AJ plus
Credit: Screenshot from the AJ+ Facebook page.

Reaching audiences on the platforms they already use is a focal point of many news organisations' digital strategies.

Approaches to distributed news vary across the media landscape, from legacy publishes going all in like The Washington Post, to the more cautious, such as Bild, and to new media outlets designed to live on social.

AJ+, Al Jazeera's distributed news arm, counts 5.9 million likes on its AJ+ English Facebook page, and reports around 5 billion video views since its launch two years ago.

Its success with Facebook video has made it one of the organisations other media outlets name as an inspiration for their own strategies and social video formats, which puts pressure on AJ+ to constantly innovate.

"We're going to look at what's next and how we can do things differently now that a lot of people are doing things like us," said Shadi Rahimi, deputy producer at AJ+, speaking to Journalism.co.uk at the News Impact Summit in July.

She explained the impact platforms' algorithms can have on an organisation's distributed news strategy, highlighting the approach to Facebook Live at AJ+ as an example.

As Facebook has been promoting live video on the platform, often featuring Lives higher up in users' news feeds, AJ+ has been prompted to rethink its style and frequency of livestreaming.

"We started using Facebook Live when we were out in the field during breaking news events mostly.

"And now that Facebook is encouraging more media companies to use Facebook Live and to broadcast more often, companies such as ours are thinking about how we can do this regularly.

"We can't always wait for the breaking news, we can't always wait for an event to cover. So it's pushing a lot of companies like ours more into the direction of doing traditional TV production – is there something we can do in the studio, is there somewhere we can go and just broadcast outside of there, are there some activities people can be doing that we can show?

"It's not my favourite thing actually – I think that there needs to be always a purpose behind broadcasting live and if you ask me, there needs to be also a sense of urgency usually around it.

"So I prefer broadcasting either at a breaking news event or when I can take the audience into a world that they can't access."

Al Jazeera has more of an incentive than others to produce more Facebook Live videos, as the media organisation is part of the group of publishers Facebook has struck a deal with to get more live broadcasts on the platforms.

But adapting to the new and changing requirements and preferences of social platforms is a key part of remaining successful on social media, and "continued agility" is a characteristic AJ+ and other organisations looking to strengthen their distributed news offering need to develop.

Speaking at the newsrewired digital journalism conference on 20 July, Ousama Itani, senior innovation officer, digital division, Al Jazeera, explained digital media outlets need to be aware of what's happening within the social networks and understand their policies before diving in.

"We need to stay agile, we need to stay aware of any platform changes that might occur.

"You have to be very engaged with what's going on in the social streams, fully understanding each one and not just dabbling or experimenting, but building an entire strategy and workflow around particular networks that can be completely different."

He also advised media organisations to work towards growing their audience on any platform by optimising their content first, and only pushing for innovation and new forms of engagement when the audience is already there.

Itani also pointed out the benefit of jumping on a platform early – publishers may get access to more data and negotiate for more control.

"As long as your audience is there and it's going to be worth your investment, that's when you should do it."

AJ+ is now looking towards platforms it has more control over, Rahimi told Journalism.co.uk.

"We're being sort of forced to look at different platforms because of the restrictions that Facebook is putting on us editorially in terms of changing the algorithms constantly, it's really impeding on our editorial process and our flexibility and our control.

"So what's next for us is we're starting to invest more time in video on demand, on Apple TV, we're thinking about actually boosting up our website and having a website. We're looking at what new apps and platforms we can create for ourselves where we can really own them, and we're spending more time looking at YouTube and how we can build up the audience there."

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