Stop freaking out, this is how you can beat Facebook

News publishers today are essentially freaking out about Facebook’s latest announcement to prioritise family and friends content over news. Adam Tinworth made an attempt of translating ‘Facebook speak into English,’ available here. Stop reading this post, go click the link and come back.

Enjoy that? Ok, lets keep going. In the past year at numerous conference presentations, I’ve been concentrating on one thing: know who you are, what you’re doing and focus on that. If you can, you will either a) beat the algorithms and/or b) algorithms really don’t matter.

That’s because if you develop a relationship with your audience, they know what to expect and your audience will return to you  because of that relationship. I’ve used Saturday Night Live (SNL) and Jimmy Fallon on YouTube to demonstrate this example for years. In the case of SNL I know every Sunday they are going to be uploading clips of the show the night before that I will go and watch. Its an appointment to view where I will watch a series of videos. Same thing with Jimmy Fallon (though its decreased significantly in the past few months – more on that here) where I know every weekday there will be new content on the channel. I know what both channels are offering, know what to expect and can go check it out on a daily or weekly basis because I know that’s when new content will appear, even if I haven’t subscribed to the channel.

So you might be thinking, well we provide news and our audience is ‘everyone.’.   Really?

What if you are a niche publisher trying to  keep up with the big ones, and even trying to  compete on speed to break news. Here’s a tip: it won’t work. They’re bigger, have been around longer, have more resources than you and are going to beat you everytime unless you play the long game. That doesn’t mean give up. Look at AJ+, the off shoot of Al Jazeera or even Buzzfeed News. They aren’t trying to be everything to everyone. They know who their audiences are – what age demographic they come from, what platform they’re viewing content from, what times of day and days or week they’re active, and specifically exactly what type of content they’re looking for and then they serve that content on a specific platform. No, it doesn’t mean you’re watering down content or even creating click bait. But it will mean something similar to the following exemplary scenarios:

  • You know the majority of your Facebook audience is 50% from North America active in 3 time zones and they enjoy 60-90 second videos on explainers about international news events
  • Perhaps your best performing format is Photos – that doesn’t mean straight photos, it could be infographics or a data visualisation, so you start making more of those- not spamming your audience but ensuring you are consistent and publishing one per day
  • On site you may notice that your audience is not really interested in Arab-Israeli conflict news but when you publish stories on female entrepreneurs in Algeria, Morocco or Tunisia that they consistently perform well so instead of publishing one story every three months, you aim to do one per week. It doesn’t mean you stop doing Arab-Israeli news but it does mean that if you were doing 2 stories a week on it, you reduce that to  maybe one per week and pick up other stories that are not represented but that your audience is looking for.

To get to these conclusions takes time spent with data, and being able to interpret that data not to tell your editors what they want to hear, but what they need to hear.  What I usually see are publishers rushing to be everything to everyone. The metrics Facebook (and typically other companies) give them as metrics of success (reach, likes, views, impressions) are lapped up, however we have to remember that any company first and foremost has its own interests at heart, no matter how much of your buddy they seem to be. How is it that news publishers are so good at interrogating sources and facts for news but don’t interrogate the methodology of organisations they work or partner with? (insert hmm emoji here) Instead, lots of digital/social people pride success on ‘views’ for instance. But really, a view in Facebook speak is 3 seconds long and if as publishers we consider cumulative ‘views’ that may reach millions or billions as success, then we have set the bar for success very low. Instead, look at your watchtime minutes. You’ll likely notice a significant drop in numbers but those are the numbers that people are actually watching your content. Yes, it is time to wake up and smell the Ethiopian blend coffee.* Interestingly enough, Google was onto this years ago and in their YouTube analytics prioritised watch time minutes over views long before this recent brouhaha.

My contention is this: focus on engagement, interaction. This is because what you should be focusing on is building a relationship with your audience. You should know why they are coming to you on Facebook, on YouTube, on your site or wherever else. If you are still cutting and pasting TV content or taking the same content and plastering it on every site you will lose.

You will also lose if you try to beat the algorithm. If you’ve ever gambled, besides Brad Pitt setting you up for a win a la Oceans 13 style, know this: the house always wins.


However, if you focus on building a relationship with your audience and developing loyalty, it doesn’t matter what the algorithm does. Your audience will seek you out, and return to you over and over again. That’s how you ‘beat’ Facebook.


