New Facebook NewsFeed Settings Mean It’s Time To Use What We Learned in Grade School

Spencer Adkins, June 9, 2014

Sign and date your homework


Every teacher you and I had from elementary school through college told us that.  Now it’s time to apply that to Facebook posts.  (Probably wouldn’t hurt on some other social outlets either.)

As most of you know, recent changes to Facebook’s NewsFeed give users the choice of a “weighted” feed that shows them the “Top Stories” items first or the “Most Recent.”  Unless a user knows where to find the settings, you get “Top Stories,” meaning you have to actively change to “Most Recent” if you want to see the newest posts.  On my mobile, I found it by hitting the “more” icon on the lower right, then I found the newest news in the middle of several choices.

This is (as of June 8, 2014 on an iPhone 5C on iOS7) where you find "Most Recent" for your NewsFeed on Facebook.

This is (as of June 8, 2014 on an iPhone 5C on iOS7) where you find “Most Recent” for your NewsFeed on Facebook.

Now, being Digital Meteorologists at heart, we probably are cool with fishing around with settings and finding these things.  The problem is, many (if not most) people WON’T.  At least not at first.  So they will get material that the Facebook algorithm calculates as being most important to them.  While we don’t know all the secret ingredients, we do know that your previous interactions and likes and shares and general interests weigh into what you see in your NewsFeed.

And that’s the problem.

Things that were posted a day or two or three ago, are showing up in NewsFeeds because you may just happen to actually like just about everything someone posts.  So you see their material often in your NewsFeed.  Or maybe you live close to someone so they show up often.  Or maybe you both like weather.  Or maybe you have a common friend.  Or maybe you both bought “thunder shirts” for your dogs.  The possibilities of what makes a social post “important” to your NewsFeed are probably pretty mind boggling.  (Check your targeted ads one day for either a laugh or a bout of paranoia).

Now you say, “STOP RIGHT THERE! Facebook DOES tell you when you a post was created.  I mean it’s RIGHT THERE! Don’t people READ?”

There IS a little marker showing WHEN a post was created.

There IS a little line showing WHEN a post was created.

BUT – and let’s be REAL honest – do you look at that?  EVERY time?

If you’re flipping through your feed and you see that big, scary red storm on your screen (screen of any size) – you’re NOT looking first at the date.  You’re thinking there’s a threat somewhere and from there the social scientists tell us people go looking for more confirmation on other sources.  My gut tells me that’s right, but only AFTER they flip out, hit share, THEN ask, “is that for my area?”  This is because, not only do people flip through their feed at 1500 mph, we know for certain that people don’t read everything.  Maybe that’s just anecdotal, but from conversations and posts I’ve had, seen and heard from dozens and dozens and dozens of Broadcast/Digital Meteorologists, the short answer to whether or not posts are entirely read is: NO.

Complain if you like, but part of our job is to give answers and build audience for our material.

Two cases to illustrate the problem, then back to the solution:

1) I posted a radar image like the one above and I DID post a TIME on it but NOT a day/date.  I believe I said something about “Heavy rain hitting XYZ town at 6:23 p.m.  Well, that post shows up in a friend’s feed when he just HAPPENS to be looking at 6:22 p.m. the NEXT night and he’s flipped out.  He later called out the Facebook NewsFeed for this.  I mean it showed up on TOP of his feed right then.  He did say that yes, there is a date stamped there, (it would have said 23 hours ago, not Yesterday) but he simply reacted to the info first.  By the way, the day he was reading the post, things were real quiet and he had an outdoor plan, and for just a moment, he was really worried about his activity.  This is a really smart guy too so that’s why I say WE need to be honest.  Even WE don’t look at time stamps on posts ALL the time.  And we DO just look at what shows up on top of our feed without questioning why it’s there.

2) We can’t control WHAT is shared and/or how people receive it when it comes to third party stories.  For that matter, once we hit “send” we don’t often control who sees and shares our stuff, which at times can be a problem which makes crafting a good post that much more important.  We saw that all winter long with “big red scary snow maps” from any number of places you can imagine.  But Sunday night (June 8, 2014) our friend James Spann  had to literally tell people to STOP and READ what they are sharing.

