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Local Publishers Invest Resources into Facebook

Should Local Publishers Invest Resources into Facebook?

Facebook says it’s investing $300 million into local news, but should local publishers invest resources into Facebook?

When it comes to audience engagement, there is no questioning Facebook’s influence. With more than 2.3 billion monthly active users, Facebook now accounts for roughly 24% of all referral traffic to content publishers. Those figures are particularly impressive when looked at in comparison to other social networks, like Twitter, which accounts for just 3% of all referral traffic to content publishers

Facebook is a powerful resource for publishers looking to bring new readers into the fold. Decoding the best tactics and strategies for using Facebook to build an audience and increase reader engagement is a field unto itself. Still, the question remains, should local publishers invest resources into Facebook?

From a local publisher’s perspective, investing resources into Facebook can mean a few different things. It can mean spending the time it takes to fully utilize all of Facebook’s audience engagement tools, and implementing the best strategies for post promotion. It can also mean investing financial resources, including running paid advertising campaigns on the platform, and even hiring an in-house social media editor to create and publish posts on the platform.

From where we stand here at Web Publisher PRO, the answer is clear. Local publishers should absolutely be investing resources into Facebook. The platform’s size and power make it an obvious choice for publications looking to boost outreach. Although there is some debate over just how much power Facebook has over the local news industry, we believe that publishers are leaving money on the table when they ignore social media entirely.

Certain parts of Facebook’s platform may be more beneficial for publishers than others. For example, publishers seem to be having particular success with Facebook Video as of late. Facebook’s video tools are easy to access, and publishers that regularly publish video on Facebook (either pre-recorded or live) tend to have higher levels of engagement on their pages than those that do not.

Best Practices for Local Publishers on Facebook

While the decision to invest resources into Facebook is an obvious one for local publishers, questions still remain over how best to take advantage of social media for the purpose of improving audience engagement.

Facebook publishes its own set of best practices for publishers, but frequent changes to the platform’s News Feed algorithm that de-prioritize local publishers’ content are forcing publishers to take it up a notch.

Local publishers have two primary goals when it comes to Facebook. First, they want to get people seeing their content. Second, they want the people who see their content to click through to their websites.

Attracting views on Facebook alone isn’t enough for publishers looking for sustainable revenue. Whether the publisher’s business model is based on subscriptions or digital advertising, loyal on-site readers are still a requirement for success.

With that in mind, we recommend that publisher’s post excerpts of recent articles on Facebook, but still require readers to click-through to read the content of those article in their entireties. Headlines should be written in a way that leaves readers wanting more, not telling the complete story.

The savviest local publishers are finding creative ways to keep the readers who’ve found their publications through Facebook coming back for more. For example, local publishers are adding sign-up boxes on their Facebook pages, where people can sign-up to receive email newsletters. Regular email newsletters keep visitors in the loop, regardless of what future algorithm changes might have in store.

Publishers who are using Facebook as a way to foster loyalty should be encouraging readers to leave more comments and otherwise contribute to their publications through the social media platform, as well. For example, publishers could promote the top comment of the week in a separate post, or publicly thank frequent commenters on their social media profiles.

Because sharing is such an integral part of Facebook’s platform, publishers should consider rewarding readers who “share” their content by entering them into drawings or giving away a certain number of free subscriptions each month.

Investing in Facebook means coming up with a comprehensive strategy for deciding which types of content to publish on the platform. Rather than posting every article on Facebook, and inundating people’s News Feeds, we recommend that publishers post only their best work. By only creating Facebook posts for articles that are likely to get shared, publishers boost their position in Facebook’s algorithm. Facebook takes into account a publisher’s level of engagement across all posts when deciding how to distribute content, which means publishers who post indiscriminately, and get very few reactions, could be hurting their brands in the long run.

Questions to ask before investing resources into Facebook:

  • Why are you using Facebook?
  • What are you hoping to get from the platform?
  • Is paid advertising required to achieve your goals?
  • What is the absolute maximum you are willing to spend for reader acquisition?
Facebook's Policy Changes

How Facebook’s Policy Changes Will Impact Local Publishers

The spread of fake news hurts everyone, but local news publishers have been particularly troubled by the growing presence of hoax websites. Facebook’s policy changes to combat misinformation on the social network are designed to change the way consumers evaluate what they read online and hopefully give local publishers the leg up they’ve been looking for.

Before digging into Facebook’s policy changes, and how those changes will impact local publishers, let’s take a look at how we got here.

Fake news has all but taken over Facebook’s News Feed, with its algorithm seeming to favor the kind of salacious stories that just aren’t true. But the time people spend reading, and potentially sharing, false stories is time they aren’t spending reading legitimate articles from real news sources. The spread of inaccurate information has also generated a greater need for publishers to create viral content, the kind that legitimate publishers can’t be expected to churn out on a daily basis without stretching the limits of reality and accuracy.