*because thats the last filter coffee I had here in Berlin at Father Carpenter and it was delightful


Coups, Wikileaks and a State of Emergency: A week in Turkey  

(A modified version of this piece will appear for BBC Trending over the weekend of 24/5 July). 

It’s been a turbulent week in Turkey with a failed coup attempt, Wikileaks dump of 300,000 emails of the ruling government party, and a declaration of a State of Emergency taking place in the span of 6 days. How has Turkey’s digital landscape been responding?

 On the evening of Friday 15 July, various stirrings on social media reported the closure and presence of military on Istanbul’s two key bridges connecting Europe to Asia. Reports of F-16 fighter jets flying low in Turkey’s capital Ankara were also suggesting something was afoot. A video posted early to Facebook was taken while driving by the bridge asked soldiers whether this was a military exercise or whether something was wrong. They responded that it wasn’t an exercise. One of the first tweets that started to trend was #DarbeyeHayir -no to the coup, with over 530,000 tweets suggesting that the public was against this coup.

 Facebook’s lives map lit up with instance of people broadcasting in Turkey. In 2011, the uprising in Egypt’s ‘Arab Spring’ were termed broadly as a ‘social media revolution,’ was Turkey experiencing an attempted coup by livestream? While Turkey is a connected social media country, social platforms are only used primarily by an urban, young, segment of society 

In a country of 74 million, there are approximately 30 million Facebook users, and 6 million Twitter users. Facebook live, the live streaming service launched in May, is used far less.

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 22.29.33.png

The inflection point of the coup could very well have been President Erdogan’s live interview on CNN Turk, via Apple’s FaceTime. Hande Firat, the bureau chief who was able to get him on the line was told by one of Erdogan’s advisors that he had already made a statement via Periscope, though this had failed to garner attention. During the Facetime call, Erdogan called on Turks to fill streets and squares to stand opposition to the attempted coup. The evening continued with former President Abdullah Gul also being interview on FaceTime, calling on soldiers to return to their barracks ‘before its too late.’ Tweets from the President, Prime Minister and other politicians followed with the same message, to take to the streets. Politicians had also been livestreaming while Parliament itself came under attack.

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 23.53.59

The following day, a text message sent by the Presidency was sent to mobile users across Turkey, urging them to take to the streets.

As the layers of what happened continued to follow, reports surfaced that coup plotters had used WhatsApp to organize and communicate on the night of July 15th. This gif emerged, fictionalising the timeline of events events

The release of 300,000 internal emails of Turkeys ruling party, AK (the justice and Development Party), by Wikileaks generated over 400,000 #Wikileaks tweets including anticipation, blocking of the site in Turkey by court order but when access was restored failed to deliver anything of scandal but did include recipes and calls by one staffer to help feed starving cats.

The announcement of the a three month State of Emergency (Olaganustu Hal) started trending in the early hours of Thursday 20th, with almost 100,000 tweets in 24 hours #OHALde (during the state of Emergency).

 While the names of alleged coup plotters were also trending at times on Turkey, there were also allegations that coup plotters organised themselves via the messenger service WhatsApp

Here’s a time line follows of some of the biggest trends in Turkey over the past week and what they mean


Friday 15th


stirrings on social media about military presence  and the shutting down of traffic on Istanbul’s Bosphorus bridge. Reports in Ankara of F-16 fighter jets flying at low altitude over the city

around 930pm

Erdogan appears on CNN Turk via a FaceTime around  calls where he says he will return to Ankara and calls on people to take to the streets and squares in defiance of the coup  


SokağaSakınÇıkma (Don’t go out into the streets) 68.4 k


#darbeyehayır 530k (No to the coup)

Saturday 16th


darbedeğiltiyatro 174k  (Its not a coup, its theatre – suggesting that the coup was staged)


#MehmetcikSahipsizdegildir  80k


#idamistiyorum 124k  (I want execution)


#askerimedokunma 607k


#MilletTarihyaziyor  309k  (The people are writing history by standing against the coup)

Thursday 21st

 2am  #ohalde 99k in less than 24 hours  

 Justin Biebers new song relase#coldwater 783k

Not be out done, celebrity tweets in the million broke the trends of domestic events -the spat between Taylor Swift and Kanye West, Selena Gomez’ 24th birthday and the launch of Justin Biebers new single Coldwater.


