Unmasking Meta’s Bad News Strategy

Comms pros often agonize over what day to release news. Whether it’s good or bad, the day news is announced can significantly impact coverage and readership, especially if there are other global events happening on the same day. Do big companies share negative news on Fridays? Do they share good news at the beginning of the week? We analyzed nearly 6,300 articles about Meta – a company that has had its fair share of negative press in the past year – to understand their bad news strategy and the impact it has on readership.

Meta’s shifting bad news strategy

Most of the time, bad news isn’t within the control of the person, people, or thing(s) it’s about. Meta is no different. In early 2022, readership on negative Meta press peaked on articles published on Fridays, mostly news out of the social media giant’s control. In the second half of 2022, the highest readership came from negative stories published in the middle of the week. So why the shift? We took a deeper look at what macro trends may be influencing decision-making.

It turns out that some of the negative news coming out of Meta in the second half of 2022 aligned with planned global news events or holidays.

  • News that Sheryl Sandberg was stepping down was announced on June 1st, the same date of the much anticipated Johnny Depp vs Amber Heard trial verdict was scheduled.
  • Zuckerberg told employees they’ll be turning up the heat on performance reviews and slowing hiring on July 1st, right before the 4th of July holiday weekend.
  • Meta announced plans to make staffing cuts on September 21st, just days after Queen Elizabeth’s funeral service broadcast across the globe and the associated news cycle. 
  • Meta then also announced layoffs on November 9th, in the middle of the U.S. midterm election cycle.
Readership of negative Meta news compared to global events

Is Meta’s bad news strategy working?

A third of Meta’s highest readership spikes over the past year came from negative news coming towards the end of the week, whether it was news within their control or not. So releasing bad news on a Friday isn’t a strategy that works in their favor. While it sometimes produces fewer news articles, the articles that do publish attract more readers.

Announcing negative news during global events is presumably to reduce pickup or decrease attention. Makes sense. The world is distracted. Here’s the thing–readership actually increased. Readership of Meta’s layoff news spiked at nearly 5 million in the midst of the U.S. midterm elections, roughly five times the readership of negative news announced earlier in the year. Given the nature of the announcements, it’s likely that readership was always going to be higher compared to press earlier in the year, but five times is a lot.

Is any day of the week good for bad news?

Negative readership outweighs positive readership early in the week (Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday), while the opposite is true later in the week (Thursday, Friday, & Saturday). 

Overall, Meta’s negative news readership was highest on Wednesday and lowest on Saturday and Sunday, when coverage volume was also low. Wednesdays generated the highest average readership in 2022, while average readership was lowest on Thursdays, followed by Mondays and Tuesdays. 

Negative Meta news readership compared to volume of coverage

Volume of coverage certainly does not indicate readership. Ideally, if a brand is announcing negative news they would want to target the day that produces the lowest readership numbers. That means sharing good news on Wednesdays and bad news on Thursdays.

What can we learn from Meta?

It’s impossible to say that if Meta announced layoffs outside of the U.S. midterm elections it would have attracted fewer readers. That said, readership spikes during those expected global news days indicate that targeting those days doesn’t entirely work. It could impact the volume of coverage around negative news. Readership however still surged, which means that attention on the news didn’t see the impact that Meta may have intended.

Readership trends give you more context and insights than volume trends do when it comes to media coverage. Announcing bad news on big news days may not create the outcome intended. At least it didn’t for Meta (from what we can tell). Who’s going to tell them?

10 PR strategy questions finally answered with Insights Reports

The Insights Team at Memo helps Comms groups answer their most pressing PR measurement and strategy questions with custom, on-demand reporting. These are questions that – prior to readership data – had few quantifiable answers beyond potential reach estimates and social-engagement extrapolation. Now with just a prompt and a little context from the customer, our team can provide definitive answers and strategic guidance grounded in an accurate, straightforward metric.

Below are just 10 out of the hundreds of questions we’ve helped answer with readership over the past year. (To protect our customers’ privacy, I’ve purposefully kept these anonymous and light on any industry-specific details.) I hope these questions inspire new and existing Memo customers to see what’s possible with better PR measurement.

