Facebook is testing a new section for local news, events and announcements. If Facebook introduces the section to all users, public relations and marketing for local businesses will gain an important new venue. Even PR and marketing teams that don’t typically focus publicity on local news and events could benefit. With some creativity, PR can usually find a local angle to most news releases and media pitches.
The section, called “Today In,” is running in six cities: New Orleans, La.; Little Rock, Ark.; Billings, Mont.; Peoria, Ill.; Olympia, Wash.; and Binghamton, N.Y., Recode first reported. Facebook’s software will surface content such as stories from local publishers or emergency updates from local authorities, and manually vet and approve local publishers. Facebook plans to introduce the tab in other cities. The section is separate from the Facebook Local app that shows local restaurants and events.
The new section also includes news from local Facebook Groups, which the social media network has increasingly emphasized recently. Several publishers have increased their website traffic and subscriptions through their branded groups despite a drop in organic Facebook reach. The company introduced new features that allow group administrators to screen comments and track usage such as active members and popular posts.
“Sweeping” Changes Announced
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that the news feed will show less public comments like posts from businesses, brands and media and more posts from personal contacts. Research shows that people feel less lonely and more connected when they interact with others rather than passively reading articles or watching videos, Zuckerberg wrote in his Facebook post.
People will still see public posts that encourage meaningful interactions between people, he said, noting that live videos receive more engagement than regular ones. “Some news helps start conversations on important issues. But too often today, watching video, reading news or getting a page update is just a passive experience,” he said.
Media commentators called the change “sweeping,” but observant marketers already knew that their organic reach has been drastically reduced and many expected a trend to almost zero brand reach.
Will Users Like Local News & Events?
Facebook will alert users about the new section, and then place it within the menu on the app along with other features. It’s unclear how many people will remember the Today In section and how often they’ll visit it.
However, if the feature becomes popular, Facebook could grant it greater prominence. It could even replace the regular news section and generate more discussion on local topics, says Andrew Hutchinson at Social Media Today.
“Reading local headlines and finding a band playing a show later sounds like a downright heartening shift in focus from watching Facebook’s vast tangle of digital citizens emote endlessly into their algorithmically curated voids,” opines Taylor Hatmaker at TechCrunch. “Unfortunately, dramatically shrinking the scope of the world’s biggest social network might not appeal to stockholders and advertisers in quite the same way that it would appeal to users.”
Facebook’s New Mission to Promote Civic Engagement
Facebook’s new emphasis on groups and local content is part of its mission introduced last year to promote civic engagement and “bring the world closer together.” The emphasis on local content includes placing greater priority on posts from local politicians and is expanding Marketplace, its Craigslist-style platform where people can sell used goods to neighbors, Recode notes.
Cynics probably believe the entire mission is designed to counter critics who say Facebook spreads fake news, limits differing viewpoints, and limits meaningful contact between users.
“It’s a tough sell. It’ll be hard for Facebook to shift the narrative, but smaller updates and tweaks like this could help boost its benefits, diluting the rising perception that Facebook may, in fact, be bad for society,” Hutchinson comments.
Bottom Line: PR and marketing teams can better promote their brands and increase engagement with their audiences by staying abreast of the app’s latest changes. Publishers are gaining sizeable benefits from new emphasis on Facebook Groups, and the Facebook local news section in the works could offer significant opportunity to publicize local news and events.