Danish publisher TV Midtvest challenged its editorial team, who relies heavily on Facebook for website traffic and interaction with readers, to a two-week ‘detox.’ 

The initiative was prompted by Facebook announcement about demoting news articles in its news feed back in January 2018.

Speaking at the INMA Media Innovation week in Amsterdam yesterday (27 September), Nadia Nikolajeva, head of digital at TV Midtvest, talked about the experiment that radically transformed the publisher’s social media strategy and sparked in-house innovation.

“Facebook said they were decreasing the space given to news from five percent to four percent,” said Nikolajeva. “But no one ever knew it was only five percent to begin with. It was a double shock for media business. It was a wake-up call.”

To test what impact this will have on their publishing model, TV Midtvest decided to take a radical step and stopped using Facebook for full 14 days, leaving followers with a simple announcement inviting them to use the website instead.

Inactivity on the social network resulted in loss of 27 percent of users in two weeks but TV Midtvest only saw 10 percent decline in page views, proving that people can find their way to the website if they want to. Interestingly, there was no significant increase in the use of the publisher’s app. 

“We were proved wrong,” said Nikolajeva. “We thought people will never find us without Facebook, but they did.”

Although losing a quarter of users 'hurt' the editorial team realised these readers are less valuable as their loyalty outside of Facebook is very low.

With suddenly a lot of free time on their hands, the journalists focused on the quality of editorial, refining headlines or interviewing more sources.

The experiment also made them reflect on why they use Facebook. In Nikolajeva’s words, the journalists mostly missed the possibility to interact with their audience, getting feedback and sharing breaking news.

Without the easy access to the social network, however, TV Midtvest realised they can innovate and develop in-house tools that will allow journalists to communicate with their audience while retaining control over users data. They even took a step further and developed new services like a streaming app, that saw 20,000 downloads since its launch in spring.

“My main takeaway was that I never want to be this dependent on one platform,” said Nikolajeva who built most of her career around Facebook.

“I had to act on the insecurities I had around functioning without Facebook. If there’s another platform coming around, I won’t react in the same way,” she added.

“Journalists are too blind to see how dependent we are of Facebook.

“I have to be very clear: I’m not critical of Facebook, I’m critical of journalists using Facebook mindlessly. That’s what the problem is.”

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