Many news sites have been trying to harness social media to provide readers with relevant stories, via Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. Some news sites, like the New York Times, give their readers article recommendations based on what they think they might like. The Huffington Post has decided to take it a step further. According to GigaOM, users can now use social media to get updates on their favorite writers and topics.
The changes have been in testing phase for about a week, but the HuffPo blog just announced yesterday that they would become permanent. It implemented these changes to help ensure readers wouldn't miss the stories they most wanted to see. As social media editor Rob Fishman put it, "[F]rustratingly, it's the story we most care about that so often slips through the cracks."
To help readers avoid this frustration, HuffPo has put a + button next to popular topics. Users can click these buttons and choose to follow specific topics on their Facebook or Twitter accounts. If someone were interested in Japan, they could "follow" it. Stories HuffPo posts about Japan would appear on their Facebook wall. The Twitter option will also send readers updates on topics.
For following specific writer, users have even more options. In addition to Twitter and Facebook, users can become a fan of the writer, read their RRS feed or get email updates when they post stories.
HuffPo's writers were already on Facebook and Twitter, but adding a direct way of connecting to them to receive updates gives users a more personalized experience. Likewise, users choosing to be updated on the specific topics that interest them will undoubtedly lead to more hits for the site.
Mashable did something similar earlier this month. Users can sign up through Twitter and Facebook accounts and are connected with other users who have similar interests. If they choose to follow a topic, updates are sent to a "My Stories" feed.
This is not HuffPo's first foray into social media. Last year, it introduced "HuffPo Badges" which were awarded based on user activity in order to boost interaction. It also formed a partnership with Foursquare, starting "push notifications" for certain businesses. In 2009, it partnered with Facebook and implemented Facebook Connection on its site. This garnered 500 percent more traffic from the social network than before. HuffPo has also used crowd-sourcing as a way to engage readers.
HuffPo's willingness to experiment with social media has aided it greatly in expanding. It is in the top ten most read news websites, and experienced a 20 percent growth in unique hits from February to March.