CNN’s Getting Special Facebook Data to Shape Its Debates
News organizations have played a major role in turning Facebook into the leading news platform it is today by publishing and posting their content direct to the social network. Now, Facebook is returning the favor.
Through a new exclusive partnership with CNN, which anchor Jake Tapper will announce at the end of tonight’s Republican debate, Facebook is helping the old guard news network shape its future debate coverage throughout the 2016 election season by giving the network special access to Facebook’s data team. By tapping into conversations happening on Facebook, CNN will be able to make its editorial coverage more relevant to issues the general public cares about while also bringing the voices of real Americans into the debate.
The partnership is as sure a sign as any of Facebook’s influence on the news cycle both on and off of its own platform. According to a recent Pew study, 48 percent of Web users say they get their political news from Facebook. That’s higher than the 44 percent who get it from CNN. That figure is even more drastic when you look at millennial users, 61 percent of whom report getting their political news from Facebook. As users’ interaction with political news increase, Facebook learns increasingly more about the issues users care about and the candidates they’re talking about—information that’s especially valuable to a company like CNN working against a crowded new media landscape.
“Facebook has an enormous and engaged user base. They’re talking about politics, talking about issues, and we know they’re talking about candidates,” says Samantha Barry, CNN’s senior director of social news. “This partnership allows us to dig a little deeper, and helps take that information and data and have it inform our editorial process.”
Through the partnership, CNN will have exclusive access to Facebook’s data team to pull granular data.1 Meanwhile, the two companies are also collaborating on a cross-country tour in what they’re calling the Campaign Camper, which will make stops in 10 cities over the next month, ending on October 13 in Las Vegas for the first Democratic debate.
Along the way, CNN will welcome members of the public onto the Camper to record videos that will live both on CNN.com and on Facebook. To plan the route, CNN analyzed the most talked-about issues on Facebook and chose cities that were emblematic of those issues. In Phoenix, Arizona, for example, they’ll prompt people to discuss issues around immigration. In Ferguson, Missouri, they’ll talk about race.
Some of these videos—and the ideas they spark—could make it into the next debate, but Facebook director of partnerships Andy Mitchell is clear about the fact that the company is keeping its hands off of CNN’s editorial decisions. “They clearly hold all editorial control,” he says. “We want to help inform them in a number of different ways around what the conversation is around politics on Facebook, the scale, the ways real people can be involved throughout the political process, and defer to our journalistic partners about how they feel this content makes sense within the programming they’re creating.”
But CNN isn’t the only one benefiting from this partnership. Facebook is also working to establish itself as an important advertising and campaigning platform for candidates, hoping to chip away at the allegiance political advertisers still have to the almighty television spot. Plastering Facebook’s brand on the side of the Campaign Camper, co-branding the debate with CNN, and hosting a Facebook Lounge on-site where pundits and campaigns can interact with Facebook’s data, all help build that reputation.
Meanwhile, the partnership helps Facebook showcase its shiniest new toy: video. Facebook videos now receive more than 4 billion video views daily, the company says. It’s in Facebook’s best interest to ensure that number continues to grow, and that means not ceding any growth to other video platforms like YouTube or Twitter. CNN says the videos collected over the course of this partnership will be shared exclusively on its own network, its own digital sites, and Facebook.
None of this is to say that CNN will be the only outlet Facebook partners with over the election season, though. After all, Facebook co-sponsored the first GOP debate on Fox. Facebook’s data deal with CNN is exclusive to the debates going forward, but Mitchell anticipates many more partnerships to come. “We’re excited to work with all the different news organizations,” he says, “to help them use Facebook in ways that make sense for the journalism they’re doing.”
1. Update: 08:38 09/16/2015 An earlier version of this story stated that Facebook would be sharing this data exclusively with CNN. Facebook says it reserves the option to share this data with other outlets, as well.