To sum it up, when readers see more “unbelievable” content on Facebook, they crave more of that content, and legitimate news no longer satisfies their palates. This puts local news publishers at a disadvantage, particularly once Facebook’s algorithms come into play. Content that’s shared and commented on ranks higher in the News Feed, regardless of whether it’s accurate, creating a vicious cycle that puts the media industry as we know it in danger.

Facebook’s Policy Change

With all of those concerns in mind, Facebook recently announced a policy change that involves making changes to its algorithm and company policies to combat fake news stories, videos, and images on the social network.

Facebook’s policy change centers around a strategy the company is calling “Remove, Reduce, and Inform.” As the name implies, Facebook intends to remove content that violates its policies, reduce the spread of problematic content, and inform people with more information so they can choose for themselves which articles to read and share.

A few more specific elements of Facebook’s policy change include:

  • Facebook is updating its enforcement policy for Facebook groups and launching a “Group Quality” feature.
  • It is starting a collaborative process with outside experts to find more ways to quickly fight false news.
  • The company is expanding the content the Associated Press reviews as a third-party fact-checker.
  • A “Click-Gap” signal will be incorporated into News Feed rankings to make sure people see less low-quality content on the platform.
  • And the company is adding “Trust Indicators” to its News Feed Context Button.

How Facebook’s Policy Changes Impact Local Publishers

What can local publishers expect in light of Facebook’s policy changes?

Broadly speaking, Facebook intends to rely more heavily on information from journalists and academics to add context to problematic articles. The company may also include additional reading suggestions to give users a clearer picture of the truth behind controversial topics.

These changes are expected to benefit local publishers. Journalists and academics can tell the difference between a legitimate news source and a hoax website much more easily than an algorithm. Adding a human element should help real news outlets get their articles pushed to the top of the heap, so to speak. Depending on what content Facebook chooses to link to as part of its “additional reading” suggestions, local publishers could see a bump in website traffic, as well.

Facebook’s partnership with fact-checking outlets isn’t new, it was actually launched in December 2016. But Facebook’s policy change pulls additional resources to that program. Once an article is identified as false, its reach in the News Feed is decreased and a fact-check is appended to it. This, once again, benefits local publishers that publish legitimate stories that stand up to the test.

Have you noticed a change in your website traffic as a result of Facebook’s policy change? We’d love to know what sort of traffic volume you’re seeing from Facebook, Twitter, and other social channels.

Facebook for traffic generation

Local Publishers Reduce Dependency on Facebook For Traffic — Here’s How

As controversies surrounding Facebook’s willingness to help publishers with traffic and referrals continues to swirl, a growing number of independent publishers are looking outside of Facebook for traffic, effectively reducing their dependency on the social media giant.

Just look at Slate. The online magazine has seen an 87% drop in Facebook traffic since 2017. Part of that drop can be attributed to a decrease in news feed reach in early 2018, soon after Facebook’s policy changed to limit pages from accepting content they didn’t create, primarily from social marketing companies. Slate’s drop in Facebook traffic could also be attributed to changes in the platform’s news feed, which now prioritizes content from people’s friends and family over publishers and brands.

But Slate isn’t alone. Publishers who create their own viral content are struggling to use Facebook for traffic generation, as well. Stylist, the female-focused publisher, has found success publishing beauty and fashion videos on the web. It now sees as much as 12% of its referral traffic coming from Facebook. But constant changes in the content discovery algorithm, coupled with questionable monetization concepts, have led Stylist to explore additional channels for distribution. Among those is Apple News, which funnels significant traffic towards Stylist’s videos and offers a number of options for monetization.

Apple News is just one of many options for local publishers deciding to place less reliance on Facebook for traffic generation. Search engine optimization (SEO) is also coming back into style.

Pushed into the background in recent years, SEO is experiencing a comeback right now, particularly within the local publishing community.

Formatting articles in a way that ensures they rank highly on search engines, like Google and Bing, has never gone out of style, but with traffic coming from Facebook and other social channels continuing to decrease, publishers are kicking their SEO strategies into high gear.

Then there’s the strategy being honed by Mic. The youth-oriented digital publisher is using a strategy referred to as “deliberate distribution” to make up for the drop in Facebook traffic.

What does the phrase “deliberate distribution” mean, exactly? For starters, Mic publishes significantly less—roughly half—content on Facebook now than it did in the past, and it has axed its partner swaps with other publishers. Instead of relying on Facebook for traffic generation, Mic is looking more closely at Apple News and Twitter. Like Stylist, Mic sees an opportunity to reach a large audience by posting videos on the Apple News platform.

