- Facebook will update its News Feed to prioritize local news and let users see the topics that have the most impact on their communities, the social media network announced in a blog post. Local publishers will be identified by those whose links are clicked by users from small geographic areas. Stories from publishers in a user's area might be placed higher in the News Feed if a user also follows the publisher or if a friend shares a story from that outlet.
- No constraints will be placed on which publishers are eligible for News Feed placement, so both large and niche publishers could benefit, the blog post said. Small news outlets may see the greatest gains because they often have a more concentrated geographical readership.
- The change is first being rolled out in the U.S., but Facebook plans to expand it to other countries later this year. Facebook recently said it's testing a new feature, "Today In," as a dedicated section on the platform that connects people to local news. The feature is being piloted in six U.S. cities, with plans for expansion.
By focusing on local news, Facebook continues to try and put a premium on quality content that might cull the spread of fake news and misinformation that have put its platform under a high level of scrutiny essentially since the 2016 presidential election season. However, not all communities have news organizations with robust social media channels capable of getting their content out to readers, adding potential barriers to entry. The update could still come as a boon to local news publishers that have struggled with steep declines in print advertising revenue and the demands of digital transformation in recent years.
"This decision shows that [Mark] Zuckerberg and Facebook are serious about following through on their commitment to support meaningful interactions that build community," Warren St. John, CEO of the hyperlocal news platform Patch, which operates in more than 1,200 communities in the U.S., said in an emailed statement to Marketing Dive. "Every platform also understands that local content creates extremely high engagement. When local news publishers do their jobs, we're every bit as relevant to a Facebook user's life as a post from a friend."
Hyperlocal content, while often more relevant to readers, can also be difficult to monetize, and sometimes relies on paid subscription models to sustain itself. Facebook's announcement follows a move by Google earlier this week to start piloting an app called "Bulletin" that lets anyone publish local news stories and events. If opened to the public, Bulletin would allow people to share videos, photos and text to spread information about local events. A Google spokesperson said the company wanted to work with local news organizations to help them find and publish stories for Bulletin.
Facebook kicked off the year with a bang by announcing it was adjusting its News Feed algorithm to prioritize posts from friends and family over those of businesses, brands and publishers, leading some to panic that their referral traffic and organic reach on the platform would dwindle. CEO Mark Zuckerberg previously said that the amount of news showing up will likely decrease from 5% to 4%. Facebook then said last week that it would amplify news content from publishers its community rates as trustworthy, informative and relevant to local communities.