It seems a dated article from showed up in some people’s NewsFeeds and the article was talking about a forthcoming tornado outbreak around Alabama.  From TWO MONTHS ago.  I searched and found several articles as Slate picked up that theme and ran with it before the last big run of tornadoes.  It appears to me from a fast search that the stories started on or about April 23, 2014. Somebody somewhere picked that up and started sharing it on social media apparently in Alabama on June 8, 2014.

James felt he had to take to Facebook and Twitter to quell concern: Spann Post

Spann Tweet

Now, let’s be clear – the Slate post ITSELF isn’t the issue.  It’s how things show up in NewsFeeds and even THAT is a BLEND of the algorithm and the content shared by USERS.

SOOOO- that’s a LONG setup to say – it’s easier to just fix the content going forward than it is to change user’s sharing habits.  We control our own house.  That’s all we can do.

The FIX as far as Facebook goes – for NOW – is to DATE your time-sensitive posts.  If it’s IN the text of the post, then it’s on the reader if they miss it.

But I would suggest it mainly be used for TIME-SENSITIVE posts.  After all, the reason we’re IN the digital space is to “get legs” with our info and have it run around the Internet.

I am absolutely sure responsible Digital Meteorologists don’t want erroneous warning or watch info floating around as far as what comes from them personally.  But sunsets, behind the scenes material, memes and basic social interaction really does NOT need a date.  Nobody is going to be upset if a nice sunset shows up or flowers or a fun pic of your team several days after it was posted.  In fact, you WANT that.  Seeing a forecast from last year for a tropical depression forming off your coastline is probably of great concern – unless a reader/viewer reads the small print on the post.  Bottom line: let’s not rely on small print.

Tinker with it.  Here’s an example from this morning from my shop.  The weather in question wasn’t REALLY so crucial as to be called “time-sensitive,” but on a church day in Appalachia, I thought it was a courtesy for early risers to see the time, date, etc.  Actually I DON’T suggest LEADING a post with time and date.  This one just had that.  But “Tornado Warning until 5:30pm for Eastern Kentucky – Sunday June 8, 2014” is not bad.

Sunday Morning Post

Twitter is so “minute-of” that dating isn’t as much of a problem.  And for SOME reaon people DO tend to look at the time stamp.  While it’s nice to be as time/date specific as possible, Tweets just get jammed down the timeline, thus making them “out of date” real quick when it comes to such posts as watches and warnings.  It’s not nearly as likely someone would find yesterday’s Tweets and think it’s today’s.

I had to go DEEP into the AccuWX Twitter feed to find something like this – so I wasn’t confused at all.

Accu Tweet

I’m not enough of an “expert” on G+, Instagram or other formats to offer advice but I have learned my lesson in terms of the growing pains of the new Facebook NewsFeed recently.  I really just wanted to share some thoughts so you don’t run into some of the problems I have.  Obviously others have had a few issues.  One thing I DO know is that NewsFeed will change again and all we can do is do our best to suit our “customer’s” needs in the digital space.

As I said, TINKER with it.  Use variations.  See what happens to reach and share.  I’m pretty sure that overall a warning post is going to sink even faster, ESPECIALLY if you time-stamp it in big letters. The GOOD NEWS is, that will clear the way for your really GOOD posts to rise to the top.  Warnings are no-brainers.  Have fun and be creative with those “downtime” posts.  It’s our belief at our shop that those are actually great times to build likes and shares.  Then when you DO have time-sensitive weather alerts to share, hopefully your audience will share those automatically to enhance public safety.

Would love to hear your best advice or stories about these issues in the comments.

BTW, I STINK at knowing the date and day.  One day just becomes the next to me so we keep a calendar right by my seat.  Here it is.  Living one day at a time…

This is my actual calendar.  It makes me grumpy.

This is my actual calendar. It makes me grumpy.

Have a great day, week and month ahead!

About Spencer Adkins

I'm the chief meteorologist for WOWK TV CBS 13 in WV, OH and KY. Broadcaster since age 17. Constantly working on ways to reach and grow audiences and have fun along the way.
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1 Response to New Facebook NewsFeed Settings Mean It’s Time To Use What We Learned in Grade School

  1. Beau Dodson says:

    Great article. Great advice.

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