May 22, 2017

As part of its ongoing push to build relationships with local publishers, Facebook is testing products that can help people better connect with local news.

Those tests, part of the Facebook Journalism Project, have just begun, but they’re all aimed at helping people discover and engage with news outlets in their communities, a Facebook spokesperson told Poynter.

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The tests are on three products: One points users in community-linked Facebook groups to additional local news. Another, launching Tuesday, offers users who make their cities of residence public a badge identifying them as a local when they comment on a local publisher’s stories. A third helps people find local groups.

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Poynter spoke with a Facebook spokesperson via email about the new products.

What kinds of things are you looking for from those tests, specifically?

Ultimately, we’re running tests to help people better discover local news and meaningfully engage with their community. We’re looking to establish baseline metrics for the availability and discoverability of news and identify the levers that move users to consume, share, comment and form community around local news.

One test helps connect people in local groups with local news. That seems like a pretty natural affinity. How will it work?

This test allows administrators of groups that regularly discuss local news to add a local news unit to the group. This unit will be dynamically populated based on our local news classifier with recent articles from local news publications that serve the location of the group. Members can then easily share an article from the unit as a link share in the group.

Another test, launching Tuesday, is looking at building community around local news. Can you tell us more about how it will work?

Our research shows that people feel more comfortable speaking publicly when identified as a local. As part of our test, people who have a publicly visible current city that matches the location of a local publisher, will be asked if they want a badge identifying them as local when they comment on that publisher’s stories.

Local publisher posts will display a badge identifying local residents based on public current city of user. Badges will appear for all users who meet the location requirements and share a metro area or city area with the publisher (70-mile radius). We believe the local badge will result in increased engagement (shares, comments, reactions, clicks).

A third test helps people find local groups and get connected with their community. How does that tie back to local news?

After a person consumes an article from a local news publisher, we will show the user (a) a unit that encourages them to post the article in a relevant local group they’re already a member of or (b) a unit that encourages them to join a relevant local group. A relevant local group is one in which at least three local news publisher links were shared within the last 28 days, talks about local news and is located in the same metro area as the publisher of the article.

Have you talked with local news organizations about these tests? What do they think?

Publishers tell us they want new ways to connect local stories to people in the communities they serve. It’s a top priority. Publishers we’ve heard from are encouraged to see us testing product ideas specific to local news distribution — and understand this is just the beginning of our work.

Image via Facebook.

Image via Facebook.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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