How The Sun built up more than 600,000 Facebook 'likes'

Last week Press Gazette revealed that The Sun was the UK's second most popular publication on Facebook with more than 600,000 'likes'. Unusually for a national newspaper, The Sun has a far bigger following on Facebook that it does on Twitter (169,199).

We spoke with digital editor Derek Brown about how the paper has built up its Facebook community and why it's provided a perfect fit for its 'Get Involved' philosophy.

What has The Sun done to build up its Facebook community?

Two years ago we had about 6,000 followers on Facebook and a few more on Twitter. I realised that, while it was important to pursue more followers on Twitter, the bulk of our readers were probably more used to spending time with Facebook.

We really focussed on growing that number. In the past an agency were responsible for updating our Facebook pages over sport and news, we took that back into the newsroom and made it the responsibility of one of the journalists working that day to post interesting topics for discussion.

Quite soon we saw the number of the comments under each story rise from a handful to 20 or so. Now we can get around 1,000 comments on any story we post on Facebook.

As well as editorially creating our page as a place of debate the marketing team have also done a great job in promoting the page when we have in paper offers like £9.50 holidays and Lego giveaways. Across our pages we have in excess of one million likes and it's still growing.

Is a large Facebook community likely to impact print sales?

I think we've all moved on from the idea that the internet is cannibalising our print products. If people are going to be using Facebook to talk about the issues of the day I'd rather they were doing it on The Sun's page rather than someone else's.  

Why is it important to The Sun to build up its Facebook following?

The sort of stories we do in The Sun have always been conversation starters around the nation. We're an agenda-setting newspaper - the pleb row and the Jimmy Savile allegations are recent examples. In the past our readers may have debated whether Britain should join the Euro, Nasty Nick should have been booted from Big Brother or whether John Terry should be picked for England.

Facebook is a great way of that debate continuing on smartphones or computers today. It's become a forum people have become comfortable letting their feelings be known on.

We moderate our Facebook comments, so it's not a free-for-all, but often we have some really interesting, and heated, conversations on there. It ties in perfectly with our Get Involved philosophy.

The Sun has over 600,000 Facebook ‘likes’ and less than 30 per cent of this number – just over 160,000 - followers on Twitter. How does Facebook compare to Twitter in terms of importance for newspaper?

I see Facebook performing a different role than Twitter. Facebook is all about the discussion and the debate, getting feedback from your readers and seeing how they feel about the issues of the day. Twitter's great for getting your stories out there, getting shared and providing a really good, snappy, breaking news service.

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