Question #1: We are launching a product in a space that our PR team has little experience with. Can you help us understand the news landscape for this industry?

By rolling up article-level readership data by brand, topic, and publication, Memo is able to identify new opportunities and help guide communications plans for product launches in markets outside of our clients’ expertise. In this case, we did a deep dive into a specific industry to find the themes consumers are most interested in, what outlets and authors drive the highest readership in the space, and what brands are currently owning the conversation.

Question #2: This reporter/this outlet is always covering us negatively. Should we be worried?

Our customers know that impressions are wildly inaccurate: an outlet’s number of unique monthly visitors is a poor indicator of how many people read an individual article. And because readership varies so widely across articles, it can be difficult to tell when negative press is picking up steam versus stalling out before it’s too late. We did a deep dive into a particular reporter and outlet to help our client determine if their coverage was a cause for concern based on readership trends.

Question #3: What publications drive high readership for corporate ESG and DE&I campaigns?

Building awareness of their companies’ ESG and diversity initiatives is an ongoing goal for many customers, who (thanks to readership reporting) know that press volume does not always correlate with awareness. We partnered with our client to help make their ESG and DE&I campaigns more efficient by identifying the outlets and reporters getting the highest readership on these themes. We also called out the angles of ESG and DE&I stories that generated high readership for key industry players in the past.

Question #4: What press is causing consumer mistrust in our industry?

With negative press, social listening on its own makes it difficult to separate the stories generating passive engagement (a like here, a retweet there) from the stories consumers care deeply about. Our team analyzed readership by topic on articles critical of our customer and their competitors. We identified which negative themes had a high readership – an indication that these were issues consumers felt strongly enough about to read a full article – versus which negative press received relatively low reader interest. 

Question #5: What are consumers reading about regarding the future of work?

The largest corporations in the world are dictating what the future of work will look like for all of us. Recognizing their impact, one such corporation turned to readership data to help best communicate their own return-to-work decisions. In this analysis, our team looked at the entire future of work discussion online, helped our client understand the industries and brands generating the highest readership, identified the sub-topics that resonated the most, and highlighted top-read outlets and authors in the space.

Question #6: We know an outlet is about to publish an exposé on us. What can we expect the impact to be?

Memo helped one Comms group estimate the impact of an upcoming negative report by analyzing readership trends from similar situations in the past. We did a deep dive into the durations of past negative news cycles to give our client a sense of how long the story would capture readers’ attention. We also analyzed the effect that the publication had on the duration of the news cycle and the amount of additional readership from outlets that picked up the story.

Question #7: Our products are about to go on sale, and we want our customers to know. What can we do to improve the media coverage of the event?

Upstart brands can’t always afford to learn by trial and error, so we help them learn from established competitors. In this case, we analyzed the readership of a large competitor’s sale-event coverage to give our client insight into which outlets, topics, and authors would drive the best outcome for their media campaign.  

Question #8: How did readership and tone change from similar news cycles in the past?

News events can be recurring and even cyclical/predictable, but readership isn’t always consistent. Our team compared readership and brand sentiment on a more recent news cycle to identify changes in how coverage performed from previous rounds, including the highly-read articles, publications, and angles positively shifting the conversation.

Question #9: Our company just announced a new policy on a politically charged topic. How is it resonating?

Just three days after this announcement, Memo helped our customer identify the articles receiving the highest pick-up and readership. With real-time insights, we helped our clients determine which outlets to focus on for allocating spokespeople and other follow-up messaging.

Question #10: One of our competitors had a major labor issue. What was the total impact of their crisis?

One customer turned to readership to better understand the effects of a controversy on a competitor. Our team analyzed readership over time to understand the longevity of the conversation and identify when interest in the topic began to wane. We also analyzed readership on the competitor’s response to understand the types of coverage piqued reader interest most – all intel that could help our client better contextualize and prepare for their own strategic responses.

I hope these examples begin to illustrate some of the exciting, innovative work our team supports every day. If you’re a Memo customer and haven’t taken advantage of custom reporting, reach out to your customer success manager or email success@memo.co to get started. (And if you’re not a customer, book a demo below to learn more about Insights Reports and all the other new measurement tools enabled by readership data.)