wants to get across through the interview and work together with your spokesperson to find a way of expressing them that feels natural and fits with their view. You should also talk about how they will weave a brand mention into the conversation in a genuine way. Providing your spokesperson with a bullet point list of the key messages so that they can refer back to them before the interview can also be useful.

#5 Say thanks – to your spokesperson and to the journalist
It’s a scary business putting yourself up for interview, so make sure your spokesperson knows you appreciated them doing it by saying thanks afterwards. If it went well, then positive feedback will boost their confidence, making them more willing to be interviewed again in the future. If it didn’t go so well, then a sensitive discussion about what they might change next time, coupled with lots of reassurance, will make them more likely to get back in the saddle.
You’ll also want to thank the journalist for working with you. Getting in touch after a great interview can help to solidify the relationship so say thanks, let them know what else you can provide and invite them to come to you again in future. Journalists want to work with PR’s they can trust to provide high quality contributors, so if you provided a great interviewee you’ll hopefully get a thank you in return and a great new contact.

What is the new Facebook ‘Rooms’ app and how can brands use it?

Last week Facebook launched a brand new app called Rooms. The app, which is currently only available on iPhone, allows users to create discussion rooms based around a subject of their choice and invite people to join them.

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Once in a room, users can post a mixture of text, photo and video content – a bit like Facebook. Engagement comes in the form of comments or room-specific ‘likes’ (that’s a ‘yum’ in food rooms or a ‘save’ in tech rooms) with images that put the iPhone’s emoticons to good use.

Sadly there’s no search function in Rooms and so the only way to know that a room exists, is to be invited. This is in line with Facebook’s closed community feel and suggests that Rooms will primarily be used for private conversations between individuals who already know each other in some way – a bit like Whatsapp.

The second thing worth noting is that unlike other social networks, there is no such thing as a profile on Rooms. Users simply choose a nickname and this can be different for every room – a bit like old school chat room users flitting between different forums and using different identities in each. Coming from a network that takes so many steps to encourage users to give their real life identities, it’s quite surprising that anonymity is such a central feature of Rooms, but Facebook product manager James Miller says it will give users the opportunity to “be whoever you want to be”. However, as users will most likely have been invited to a room by someone they know, I’m not sure they’ll feel quite as free as Miller suggests…

So there you have it. It’s a bit like Whatsapp , a bit like old school chat forums and a bit like, well, Facebook. So, how might businesses use Rooms? Here are three ideas.

#1 Reach a new audience by posting in related rooms
While there isn’t a search function, the app does highlight a handful of popular rooms. And if it grows in popularity, people and companies will soon start sharing room invites more openly with their Facebook and Twitter audience. Looking out for rooms that are based around your brand’s subject area could provide another outlet for content.

#2 Use it as a space to share ideas on-the-go with an exclusive community
As it’s been made specifically for iPhone (with an Android version to follow) Rooms is easy to use on-the-go, while its invite-only set-up gives you complete control over who is invited. It could be used as a private space to share ideas with colleagues, as a community forum for customers or simply as a place to chat with other people who are interested in the subject that your business is in, with you as the host.

#3 Ask for honest feedback on a specific event or campaign
If you’ve held an event or launched a new service or product and want some honest feedback, Rooms could be just the ticket. The fact that people can create a different nickname for every room means that they’ll be able to give feedback anonymously and without it impacting on their conversations in other rooms, which could encourage greater honesty. Content can also be moderated so you would have the option to not publish something if you felt it wasn’t appropriate.

Getting your spokesperson on BBC national TV and radio

Last week (ish) I attended a Gorkana media briefing with Rebecca Wearn from BBC Breakfast and Sean Farrington from BBC Radio 5 Live’s ‘Wake Up to Money’. These sorts of events are usually hosted in London, so it was great to get the chance to attend one in Manchester – yet another benefit of the BBC moving some of its operations to Salford.

There were some impressive figures bandied about. BBC Breakfast attracts around 7m viewers each day and up to 15m in a typical week. And while Wake Up to Money averages a less jaw-dropping 0.5m weekly listeners, it’s recognised for setting agendas and, due to its early morning slot, often sources the guests that end up on the BBC’s broadcast coverage throughout the day.

Here are the top 5 take outs for PR’s wanting to secure a slot on national BBC broadcast shows:

#1 Tune in to the national news agenda
It’s tough to hear but the BBC probably isn’t that interested in the opening of your brand’s 1000th store. Rebecca Wearn told us so. National BBC outlets deal with the biggest issues of the day, so in most cases what they really want from your brand is an insight into a topical issue that they’re already talking about. A great PR will be scanning the topical issues in their field all the time and when an opportunity arises where their spokesperson will be able to offer valuable insight, they’ll make contact. Daily news monitoring and regular environmental scanning is a must.

