Facebook announced in January that it would de-prioritize links from news outlets in the News Feed.
In a post on the company's media blog, Mark Zuckerburg said that in recent years the News Feed has been crowded out by posts by businesses and public pages.
From Zuckerberg's post: "Since there's more public content than posts from your friends and family, the balance of what's in News Feed has shifted away from the most important thing Facebook can do — help us connect with each other."
Before we think about strategy, let's define a few things in this News Feed update.
What is an engaging post?
Facebook said it will prioritize posts that spark "conversations and meaningful interactions between people."
Posts that receive more comments will be valued over something more passive, such as a like or a click-through to our websites. We encourage digital journalists to engage with our audiences and focus on what content has the most shares on a post. It’s important that our digital sites accelerate their social media efforts around comments and shares.
A strong correlation exists between posts that receive a high number of shares and comments as well.
Editors can get this data in Facebook's Insights analytics.
Interacting with a page
Posts will still appear in the News Feed in different ways, which are consistent with how the News Feed operates now:
• People who follow a page who choose to see the page first (this feature has been available)
• When friends or family share a post, which has always been a key part of how links spread throughout Facebook
Now that we understand what the News Feed changes mean, how will this impact our traffic?
Facebook says a page's reach, watch time, and video traffic could drop. Posts that receive more interaction, shared by friends and family, will still surface, as well as posts that readers share to their friends and family (as outlined above).
For any pages that receive little to no interaction on posts, their traffic could drop significantly, however.
Facebook traffic has been dropping for a while, more specifically in the fourth quarter of 2017. Parse.ly reported that Google referrals surpassed Facebook referrals in the second half of last year.
Digital-only sites such as Buzzfeed receive more than 50 percent of their traffic from Facebook. There have already been some casualties of the News Feed changes, including a brand called Little Things, which shut down recently.
In an INMA webinar Jan. 16, Grzegorz Piechota at the University of Oxford said the biggest impact will be on posts shared on a news page.
With the knowledge that the changes could negatively impact traffic, how should we shift our strategy?
For larger newsrooms that post many times a day, the strategy should be the same, with a few new areas of focus and experimentation.
Grow the number of shares on a page
Not only should editors focus on what content drives the most shares, they need to do more of that content. If shares on a page do not increase MoM or WoW, referral traffic from Facebook will likely drop for that site. Here's how to find the data on shares:
• Sort top posts in Parse.ly by likes, comments and shares (engagement). Our largest markets use Parse.ly (with a planned expansion to newer acquisitions), and this data is easier to find in Parse.ly than in Google Analytics.
• Rank Crowdtangle lists by shares. All editors can be set up on the free tool that Facebook owns, and a majority of our large markets use this data already.
• Use Facebook Insights to find shares.
Start a high-engagement/high-interest topic Facebook group
Facebook has expanded the tools available in groups, and they are a huge part of how users spend time on the platform.
The Boston Globe received a lot of attention for its subscriber Facebook group last year. So far, just a handful of GateHouse newsrooms have started groups, including the Peoria Journal Star and the Lakeland Ledger(Florida). A recent Digiday article also highlighted groups run by The Washington Post and Bloomberg.
This needs to be a Q1 priority for all of our medium and large newsrooms that have the staff and the bandwidth to get one off the ground.
Topics for groups to consider:
• High-interest, high-engagement topics with a strong civic angle
• Professional or college sports fan groups
• Subscriber groups, run in partnership with key consumer marketing staff that have customer service experience
• Groups around key beats: State news, local public schools, or transportation and traffic
• Entertainment topics: Foodies, recreational sports, TV show fan groups
When choosing a group topic, editors should consider topics that allow for a lot of discussion between readers, but can also be seeded with articles. Using the example of foodies, readers can interact with each other by asking about places to go and share recipes. But editors-moderators could also ask questions of the group, such as crowdsourcing for a story or feedback on recent articles.
Create more posts that spark conversation
Kim Wilson, the founder of Social News Desk, a social media publishing platform, had a few suggestions. In a recent blog post, Wilson said engaging with readers in the comments while acting as a page is the best way to get more readers to comments.
While Facebook comments can include a lot of negative comments or opinions, readers often ask questions of reporters or editors in the comments. It's important we answer those questions.
Continue to grow traffic in other areas: Search and newsletters
Through more curated newsletters and an increased push to grow newsletter subscribers, we can grow our newsletter traffic. This is something the Local Media Association is also recommending to respond to the News Feed changes.
Penny Riordan manages digital audience engagement for GateHouse. She works out of the Center for News and Design in Austin. Prior to joining the company, she worked at Patch.com, where she led social media, blogging and UGC efforts for the company. Penny has also worked as a reporter and editor at newspapers in Maryland and Connecticut.