Facebook: The Place For News

Twitter may the traditional place in the social space to break news. But in reality, newsrooms across the country are increasingly relying on Facebook to bring them coveted page views — for breaking news and everything else. Facebook is still the first place you’ll find photos of dogs and kids, but there’s also some serious conversation going on.

These days it’s not unusual to hear reports of 40 percent (or more) of referral traffic to news websites coming from Facebook. In some newsrooms, page views from people arriving straight from Facebook now surpass all traffic coming from Google search. By contrast, Twitter remains a bit of a news enigma. As one senior digital news exec recently told me, “Twitter is a great place to find out what’s happening, but no one seems to click through the links. Facebook is where we’re finding engagement.” And how.

facebook logo
News likes Facebook, and Facebook likes news.

Best content on Facebook

I recently collaborated on a study of Facebook content in a local news market, and I was surprised — not necessarily that news was driving strong engagement — but just how strongly the Facebook audience responds to posts delivering serious news information. The most popular Facebook post in the study (out of about 200 in one day) received 654 likes, 378 shares and 8,122 comments. It’s the kind of engagement that would make most social media managers cry — or at least ask for a raise.

The post that attracted more than 8,000 comments was about the city’s cable television contract. What should city fathers know about the service? The comment thread was filled with lively, (mostly) clean, thoughtful opinions about the issue. Thanks to the Facebook algorithm that surfaces more popular content in news feeds, more than 430,000 saw the post. All the more impressive when you consider only 156,000 people had opted in for the station’s posts by ‘liking’ the page. Facebook also tells us that 9.76% of those who saw the post clicked somewhere on it.

There was also a post about a child car seat recall that got more than 2,600 shares. To give you an idea of how spectacular that is, the average post in our study got 87 shares.

Focus on the basics

These are monster engagement numbers and convinced me that Facebook really isn’t that mysterious — good content carries the day. A well-written post, which makes a sincere request for engagement with relevant supporting visuals generally fits the bill. News organizations in our study also had good success with posting viewer photos, sometimes dressed up in PhotoShop with headlines or captions. Not rocket science. Just local and popular with the audience.

Facebook embraces news

Facebook recently announced it’s taking new steps to give preference in news feeds to stories that are “more important in the moment.” That means breaking news, as well as posts about live sporting events and television shows. In a post about the change, Facebook explains that now users will begin to see trending posts “as soon as they occur.” Not a shock here, but they found that people were more likely to click on a post that was timely than one that was old. So it’s good business for Facebook to make the change. The bottom line? “Pages should keep producing great content that is relevant and resonates with their audience,” says Facebook.

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