So, have you seen Facebook Stories yet? I know you've probably heard about it, but have you actually bothered to look at it? No? Let me tell you all about it.
It's a fascinating display of the power of social media on people's lives and, to some extent, on journalism. But it's also sort of a genius marketing tool.
When Facebook first announced the site in July 2012, I was a little confused about what to expect. For some reason, I just didn't quite comprehend that this was a platform to tell stories about Facebook. And when I finally did understand what the site was doing, it sounded a bit self-indulgent to me. Isn't it enough that just about everyone with an internet connection has had her life taken over by Facebook? Did we now need a place where people could put together slick videos about how the social networking site was a tool for change in their lives or communities?
Then I thought about the Arab Spring. I won't go so far as to say the remarkable uprisings wouldn't have happened without social media because all the credit belongs with the brave people who fought for what they believed in. But without tools such as Twitter and Facebook to help protesters organize, communicate with the outside world, and get their stories heard, it would have been a very different journey. There is, after all, a reason governments resorted to shutting down internet access during the rebellions.
If social media can help facilitate that kind of change on a global scale, there must be many interesting, more personal stories out there.
Perhaps the folks behind Facebook Stories thought the same thing because now each month is dedicated to a specific theme and a collection of stories, videos, short posts, and more based on that theme. In August, it was Remembering, and we were treated to a video about Mayank Sharma, a man who lost his memory to complications of meningitis and how he used Facebook to slowly piece together his history. There was also a post about how a Facebook Group helped save a historic building and a suggested reading list from journalist Joshua Foer about the science and mechanics of memory (though I'm still not sure what that particular piece of the puzzle has to do with anyone "using Facebook in extraordinary ways").
Of course, there was more to August's issue of Facebook Stories, but I was most interested in what I see as a new sort of journalism. It's all very reminiscent of This American Life (TAL). The TAL website describes its format this way: "There's a theme to each episode, and a variety of stories on that theme." Radiolab does something similar, and, now, so does Facebook Stories--only Facebook is, in effect, using this format as a content marketing tool.
According to our website, content marketing "is a blanket term that describes the process of creating and sharing relevant brand information in hopes of engaging current consumers and attracting new ones." And isn't that exactly what Facebook is doing with these stories?
Sure the site is spinning inspirational--or just plain cool--yarns, but, in effect, it's saying, "They couldn't have done it without us" as well.
Part of me wonders why Facebook would bother. Is engagement something Facebook is really struggling with? And would the holdouts really be persuaded by a tale of an amnesiac using People You May Know to figure out who his parents are? It's a nice story but not enough to get a social media Luddite to finally take the plunge.
No, I think in many ways Facebook Stories is more about a new focus on producing content. The site has long been a place to share content, but most people go elsewhere to blog, post videos, etc. Maybe the Zuckerberg empire is looking to expand into the content creation business. It would give the site something to sell ads against other than user information and help keep users from floating off to other content-rich destinations. Even for Facebook, it's all about keeping eyeballs glued to the page!
For now, it seems that Facebook's content aspirations are pretty limited in scope, but the Stories experiment seems like the beginning of something more to me. The company hasn't been secretive about its hope to become a portal for on-demand video, and it only makes sense that-sooner or later-the site will want to give users an alternative to leaving it to get their news.