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How The Wall Street Journal Is Using Facebook to Cover Facebook

In March, around the time Facebook launched its Timeline format, Poynter published a piece declaring “Facebook Timeline not yet a friend to news organizations.” The post’s author, Jeff Sonderman, wrote “the flashy visual template adds too little style while removing too much substance.”

The social media team at The Wall Street Journal might beg to disagree. In an innovative piece of social journalism, WSJ reporters and editors are using Facebook’s Timeline tool to cover Facebook’s initial public offering.

The news org has created a new Facebook page, www.facebook.com/GoesPublic, using Timeline to not only chronicle its IPO roadshow but to also tell the history of Facebook.

Why use Facebook Timeline?

The Wall Street Journal already uses Timeline for its own Facebook pageBrian Aguilar, a WSJ social media editor who is involved with the project, told me via email.

The Facebook IPO timeline starts on Feb. 4, 2004, when Facebook, then known as thefacebook.com, launched. It includes milestones such as the launch and users’ concerns over privacy as well as the paper’s first Page One story mentioning Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s hoodie-wearing CEO.

“The story lends itself to Timeline because it extends over such a long period of time,” said Aguilar. “This new Facebook page lets us bring that same WSJ coverage to Facebook users directly while spurring discussion around the company’s valuation.”

It’s surreal to go through the timeline and see how many times in the last eight years Facebook has been on the front page of The Wall Street Journal.

How does it work?

The page is its “own property,” according to Aguilar. The team created a completely new Facebook page to avoid having updates on the IPO overwhelm its main WSJ page. It also gives readers the ability to choose to subscribe and get updates about Facebook’s IPO or not.

The page is powered by a custom news feed featuring WSJ’s latest Facebook IPO-related news, Aguilar said. He also mentioned that the team is using Twitterfeed’s automated publishing service to push regular updates to the page. Editors monitor the page, keeping an eye out for any new developments.

Outgoing social media editor Emily Steel, who recently announced she will be heading to the Financial Times, came up with the idea.

What about conflict of interest with Facebook?

Was there any concern about there being a conflict of interest using Facebook to cover Facebook? Aguilar says no.

“We don’t see it that way,” he said. “We’re simply using the Facebook platform to give our readers another way to follow the story. … Despite using this new storytelling format on Facebook, the journalism retains the same level of integrity as our coverage elsewhere.”

The main worry about undertaking such a large project was not knowing if there would be a large enough audience to make it worthwile, Aguilar said.

That uncertainly is gone now. The response to the page has been positive. Just a few hours after launching Tuesday, more than 600 people had “liked” the page. On Twitter, social media editors and reporters were sending their compliments to Liz Heron, director of social media and engagement at WSJ.

Anthony De Rosa of Reuters tweeted:

Editors and reporters will continue to post the latest headlines, videos, and other Facebook IPO-related news to the page until at least May 18, the reported date for Facebook’s IPO. The social media team hasn’t entirely decided how they’ll use Timeline on that day, Aguilar admitted, except that there will be a lot of updates on Facebook’s performance.

What do you think about this use of Facebook Timeline for telling an ongoing news story? Can you see your newsroom doing something similar?

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