Summer 2022 brought waves of changes at Meta that demonstrate its deprioritization of news products, including its wind-down of payments to U.S. news publishers. Then in November, the local news partnerships team was laid off.
In parallel, the company has been planning shifts to how it delivers content. The new default home feed will function as a discovery engine, serving up more sizable proportions of algorithmically selected “suggested posts” based on a user’s habits. Users can select an alternative feed dedicated to showing the latest posts from a users’ friends, groups, and followed pages in chronological order.
These recent announcements have left local news publishers wondering what the changes mean for their Facebook strategies moving forward. Here’s what we know.
Referral traffic via link posts on Facebook will continue to significantly decrease in the coming months and years.
Overall traffic from Facebook to publishers is declining, which holds true for local news outlets.
Meta reported that, as of Q1 2022, only 15.8% of all feed content views are to posts that have an external link. And of that, the share with an external link to a news site is just one out of every 250.
Yet links remain the preferred post type of local news outlets. From May to July 2022, local news Facebook pages posted links 83% of the time, according to data gathered from the soon-to-be-sunset CrowdTangle. But increasingly, these old habits will continue to be less effective at garnering views, much less driving traffic to websites.
In our collaboratives and in the LMA Digital Club, digital leaders have shared that they have started to shift their focuses. Penny Riordan, director of business strategy and partnerships and manager of the monthly club calls, said publishers have been expecting less growth in Facebook referrals for at least the last year.
“Many publishers we talk to have started to focus more on search, as that is the other largest driver of traffic to news publishers,” Riordan said.
Many news organizations have also seen steady growth in their email referrals as they have grown their newsletter strategies. Email addresses are crucial for publishers to grow first-party data and also as a subscription and membership driver.
Audience behavior is driving Facebook changes, not the other way around.
Content consumption has fundamentally changed in the last several years, influenced by the rising preference for video and addictive nature of TikTok. Consumers enjoy the predictability of continuous feed of fresh content catered to their interests and preferences, and would rather forgo whatever surprises may live on the other side of an off-site click: interrupted UX, unpleasant pop-ups, and potential malware or phishing scams.
Changes to the Facebook experience are part of an evolution that reflects how audiences favor video content across social media. Facebook is trying to be the best of both worlds: remaining a social connection platform while at the same time ramping up algorithmic delivery of desirable, in-app content, especially short-form, creator-centric video.
The rise of individual creators and influencers makes the Facebook content space more competitive.
In the past, Facebook shifted to prioritize content from friends; now the company aims to prioritize content you’ll want to share with friends.
The vast sea of cute animal videos, DIY how-tos, lifestyle trends and personality-driven videos leaves less visibility for the news content that once dominated Facebook. In the creator economy, anyone can compete with local media pages for users’ attention, intent, time and loyalty.
“Media culture has evolved to embrace the individual creator on the same playing fields as a media brand,” writes media executive Troy Young. “The video feed does not discriminate between personal and institutional. It’s all just content, the most engaging and entertaining wins.”
Rushing to a short-form video strategy is not the answer.
Facebook’s latest changes do not mean local media organizations must pivot their current strategies to become more creator-like — unless they’re already on a well-defined path toward growing short-form video.
For the remainder of 2022, major changes are not expected. Starting in 2023, local media outlets should see how their pages fare through news product changes, review audience data, and reflect on internal resources and investments into video overall, considering most importantly business goals and return on investment.
In other words: Don’t go chasing the proverbial waterfalls of unexplored content formats. Results will be unpredictable at best.
Ads with defined objectives remain effective on Facebook – for now.
Local media companies are finding Facebook video ads get the highest visibility, clicks and engagement. Ad costs across both versions of the Facebook feed are likely to be more expensive throughout the remainder of the year, including the historically competitive holiday shopping season.
For now, Facebook ads that result in newsletter signups and app downloads are a solid investment, far and above one-off, traffic-generating ads. With defined ad objectives and by utilizing video, news outlets can leverage the reach and value of the Facebook audience — but be wary of relying on past ad success as a benchmark for future ad performance.
As always, the audience should inform decisions on how to invest resources.
Throughout the industry, we see how local media outlets benefit from truly connecting with their audience. Data from test-and-learn approaches and audience feedback opportunities are key for local media organizations to make informed decisions. An audience-centered practice supersedes any particular platform, content format or distribution method, and withstands the inherent disruption of a continuously transforming media landscape.
Updated January 2023