December 22nd, 2022

Unmasking Meta’s Bad News Strategy

Eva Casher

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?

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