#2 Put your best woman forward
Last year, the BBC launched an expert women database to try to increase the number of female spokespersons involved in its programmes. So it should come as no surprise that, given the choice between two guests of equal merit but opposite gender, both Breakfast and 5Live will always choose the female of the species. This is really a noble attempt by the BBC to balance its output and both Sean and Rebecca spoke about the added variety and different perspective female experts can offer as a benefit. So if you have a female expert on hand, use her!

#3 Talk like a real person
It’s quite an obvious point but when the BBC puts experts on its TV programmes and radio shows what it really wants is for people to be able to understand them and relate to what they’re saying. What they don’t want is for business people to start talking about ‘streamlining our strategy’. Nobody wants that. It’s also massively important that brand mentions are subtle and relevant to the conversation. The quickest way to get a BBC interview cut short is to crowbar a series of unnecessary brand mentions into the conversation. That’s also the quickest way to get your expert’s name crossed out of the BBC’s little black book for future interviews too. PR is about relationships and it seems that relationships don’t come back from being cut off in a live national broadcast interview.

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#4 Location, location, location
For Rebecca, once she has decided to do a story for BBC Breakfast, the first priority is to find the right location. As a visual medium, location is of course incredibly important for TV, so it’s useful to think how you can use what’s at your disposal to add visual value to the story. If you’re lucky enough to be blessed with a location that looks great and would tie in with a story that’s often in the news, you might want to pull together a portfolio of photos. Rebecca keeps a folder of her favourite locations with her at all times so she can consider them for future stories. It might be worth trying to get into that folder…

#5 Know that they want to work with YOU
I don’t know whether it was the 200 PR professionals sat between them and the exit but both Sean and Rebecca assured us that they like working with good PR’s whenever possible. We can put them in touch with the people they want to talk to and we can help to ensure that those people understand the boundaries too. In return, the BBC will always be honest about the purpose of an interview. They’re happy to talk PR’s and spokespeople through the format of the interview and the main areas of questioning (though not to such a degree that the expert can rehearse their answers) and they won’t change the interview focus without letting you know in advance either.

#Bonus – poll 2,000 people or more
If you do a survey, make sure you get at least 2,000 respondents. The exception is if you have polled a specialist group such as GP’s. In that case the BBC may accept smaller sample.

Facebook’s algorithm – what is it and how has it changed in 2014?

Late last month, Facebook’s ‘algorithm’ changed again. Brands the world over let out a collective groan.

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However, while Facebook’s newsfeed changes might be a mild irritation for those in-the-know, those who aren’t aware of the changes risk tumbling engagement levels by failing to adapt to the ever-changing environment of the world’s largest social network.

Research published by Social@Oglivy suggests that brands are having to work harder than ever to reach fans without paying for adverts. In 2012 Facebook stated that brands could expect to reach 16% of their audience with an average post. A year later and digital consultancy Oglivy began tracking this number, seeing it fall from 12.05% in October 2013, to 8.7% in December 2013 and down to 6.15% by February 2014. For larger Pages with more than 500,000 likes organic reach is even lower, dropping from 4% to 2% over the same period. Here’s the chart.

At Slimming World, where I lead on social media, in September we reached an average of 65,000 people per post. With 414,000 people liking the Page that’s an average reach of 16% of fans per post. So we’re doing pretty well compared to most brands. Evaluating what works for us and staying aware of major Facebook changes is a big part of that.

So, first things first, what is Facebook’s algorithm?
Facebook’s ‘Edge Rank’ algorithm was set up to sort through the sheer volume of content that is posted to its network. According to Facebook, the average user has around 1,500 possible stories each day. To prevent users feeling overwhelmed with content (something that Business Insider suggested is a major headache for Twitter), Facebook’s algorithm selects what it believes are the top 20% of stories for that particular user and pulls them into their newsfeed.   This means that every newsfeed is unique.

How does it work?
Facebook’s algorithm essentially works using a rating system where each piece of content is ranked according to how interesting it is likely to be to the individuals that could receive it. As new content is posted all of the time, Edge Rank is constantly reassessing every post to ensure that users get the most relevant experience at any given time. To explain, let’s imagine that you like the Nike Facebook Page.

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In this instance, each post by Nike is rated for your newsfeed according to three things:
1) Affinity score – how connected are you to Nike? For example, do lots of your friends like the Page as well? Do you often comment or share their updates? Have you engaged with the Page recently? The more times you said yes to the following questions the higher your affinity score and so the more updates you will see from Nike.
2) Edge Weight – how have you engaged with Nike? Not all engagements are equal and Facebook ranks comments and shares higher than it ranks likes. Those ‘higher quality engagements’ are more likely to result in Nike’s content landing in your newsfeed. In addition, Edge Weight is also about seeing what types of Nike content you engage with. For example if you always comment on their videos, but you let their image posts slide by without so much as a click then you’ll see more  videos and fewer images from Nike in your newsfeed.
3) Time Decay – this one’s pretty simple, it’s just about how long ago the post was made. No one is interested in old news so as time passes Facebook’s algorithm continually marks down the value of a post until it lands in fewer and fewer news feeds. Did Nike post about something yesterday? Well you won’t be seeing that – not unless it’s Affinity Score and Edge Weight were through the roof. That’s why you pretty much never miss a proposal or new baby in your newsfeed – Facebook knows they are bigs news, so they tend to stick around.

