FacebookThe relationship between Facebook and publishers is an important one, which is why there is no shortage of articles about the recently announced changes to the Facebook news feed. In fact, we’ve written about it twice already; first to explain why your posts are not being seen on Facebook, and then a few weeks later to discuss some hard numbers regarding Facebook referral traffic.

Shortly after these posts, we read a post from a Nieman Fellow discussing what the updated Facebook algorithm means to publishers. Mr. Piechota brought up several important points, particularly delineating the risks and rewards of publishers relying on Facebook. With regards to rewards, he states:

The biggest rewards that Facebook offers today are: worldwide reach, great user experience in mobile, and some share in advertising revenue from ads inside Instant Articles and branded content.

And for the biggest risks, he concludes:

The biggest risks are: loss of a direct relationship with audiences and advertising clients, dependency on Facebook’s secret algorithms and business policies that both change over time, and loss of exclusivity in data collection and analytics about interactions with publishers’ content.

Let’s take a look at these risks and rewards from the point of view of the hyperlocal publisher servicing readers in their community:

    1. REWARD: Worldwide reach – Hyperlocals don’t need worldwide reach, they only need to reach the residents and businesses in the community they serve. We’ve discussed the fallacy of viral in this market – even when an article does go viral, it doesn’t benefit the constituents that the publisher serves. Hyperlocal publishers are much better off focusing on content and strategies that firmly target the local market. Worldwide reach is not in that equation.
    2. REWARD: Some share of advertising revenue – It’s hard to argue with this one, especially if that share of revenue is large enough to make a difference. However, most hyperlocal publishers we speak with say it is not a large enough share to make a difference. Combine with the fact that this revenue stream is out of the publisher’s control and can change at Facebook’s discretion (which is one of the RISKS mentioned), it’s not a reliable or consistent revenue stream that can be controlled or managed. Of course, you’ll take the revenue, but don’t rely solely on it. And don’t forget that every “conversion” takes users off of your site and puts them on Facebook’s site. This is yet another RISK, and contrary to your goal to have readers stay on your site for longer periods of time, not shorter.
    3. REWARD: Great user experience on mobileThis is a must have, and many hyperlocal publishers are lacking in this area. The answer to this is not Facebook’s mobile experience itself. The answer is to build a simple/easy mobile experience that is as fast, simple and efficient as Facebook. The good news is you don’t have to enable nearly as many features on mobile as Facebook does, but the challenge is how to make it “important” enough that your readers will download and use it regularly. This is not a trivial issue!
    4. RISK: Engagement of readers who come to hyperlocal publisher sites from Facebook is very low – This is possibly the biggest issue overall. Our studies have shown that the bounce rate for readers who come to a local publisher site from Facebook is over 80% and in many cases well over 90%. If their readers are coming for one article and leaving, they don’t add much value at all to you or the businesses you are trying to give exposure to. But this drives up the “vanity metric” of more views to your site. More visitors to your site is great, but they need to be engaged visitors.

Yes, Facebook reaches 1.6B people, but you are not going to reach that many people. Nor do you need to. When building product, you can either go wide or go deep. Facebook has gone wide. That’s great for them. Hyperlocal publishers don’t have the staff or market to go wide. So don’t. Go deep. Who else is going deep in your market?

Getting people to share a single article (and especially to have it go “viral”) is going wide. There is nothing wrong with it. You’ll get a bump for a day or two, but it’s taking you off your game. Everything you do should be focused on going deep. Everything you do should be focused on being the hyperlocal expert. Everything else plays into other people’s hands.