Facebook is shifting its News Feed — but what does that mean for publishers? What do they have to change? Since Grzegorz Piechota’s Webinar in January, Facebook has released more and more information about what the News Feed changes mean for (local) publishers.

The latest News Feed changes prioritise local news.
The latest News Feed changes prioritise local news.

More local news

Facebook wants to support publishers that are broadly trusted and local newspapers. Users told Facebook they come to the plattform “to see news about what’s happening in the world and their local community.” Therefore, Faebook updated the News Feed to prioritise local news, first in the United States and then the company wants to expand it to more countries this year.

But how does Facebook know if you are a local publisher? It says the company’s system identifies local publishers that speak to local audiences (based on geographic data), and it analyses readers’ behaviours. “We are working on boosting local publishers,” said Chris Cox, Facebook’s product chief officer, on the sidelines of Facebook’s first Communities Summit in London in February.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a large or small publisher, or if you publish local news or local sports focused on niche topics. “That said, small news outlets may benefit from this change more than other outlets because they tend to have a concentrated readership in one location,” Cox said. That’s a great development for local publishers and ensures that local content is important and needed.

Meaningful content and conversations

With the News Feed change, Facebook wants to prioritise high-quality news and reduce false news and misinformation. It wants to bring people (family and friends) into focus and strengthen meaningful conversations. That has also always been the core business of local publishers.

“One of the most important things we do is making sure our services aren’t just fun to use but also good for people’s well-being and for society overall,” Mark Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook. Experiences for users should be more social and less passive — and just watching videos and seeing news is passive.

So one update is that Facebook is prioritising “meaningful social interactions” — conversations among family and friends and also interactions between users.

How can pages create meaningful conversations? It’s important that users interact with your posts; this includes shares. They shouldn’t just like your post, they should comment it. Why? “Comments are more valuable than Likes. If you bother to actually take the time to respond to something that I posted, a picture of maybe my two kids. It’s a pain actually to type on a mobile phone. Liking is pretty easy,” Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s vice president in charge of the News Feed, said in an interview.

And it would be even better if there’s a conversations between users about your content. The value of the interactions between the users is pretty high. That’s an indicator for Facebook that your content is relevant and meaningful.

Here are a few recommendations from Facebook for publishers:

  1. Promote meaningful interactions: “Articles can help to start conversations between people on important issues; video can create tight-knit communities,” Facebook representatives say. Moreover, live videos will generate more interactions than other videos because they are real and can’t be faked.
  2. Focus on your audience: Facebook representatives explain that publishers should “keep posting content that resonates with your audience and be authentic to your brand.”
  3. Do not engage in click-bait: “Share this post if you agree” or “like this post if you want that burger, too” is not allowed. It creates no meaningful interaction. And, it can result in a demotion of your posts and pages.

The value of Facebook groups

Facebook is going back to its roots: It wants to connect people. That’s why groups are becoming more and more important. On the one hand, they have higher engagement rates than pages, and Facebook supports communication among users. On the other hand, there’s a trend to focus on special topics and utilise seperate spaces for conversations on their own — like in forums just a few years ago.

“As everybody is on Facebook now, you may not want to have conversations with everybody,” Cox said, explaining the purpose of groups.

But using Facebook groups does not necessary mean you have success. Groups only work when group leaders are very engaged, Cox said. This requires getting the membership right, moderating the conversations, and similar actions.

For the platform, group leaders are important. As a result, Facebook representatives announced the Facebook Community Leadership Program, which provides tools, training, and support. “Facebook will commit tens of millions of dollars to the programme, including up to US$10 million in grants that will go directly to people creating and leading communities,” according to the company.

Consider this idea: Facebook will empower leaders, offer trainings, learn from group leaders, and build better tools. It wants to understand local nuances and what is working and what is not working.

Mosseri also that there will be more group content on the News Feed because you find meaningful conversations in groups.

Relax and look forward to the change

Meanwhile, many publishers welcome the decision to change the News Feed. Of course, there will be less content from pages in the News Feed, but page content will always be important. “Content that is shared and talked about between friends will grow,” company representatives said. So now we can take a deep breath because we all have that content.

We should stop thinking about organic reach. Instead we should think about new ways for engagement and community building. Let’s focus on our (local) communities and not the fly-bys.

A platform with less fake news, less click-bait, more quality content, and real interactions sounds great. And it’s a great chance to valorise our journalism, isn’t it?