Why does Facebook change its algorithm?
In a speech a few years ago Mark Zuckerberg told pupils graduating from the eighth grade that “there is no shortcut to success”. Look, someone even made a meme.

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It’s a mantra he is determined that brands should live by too as he knows we can be quick to adopt easy wins when we find that a certain type of content yields best results (made very easy by Facebook’s excellent suite of analytics tools). That’s why, to maximise engagement on Facebook, brands need to stay up-to-date with the latest algorithm changes and constantly evaluate what works for them.

Below is a list of all the Facebook algorithm changes that have occurred so far in 2014. It’s important to note that each of these changes probably only accounts for a few percentage points each, so don’t follow them blindly. Every brand is different and what works for one won’t necessarily work for another. The best thing is to be aware of the changes and trends but to conduct your own evaluation of the success of your content and if you find that text updates still work for you then you should carry on doing them. However, if you notice a significant drop in engagement that appears to be the result of a Facebook algorithm change, having that knowledge will put you in the best possible position to be able to adapt your content in order to maximise engagement and reach.

January – text is no longer enough
Facebook kicked off 2014 by making text-only updates less popular for brands in their January update. This followed an analysis of users, which revealed that while seeing text updates from friends led to people posting more themselves, the same wasn’t true for brands. As a result, Facebook separated the algorithm for individuals and Pages so that while text updates work well for people, brands are encouraged to post content that contains a link, image or video. Here’s a post from Hubspot explaining more.

February – Tag a fellow brand
Twitter has long been the place where brands interact, sometimes with hilarious consequences. Check out this amazing post about how a playful interaction between Tesco Mobile and one of their customers tumbled into a wonderful open party with Jaffa Cakes, Yorkshire Tea and Cadburys among the attendees. In its February update, Facebook took a gentle step towards improved brand interaction by enabling Pages to tag each other in their posts. While this move might not have given brands the same freewheeling possibilities they get on Twitter, it does have huge engagement benefits as tagging another brand in your posts can land your content in the newsfeeds of their fans too, as well as your own. Win-win. Here’s an example of how we use this feature to promote our reader offers with consumer magazines such as Woman’s Own.

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April – Don’t ask people to like your post
Once upon a time, giving people clear instructions such as ‘like if you think this’ or ‘share if you think that’ was sure to lead to far higher engagement rates than usual. Unfortunately for brands, Facebook users reported that this content (termed ‘like-baiting’) tended to be 15% less relevant than other content and so in its April update Facebook altered its algorithm accordingly. According to the company this will mostly affect Pages that frequently make specific calls for more likes or comments, rather than those that typically provide high quality content. So you don’t need to stop doing it completely.

May – post within Facebook
This May update was unlikely to have a big impact on most brands, as auto-sharing apps took a tumble in the newsfeed. The main examples given were apps like Spotify or Farmville that can be set to automatically post to Facebook. The one point worth noting is that it is likely to also impact on brands that have connected their social media accounts to post across channels all automatically (i.e. without explicitly asking it to share). It’s always advisable not to connect your social media channels for a number of reasons – content should be bespoke and you need to be present within that channel if you’re to be part of the community – but this adds another reason.

June – create better videos It’s clear that in recent months Facebook has given priority to video content – especially videos uploaded directly to the channel (great news for the ice bucket challenge). In its June update Facebook announced that it was improving its video ranking ability to give priority to videos that people watched for longer or all the way through and that they then engaged with by liking, commenting or sharing. The idea, as always, is to reward quality content and to enable poor content to slide quickly from the newsfeed.

August – provide more useful links A couple of months ago, my personal newsfeed was full of ‘click-baiting’ content as brands went to town with headlines like this: ‘This man arrived late for work, what happened next will blow your mind’. Facebook found that these links often had low quality content as users quickly clicked back to the site and didn’t engage with the content they’d seen by liking, commenting or sharing. In their August update Facebook changed the algorithm to favour links that people choose to engage with or that they spend longer reading. They made another update to links, prioritising links that are posted in the link format (i.e. that generate a preview) as opposed to links that are included in a status update where the brand has chosen to post a photo as its main media. The top is example below is how Facebook wants brands to share links. Though at Slimming World we still find pictures work best.

image (2) - fb web link yes image (3) fb web link no

September – link to timely stories
Perhaps with one eye on Twitter, Facebook has revealed that its newsfeed will now feature more timely stories following its September update. Noting that discussion around TV programmes and major sports events can be widespread during that event but drop off shortly afterwards, Facebook’s algorithm will now give priority to posts that tie in with its trending topics data. It will then monitor the ongoing popularity of that discussion so that when it slows down it doesn’t remain in the newsfeed for long. Hopefully that won’t lead to lots of clumsy attempts by brands to newsjack the current agenda. If it does then I’m sure Facebook will do something about it with its next update….