Probably just as important are the changes Mic has made to its own publishing strategy. For example, the digital publication went from publishing as many as 75 articles each day, down to just 25. It now measures editorial content based on time spent on the website instead of page views.

The goal here, for Mic and many other independent, local publishers around the country, is to build a brand that readers will value enough to visit directly on the web. Once a publication builds a loyal audience, it becomes much less important what changes Facebook is making to its news feed algorithm on a day to day basis.

Here are three strategies for any local publisher looking to reduce their own dependence on Facebook for traffic generation.

  1. Pay attention to SEO. Don’t let SEO fall to the wayside. Search engine traffic is just as important now as it ever was, and small changes to content and website layouts, can have a significant impact on the amount of traffic coming through places like Google and Bing.
  2. Explore new channels. Apple News is a big player here, but a number of other niche distribution options exist for publishers right now. Do the research to find out which channels your own readers are using and start getting your site’s content posted on those channels.
  3. Focus on quality. Publishers who have historically relied on social media platforms like Facebook for traffic have focused more on quantity than quality. But the latest changes to Facebook’s news feed algorithms are changing the game for publishers that traffic in gimmicky content. Ultimately, these changes may end up helping local news publisher that regularly post high-quality, original content.
Facebook's News Feed Changes

How Local Publishers Are Adapting to Facebook’s News Feed Changes

Facebook’s decision in January to change its News Feed algorithm and prioritize content from friends, family, and groups caused a collective shudder across the media landscape. But now three months after Facebook’s News Feed changes were announced, some local publishers are finding ways to use the new algorithm to their advantage.

Facebook’s decision may ultimately impact major publishers like CNN and Buzzfeed more strongly than smaller, hyperlocal publishers. The reason? Readers tend to have more personal relationships with local publishers than national media organizations. They’re more likely to comment and interact with community-focused content in a way that demonstrates to Facebook that they’re engaged, as well.

Mark Zuckerberg highlighted the point in his own Facebook post, pledging to Facebook users that the site was going to “show more stories from news sources in your local town or city,” and saying that stories from local publishers may show up higher in users’ news feeds with the new algorithm in place.

Facebook’s survival is based on users being active on the platform, and the company’s new algorithm prioritizes engagement and activity over time spent on the site. Click bait headlines and splashy images are no longer enough for publishers to overcome Facebook’s algorithm. What will work, as always, is solid content that readers want to engage with. Publishers with engaged audiences can expect to receive priority in Facebook’s News Feed.

Here are five things that publishers can do to take advantage of Facebook’s News Feed changes:

  1. Show readers how to follow along on Facebook.
    The majority of people who follow local publishers on social media do so passively, meaning they rarely search out publishers, and they rely on their news feeds to keep them up to date. Because Facebook’s algorithm changes are making this harder, some media outlets are publishing instructional guides on their websites for readers who want to continue getting their news through Facebook. Step-by-step directions show readers how to update their Facebook settings so a publisher’s stories appear first in their news feeds. This is a good first step for publishers to shore up their most loyal fans.
  2. Focus on content distribution outside of Facebook.
    It may seem counterintuitive, but the key to distributing content inside Facebook is to create a great user experience outside of the platform. That means dedicating more resources to developing a website that’s mobile responsive and publishing the best content possible on that website. Ideally, a local publisher’s website will have impeccable design and it will be setup in a way that enables user-friendly content discovery.
  3. Ramp up email marketing efforts.
    Facebook’s News Feed changes are spurring some hyperlocal publishers to ramp up their email marketing efforts. In posts on their Facebook pages and editorial announcements on their websites, publishers are warning readers that they may no longer see breaking news on Facebook. To avoid missing out on local alerts and news updates, publishers are encouraging readers to sign-up for email newsletters. Newsletters can be sent out daily, weekly, or exclusively during breaking news events. A drop in Facebook traffic could actually mean an increase in readers for publishers who are successful in increasing sign-ups for their email newsletters.
  4. Provide readers with other options.
    Hyperlocal news outlets like Planet Princeton, in Princeton, New Jersey, are posting announcements to let readers know what they can do to continue receiving news updates throughout the day, given Facebook’s News Feed changes. Some of those recommendations include subscribing to the site’s RSS feed, signing up for web browser push notifications, and following along on other social media networks, like Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and Reddit.
  5. Reach out to small business advertisers.
    Small businesses are being hit especially hard by Facebook’s algorithm change, as the organic content they were posting for free is now being seen by fewer of their followers. Local publishers can capitalize on this by reaching out to small businesses in their communities with new opportunities to advertise on their websites and within their email newsletters.