Facebook Expands Program to Boost Reach for Local Publishers

As the controversy around Facebook data misuse rages on, The Social Network continues to push ahead with its updates, further tweaking its systems to better cater to what they think’s best.

Back in January, Facebook announced a new initiative to give local publishers a News Feed boost in order to “show you topics that have a direct impact on you and your community”.

Initially, that program was limited to U.S. cities, but now, Facebook has announced that they’re expanding it to all users in all regions in order to better support the platform’s goal of boosting civic engagement.

As per Facebook:

With this update, we’re helping local publishers who cover multiple, nearby cities reach audiences in those cities. We’ll consider a publisher as local to multiple cities if the people in those cities are more likely than the people outside of those cities to read articles from the publisher’s domain. By expanding the scope of what may be considered local to people, we’re including other cities that people may care about and connecting people to local publishers from those cities.”

Essentially, Facebook will refer to user engagement to uncover stories from nearby publishers, in order to show you more of what’s happening within your community. The update will give local publications expanded reach – how much extra reach they’ll get, Facebook’s not saying, but given the more recent algorithm restrictions on Page and publisher content, anything’s a bonus.

Of course, increased Facebook reach is something of a double-edged sword – if those local publishers see a sudden jump of, say, 30% in Facebook referral traffic, they’ll no doubt look to double-down on what’s working, in order to maximize their gains. Then, in 18 months time, when Facebook decides that’s no longer working for them, they could well switch the algorithm again and completely eliminate that extra reach, hurting local publishers as they have with larger organizations – and it’ll likely hurt more with smaller organizations.

Facebook giveth and Facebook taketh away – the problem is that the gains Facebook can deliver are too much to resist, it’ll be almost impossible for these publications to avoid the allure of extra Facebook reach, even if they know it could be short lived.

But still, that’s looking at the negative – Facebook’s idea to push local content is part of the platform’s wider effort to, as noted, boost civic engagement and make Facebook a more positive societal element after the recent revelations of its divisive potential.  

Indeed, Facebook makes specific note of their aim to:  

“…prioritize high quality news in News Feed, including news from sources that are broadly trusted, informative and relevant to local communities.”

‘Trusted’, ‘informative’ and ‘relevant’. Those three words are likely to come up again and again in Facebook’s coming announcements, as The Social Network pushes to win back user trust, and assure them that spending time on Facebook can be a positive, informative experience.

They certainly have their work cut out for them, but as shown with this announcement, they have little choice but to keep pushing ahead.

Facebook’s local news update is rolling out to all users from this week.

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