What does Turkey’s State of Emergency mean for civilians? aka calm down

Turkey’s President Erdogan just declared a 3 month State of Emergency. So what does it actually mean? Key points/summary below. For a more detailed version, see the source here 

  1. The State of Emergency cannot exceed 6 months
  2. It can be extended by 4 months at a time, each time by approval of parliament
  3. Decrees (ie law) issued under state cannot be contested as unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court (to put another way the Constitutional Court cannot question constitutionality of decrees declared under State of Emergency – it is not a time of civilian rule so rules suspended).
  4. Martial law can be enacted during period of state of emergency (can also exist exclusively depending under which Article emergency invoked- Articles 119 or 120 – check again the link above)
  5. Fundamental rights may be partially/entirely suspended (which is almost identical to Article 15 of European Convention of Human Rights)
  6. Important: no one can be held guilty until so proven by court judgement (meaning there are protective civil liberty elements within the Constitutions Article 15)
  7. However under State of Emergency, fundamental rights are not under the control of the judiciary (ie, again there is a parliamentary check on this)
  8. There cannot be amendments made to law during a State of Emergency, these can only be made after end of the State of Emergency per regular parliamentary procedure (ie Parliament has to approve).

Interpretation: While on surface this may appear alarming there are robust checks under the State of Emergency to protect civil liberties. Also, there was a 15 year state of emergency between 1987-2002 in some parts of Turkey, so this has occurred in recent memory. The ‘shock’ comes from evaluating Turkish democratic standards with those of a developed Western liberal democracy and the freedoms that entails. Turkey is still considered a developing country in some respects, and it is not Western, but it is also not to be equated with various Middle Eastern regimes permeated by military or dynastic rule. Some angst comes from the panic that it will defer to the latter, particularly when considering Turkey has made resounding economic, democratic and human developed leaps in the past decade to distinguish itself from undemocratic, undeveloped regimes/areas. Concerns remain in other areas namely freedom of assembly, press and the economic slowdown not just from the past days but recent years.

What we do not yet know/questions:

  • Will there be curfews? We don’t know, it hasn’t been announced
  • Didn’t they sack all the judges? No, 2745 judges have been removed (as of 2013 there were over 12,000 judges in Turkey and incidentally more than half were women).
  • Are you scared? No, but concerned. These measures can be enacted during a natural disaster or economic crisis (Article 119) or during widespread acts of violence and serious deterioration of public order (Article 120). Concern comes from the status quo being living under a non state of emergency. The status quo would be to be living under regular civilian law. What it means beyond today’s announcement is uncertain. Follow me on Twitter for regular updates.

Quick questions you might have about Turkey right now

1. What’s going on?  There was an attempted coup overnight on Friday 15 July by certain factions in the military. Turkey has had 3 successful military coups in the past, the last in 1980.

2. Who was behind it? A small group of military and airforce leaders. There has been a wide sweep of arrests, dismissal of judges as investigations continue.

3. What will happen to the coup perpetrators? We don’t know yet. As part of EU accession acquis (critera), Turkey dropped capital punishment in 2004. The Minister of Defence speaking to press said it would be up to Parliament to decide whether they would make any changes to reinstitute this.

4. Why didn’t the coup succeed?

i) Lack of popular support. Whereas in Egypt, hundreds of thousands of protesters came out night after night demanding the overthrow of Mubarak, this was not the case in Turkey. The events did seem to catch everyone off guard.

ii) Not enough soldiers. The people involved were a minor part of the military who did not seem able to take control effectively of key infrastructure (airports, ports, tv channels etc) or capture key leaders (although there was an unsuccessful raid in coastal Marmaris targeting where President Erdogan had been on holiday).

iii) Lack of opposition support. In the aftermath, all 4 major political parties came together with a joint statement condemning the coup, and reaffirming their belief in the democratic process.

Check also Ziya Meral’s short video.

5. What will happen to the 8 soldiers who have sought asylum in Greece? Turkey has requested their return, while various Greek sources have reported that their application will be considered. They were arrested on arrival for illegally entering Greece and jeopardising Greek relations with Turkey.

6. Who is this Gulen everyone keeps talking about? Fetullah Gulen is an influential preacher in self imposed exile in Pennsylvania. He was a one time ally of President Erdogan, and their relationship has since soured with Erdogan and others accusing him of attempting to set up a parallel state. He has been accused of being behind the coup but has has categorically denied thisThere have been many overtures for Gulen to be extradited. US Secretary of State Kerry has responded that they would welcome evidence demonstrating Gulen’s involvement.

