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So What Do You Do, Justin Osofsky, Head of Media Partnerships for Facebook?

The social network's strategic partnership lead talks about how Facebook is working with media companies to drive traffic and value

- October 6, 2010
You know that Facebook "Like" button you see everywhere these days? It's just one of the new tools the social network has introduced which it hopes will turbo-charge traffic and user engagement for media and entertainment companies. Facebook is serious enough about that hope that it recently assembled a team to build tools for and work directly with news, entertainment, and publishing companies.

Leading the charge is Justin Osofsky, a three-time Harvard grad, former McKinsey & Company consultant, and cooking aficionado. Mediabistro caught up with Osofsky to find out how media companies can better use the site to add to their bottom lines.


Name: Justin Osofsky
Position: Director, strategic partnerships, Facebook
Resume: Started as a consultant with Gen3 Partners and McKinsey & Company before joining Facebook's Business Development department. Became head of product marketing for Facebook Connect in the summer of 2009 and began leading media partnerships in June of 2010.
Birthdate: October 28, 1977
Hometown: New Orleans, La.
Education: A.B. Economics, Harvard College; J.D., Harvard Law School; M.B.A., Harvard Business School
Marital status: Married
First section of the Sunday Times: Sports section
Last book read: The Big Short, by Michael Lewis
Guilty pleasure: A dressed oyster po'boy
Favorite TV show: Modern Family

What does a typical day look like for you?
My team works with partners and journalists in the media industry to help them understand how to best use Facebook to increase engagement, increase traffic, and, for journalists, to advance their story. First we engage with them on a business level to understand what their strategic objectives are -- what they would like to accomplish from working with Facebook -- and then how to best work with them to help them accomplish that. We also offer engineering resources to help people understand how to build with Facebook tools and how to create these experiences really effectively. Some of the team focuses on "insights" to help understand what products are working, how they're driving value to you, and how one can improve the product experience.

At the end of the year, what are you, personally, going to be measured on?
Our goals are to drive value to partners. We want our partners to see increased traffic from Facebook. We want them to see increased engagement on their sites.

You've said on several occasions that you're on a "listening tour" to find out what media companies want and need. Who have you met with and what have you heard so far?
We've been meeting with lots of folks, from large media organizations to journalists that are using our products, [and we've been meeting them] in settings ranging from individual one-on-one meetings to larger group settings, like Hacks and Hackers or the Asian American Journalists Association. Some organizations are using Facebook in really innovative ways to advance a story. Andy Carvin at NPR recently wrote an article talking about how he and NPR are using Facebook to find sources. They were able to find hundreds of people willing to go on the record to talk about their experiences related to the earthquake in Haiti or [giving up] cable TV.

What else have you heard?
We've heard that the way in which you implement the Like button can definitely impact traffic. If you show the faces of [your readers'] friends who have "liked" articles, people tend to click through more. Another really interesting finding: We have a Recommendations plug-in, which shows the content that your friends recommend, share, and care about within [another company's site]. If you implement [the plug-in] both on [the site's] home page and on story pages, you see outsized results. It kind of makes sense. When readers are experiencing the recommendations of their friends on article pages, where they're already reading the content, that's a great place to reach them.

Where are the stumbling points as media organizations start to use Facebook?
Media organizations produce great content and are very good at delivering it to the right audience. What Facebook adds is a social dimension, the ability [for a reader] to experience what [their] friends care about. What's really important [when implementing these tools] is to immediately offer value to the reader. When you go to CNN or the Washington Post, you immediately see what your friends recommend. We think those are really good examples of what it means to share and recommend content with your friends. Implementations that don't bring that front and center tend to perform a little less well.

"When you and I go to Facebook.com, even though we type in the identical URL, we're fundamentally having a different experience, because we have different friends, and they share different content."

How does Facebook "win" if media organizations are doing better?
Our readers share over 30 billion pieces of content each month. When you and I go to Facebook.com, even though we type in the identical URL, we're fundamentally having a different experience, because we have different friends, and they share different content. Simultaneously, when I go to CNN.com and when you go to CNN.com, we're now having a different experience as well, because we have different friends who care about different things within the CNN.com experience. We think that's the way both Facebook and our partners win -- by working together to create these experiences.

The traditional media world has its own preconceptions about how people search for information, how they retrieve it, and how they consume it. What are some things about the new world that traditional media companies should understand?
News has always been social. A recent Pew study showed that over 70 percent of people said a top reason they consume news is to share it with family and friends, and over half of Americans rely on their friends and family for the news that they receive. We're now focused on how we can best enable those experiences. With the Facebook news feed, it's more meaningful, and people spend more time on it because it's based on their friends. In turn, people are spending more time on our partners' sites.

Some observers are saying that Facebook is kicking up its efforts in this arena because people are still doing more sharing on Twitter than on Facebook.
We think Twitter and Facebook complement each other very well. But we think Facebook can offer unique value because you're bringing real identity and authentic connections that people have as they share.

Should Google News be scared of Facebook?
I think Facebook's doing something quite different than Google. We're enabling people to share content with their friends and have a custom experience. That feels very different from what Google is doing.

"Our media partners are seeing that having this direct connection and channel, and the ability to deliver content to an audience at the right time, is delivering a lot of value."

Is it correct that Facebook doesn't plan to share revenue from advertising placed on media companies' Facebook pages
That is correct. It's not something we offer at this time and, to be honest, it's not a request we hear from page owners. I think our media partners are seeing that having this direct connection and channel, and the ability to deliver content to an audience at the right time, is delivering a lot of value.

Google has taken a lot of heat for not sharing advertising revenue with news organizations. There hasn't been the same kind of outcry about Facebook's non-revenue-sharing policy. Why do you think that is?
I think Facebook is offering a lot of value to media partners by creating the connection that they have with their readers and enabling them to publish to them. The other thing is that Facebook, as a platform, is very much focused on creating experiences on the sites of media partners themselves, which allow the experiences on partner sites to become more engaging. Users experience more content and click on more content and then share it back to drive more traffic from their friends.

As a Facebook user yourself, what do you hope Facebook will be enabling you to discover, say, two years from now?
One of my passions in life is cooking. I love cooking on weekends and experimenting with new recipes. It would be really exciting to see a very custom cooking experience on the Internet. So, if I show up to a recipe site, [I have the ability to] understand what my friends want to cook, what worked for them and what didn't. What happens today is I often show up at sites, and there are great reviews around recipes, but I don't know the person who contributed the review. It would be awesome if I knew that [a friend] really knew how to cook really well, and the first review I saw for a recipe was from [that friend].

Last question, you said before that you think Twitter and Facebook are more complementary than competitive. But: you vs. Twitter head of media partnerships Chloe Sladden in a thumb-wrestling competition. Who wins?
I'm very clumsy, so I'd never bet on myself in thumb-wrestling.

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E.B. Boyd is a freelance writer in San Francisco.

© WebMediaBrands Inc. 2010. All Rights Reserved.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.

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