Friday, October 21 2016


NGOs struggle for visibility on Facebook

Update: June, 22/2015 - 16:08

by Duong Trong Hue

I recently bumped into an old friend who worked in a non-government organisation or NGO. We sat in a coffee shop and talked about life and work. Though we had a lot to exchange, my friend did not seem focused on the conversation. His brows were furrowed while looking at the Facebook newsfeed on his smartphone.

"My task to promote the NGO cause on Facebook is getting harder as Facebook has changed its newsfeed setting. Our post gets less exposure than before and I may have to tag people in the post to make the news appear on their newsfeed," he explained to me. "Any post that receives less 'likes', 'seen' or 'comments' makes us look pathetic."

How is Facebook newsfeed getting on the nerves of my friend, and perhaps many others in non-profit organisations?

Facebook remains an empire of the social media realm with a fifth of the world's population logging on at least once a month. Pew Research Center found that 30 per cent of Americans get news from Facebook. In Viet Nam, the data is yet to be available, but with more than 30 million people owning smartphones and given the speedy adoption of Facebook, the number is estimated to be about some dozen millions.

Many now go to Facebook not only to feel socially connected but also to consume news stories shared by their friends. Each virtual social circle often shares common interests in certain social issues and Facebook links to news stories, amalgamated with friends' comments, are an effective outlet to readership. News agencies, therefore, must constantly keep an eye on their news traffic on Facebook.

Some have made moves to better co-adapt with the social media era. The New York Times has worked with Facebook to improve referral traffic to its news stories.

The move is pragmatic, but also inimical. News agencies will become dependent on Facebook, which always seems pregnant with vagaries of its mathematical formula to operate its newsfeed.

After Facebook recently changed its newsfeed algorithm, business fan pages that use newsfeed to update their fans on products and services declined sharply. Companies that want to reverse the tide will need to buy guaranteed reach through ads.

Not only journalism and commercial industries, but non-profit organisations such as my friend's NGO are deeply concerned about the new Facebook newsfeed. It is now harder for NGOs to reach their supporters via the Facebook newsfeed. If they want to boost the views, they will need to pay Facebook.

The result is rather injurious to NGOs because they increasingly use social media to diffuse their campaigns. Many use Facebook as a prime channel to build mutual trust with donors and business partners. Stakeholders' trust is certainly crucial for NGOs. Newsletters, news stories and postings circulated on Facebook are means for NGOs to get attention from stakeholders. Recent research found that even supporters' comments can generate higher perceived trustworthiness.

NGOs that generate funding through social media may find the Facebook newsfeed adversarial, too. NGOs' fan pages used to allow NGOs to reach a large number of followers, many of whom turned into supporters and donors. Now, the situation is not the same.

My friend said he had to learn about the way Facebook's new newsfeed works, just to see how he could maintain similar exposure rate to the organisation's messages as before.

"You've always got to keep the donors and supporters informed of the NGO's operations. It is not just about transparency, but the donors' minds are mostly occupied with other agenda and they will need to be reminded about your work from time to time," he said.

"Facebook newsfeed change, to some extent, has impeded our information to those who are interested in our cause.

"Local NGOs from Viet Nam such as ours are often not strong in marketing, and many are contingent on the communication from the headquarters in the North. But at the end of the day, what donors like to see is the actual improvements in the communities that they are committed to support. Facebook can be an effective tool to retain current supporters and generate new ones," he said.

This advice sounds apropos because donors are often committed to NGOs with which they have mutual trust and favourable relationships. However, as funding becomes scant, NGOs have to compete for more attention from donors and supporters.

There have been petitions to Facebook to exempt non-profit organisations from the newsfeed filter mechanism.

But Facebook may never respond. The NGO community may better learn ways to work with Facebook newsfeed, while not neglecting traditional communication channels. — VNS

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