7. Is Turkey safe? Everything is back to normal post coup in the sense that flights have returned to normal, traffic across the major bridges and ferries have resumed, people are getting on with their lives. However, Turkey has suffered a series of terrorist attacks both in major cities (Ankara, Istanbul) and in the south east over the past year. That being said, major western cities have faced similar assaults (Brussels, Nice, Paris) and the same caution and vigilance is encouraged. Turkey is suffering more than the others with a 45% drop in tourism this year and a 5% decline in the value of the lira. Resorts popular with tourists are safe and unaffected.

Leave any other questions in the comments below and I’ll answer them.


The unofficial dedication.

Just before handing in my dissertation aka the “Coraline shot”

Regular dedications don’t really give you space to say what you’re thankful for, or reflect on how difficult the journey has been. But a blog post does. So here is my unofficial dedication since submitting my dissertation this afternoon – the last piece of coursework for my degree at the LSE. The journey took 3 years, I learnt a lot and am happy to say my dissertation was truly a labour of love. More on that later.

Above all else, to my mother Ibtisam Dogramaci. Her name stems from the Arabic “tebessum,” to smile. She smiles inside and out and helped me through all the days, including some very dark ones. Mums have some kind of contract for motherly care and other responsibilities. My mum consistently went above and beyond. If you’ve met my mum you know what I mean.

Before my great uncle passed away, one of the pieces of advice he gave me was to be strong in my knowledge of Ottoman history. I didn’t quite understand then, but now I do. To the memory of Ihsan Dogramaci.

To my American ‘parentals’ Todd and Louise and Canadian one Linda.

To my friends from the class of 2010-2011. I would have loved to have finished the year with you and my best memories at LSE include you. Though we couldn’t finish together, thank you for the friendship and guidance since.

A special mention to Miran for proof reading almost everything and teaching me the LSE way. To Michele for reminding me the process should be fun, not stressful.

To some cool staff and faculty in Media and Communications. You know who you are.

To my friends from the 2012-13 class, thank you for the lively debates, especially in MC401.

A special mention to Maria because you’re just awesome, everyday with you was a good day. Thank you for being my friend.

To my ‘Russkie soldatis’ and friends in Turkey.

To Manu for your humour, guidance and honesty.

Thank you to Fleet River Bakery for nurturing my mornings with caffeine then my new finds Free State Coffee and New Row Coffee. New Row’ers, you guys are by far my favourite and the best mornings were those which began with you. There were some very difficult days, but to sit in the sun by the big windows with a cup of joe, almond croissant with good morning smiles and happy conversations sometimes made all the difference.

To Good Vibes yoga, especially Natasha for keeping me flexible – here’s proof.

To Walk in Backrub for being  my self imposed Friday afternoon treat.

To minions for just making life better.

Thanks to all the central London gyms for giving me free passes. My tour of London gyms continues.

To anyone I’ve missed but should be here, send me an email along the lines “hey, why aren’t I in there!” and I’ll edit the post.

A special mention goes to my AJ friends from Doha and Istanbul. A few names need to be singled out.

Dina – you kept me on point in the days where I was truly nervous and didn’t believe I could make it.

Farhan & Sterling – for laughs that sustained beyond our time together

Sohail & Ghania – for keeping it fancy

Aksel – for being my bro

and of course,

to Osama, the one I love.

On the protests in Turkey

Whats happening in Turkey?

In the first interview with Lorna Dunkley I talk about the role of social media and media coverage on the protests in Turkey.

In the second with Adam Boulton on “Boulton & Co” a more general short discussion on whats happening in Turkey.  At the time of interview, the delegation members to meet with the Prime Minister hadn’t been identified, and numbers were floated 11-17.  Things have progressed since then. Also, not everyone fasts in during Ramadan. I don’t have stats on that… yet. If interested in more, please leave a comment.

For more, see previous posts:

Not a Turkish Spring (on the LSE Polis blog)

Turkish Summer: Protests, politics and media (on the LSE Polis blog)

All quiet on the Rumelian and Anatolian fronts? 

Istanbul on Saturday night: what was done, what is to come 

Broadcast footage from Sky, used with permission from Reuters and cannot be used for commercial purposes

Istanbul on Saturday night: what was done, what is to come

Updated: 17 June, 2013 (A quick write up, will be edited properly in due time)

My great grandmothers brother was Lutfi Kirdar. He became mayor of Istanbul in 1938. In 1940, he tore down the Ottoman barracks and in its place built a park. That park is Gezi park centre of Turkey and media attention for the past three weeks.

Last night, following the calls by President Gul (on Twitter) and Prime Minister Erdogan (at an Ankara public rally) for the protestors to leave Gezi Park, who had been acknowledged as peaceful, they were moved out. Protestors in the park had been singled out of the crowds gathering daily at Taksim square protesting. They were not to be interfered with. In the park were hundreds of camping tents and impromptu services – food for those who needed it, triage and gas masks, even a library. There were performances in the park, activities for children and even yoga. It had the feel of a calm community oasis, its central point the base of the protest: to stop the removal of trees in the park to make way for planned development. During the afternoon, after calls from police to leave, a series of water cannons and tear gas were dispersed in the park, and with it all its habitants. Some press remained and live images started to come through – police knocking down tents in what appeared to be making sure no one was hiding out and then the ‘clean up’ began. First the bulldozers then the municipal workers. The bulldozers moved the barricades, including one overturned car while the municipal workers started to take down banners, tents, the makeshift stall, everything. A ‘wishing tree’ had been set up where people had written their hopes and tied them with string.. which was then burnt after police took control of the park.

Wish tree before via

Wish tree before via Zeynep Tufekci

Where were the thousands of people who had been previously assembled? Where did they go? They were cordoned off into various streets that feed into Taksim Square. Children who had been separated from their parents were taken to the Divan Hotel, at one edge of the park. All this of course, was organised on social media. Accounts set up for the Gezi ‘resistance’ have tens to hundreds of thousands of followers. Word gets around quickly. But what happened shortly after was police firing teargas into the hotel. Arda Kutsal founder of Webrazzi, Turkey’s dominant digital blog, said on Twitter “No one in this country will justify those who threw tear gas into the hotel, when children were inside.” Turkish commentator Ziya Meral responded “it beggars belief.” Reports, again on Twitter began to circulate that press was being removed from the park. Shortly after, the live streams went down.

Wish tree after via Zeynep Tufekci

Wish tree after via Zeynep Tufekci

As a journalist your responsibility is to report – to be neutral, objective, fair and furnish analysis with context. But what happens when the issue becomes personal and when your stores of rationality are no longer able to explain events? How do you explain tear gas being targeted towards a hospital? Writer for the Economist, Amberin Zaman expressed the shock and speechlessness that accompanied the events. First shock – no more words to explain unnecessary police force. Didn’t a delegation of protestors meet with the Prime Minister, didn’t he say a referendum should be held on planned developments? Hadn’t the police drawn back and allowed the festival, peaceful like atmosphere to continue? This became dismay of witnessing what had been left in the past, and unimaginable in today’s Turkey, a country whose inhabitants are known for their sense of pride and ownership. Where was the rationality in all of this? Why do this on a Saturday night, a weekend when protestors have no reason to go home?  The progression of sentiment is predictable. Shock at removal from the park, sadness of the ending, not by their own accord, of the collective community they had built. This can only spur anger. People will feel robbed of reason and a perceived sense of justice. Their grievances had been listened to, there was hope, and now… this…

At the same time a pro government rally is to be held tomorrow (Sunday 16 June) in Istanbul. Not good timing. Why create a potential situation for political ideologies to clash. Up until this point, this was not an issue of contention. The Gezi and related protests were marked as an organic movement that swelled in response to excessive or unnecessary use of police force. This was acknowledged by President Gul and Deputy Prime Minister Arinc. Protestors were drawn from a diverse cross section of society: the students, the unions, the lawyers, conservatives, the Kurds, and yes even government supporters. Although protestors chants did include anti government and anti Erdogan cries, this did not translate into the oft repeated objectives of the cause: the cessation of the planned Gezi park development, a ban on tear gas and those responsible for excessive police force to be held to account. These objectives have been acknowledged but are not in play.

By forcefully removing people, by continued dispersal of tear gas, sound grenades, water cannons on the heals of understanding and dialogue; by holding rallies that will now draw diametrically drawn political lines, hopes for resolution are fading. That resolution could have been negotiated space. But as characteristic of so much in Turkey, this too can turn into a “my way or the high-way” approach. Some protestors have made the call that the Prime Minister also represents them, even if they might not have voted for him, that he is still their Prime Minister too, meaning they want him to act in the best interests of the entire country, not just his constituents. Calls for him to resign and his government to step down are unrealistic and unhelpful. He is after all a popularly elected figure increasing at each subsequent election his share of the vote. Perhaps its the words of Gurkan Zengin, head of news of Al Jazeera Turk, which will remind the check to be kept – that “Erdogan is an important brand for Turkey, but Turkey is more important than Erdogan.”