How To Make Facebook’s News Feed Algorithm Work for You: Four Tips from Local News

by Piers Mathieson and Matt Bologna

Local TV stations have figured out how to create Facebook content that stays atop their audiences’ News Feeds, where it continues generating engagement.

Before we unveil the secret, let’s first discuss how the News Feed works.

Facebook ranks content using a complicated algorithm that attempts to discern which posts are most important to your audience. TechCrunch broke it down like this when describing the most recent algorithm update :

One important factor for the algorithm is that Facebook will show a new post to a set number of people it feels are likely to engage. If the engagement reaches a certain threshold, the post gets shown to more users. If not, it generally plateaus.

The Facebook algorithm is more optimized than ever, so the one thing that we can be sure of is the high cost of repeatedly posting content that underperforms.

In the same way that you would avoid airing a story if you knew your viewers would change the channel, you should also avoid posting underperforming content to Facebook if you have reason to believe it will hurt your rank within the algorithm.

Local News Best Practices

Tip 1: Tease Your Audience

Many local TV stations are driving engagement with photos and videos that capture immediacy by including an all-caps teaser of no more than a few words to introduce a post. Six of the 10 most-engaged local TV posts through April of this year included lead-in teasers like “SURPRISE!”, “WATCH” and “SO CUTE!” Three of those were published by Fox 13 News in Tampa Bay, which also was responsible for the most-engaged post.

Fox 13 News in its most-engaged post led with the word “TEARS!” to introduce the story of a dog who was reunited with her puppies.

TEARS! That moment a mama dog, who was surrendered to a shelter after having puppies, is reunited with her babies. She goes from terrified in the corner of the shelter to ecstatic as soon as she realizes what is happening.Here's the story: http://www.fox13news.com/trending/103440774-storyVIDEO COURTESY: Marin Humane Society

Posted by FOX 13 News – Tampa Bay on Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Tip 2: Use Trending Topics

Local TV News broadcasters have found success on social by mentioning a trending topic or current event in a post.

Newscaster Mark Arum of WSB-TV in Atlanta paid tribute to the late A Tribe Called Quest member Phife Dawg by incorporating some of his lyrics into a traffic update in March. The post generated nearly 3x the engagement of the next traffic-related post through April.

A (Traffic) Tribe Called Quest

Can he kick it? Yes he can. And THAT'S what we call a tribute! Mark Arum WSB dropped A Tribe Called Quest lyrics in his traffic reports to honor Phife Dawg, who passed away this morning. Read more about the legend: http://2wsb.tv/1UN0kPr

Posted by WSB-TV on Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Tip 3: Use Facebook Live Video

Local TV stations are among the early adopters of Facebook Live , which makes sense given that news broadcasts are live and typically include live on-the-scene reporting. Facebook Live videos are ranked high in News Feeds, which means they have the potential to generate additional engagement.

ABC7 News in San Francisco uses Facebook Live to answer its audience’s weather-related questions. These posts generated 490 comments per video through April. That total is 53% more comments than ABC7 News’ average Facebook video during that time period, indicating that this content encourages its audience to participate in a conversation with the station and its talent.

Rain and wind are on the way – Sandhya Patel answered your weather questions live!ABC7 News Storm Impact Scale explained: http://abc7ne.ws/1Ncgh9L

Posted by ABC7 News on Wednesday, January 20, 2016

We have seen an example of an in-studio live news story that generated significant engagement. FOX 10 in Phoenix posted one hour and 15 minutes of a live police chase filmed from a helicopter. The video includes an introduction from an anchor before the camera moves to a monitor where it continues to film for the rest of the video.

At the time the Facebook Live API , which would have enabled the station to broadcast the chase instead of merely filming a TV monitor, wasn’t available. But a police chase is exactly the type of coverage that local TV stations could provide using Facebook Live and something it couldn’t broadcast for as long on TV.

Tip 4: Address Content That Does Not Engage

Some local TV content may be important, but may not be the most engaging. Consider morning traffic alerts. Many people depend on them to find out how to get to work, but it’s not the type of content that many people will engage with and tends to hurt overall engagement.

Additionally, posts that contain tags for cross-marketing purposes, and posts that target smaller segments of your audience also tend to comprise lower performing content.

To avoid “these page killers,” we suggest trying to keep this content to a minimum, and employing various strategies to combat these weaker posts when possible. For example, if you have to post something you know tends to underperform, you could sandwich it between two stronger pieces of content. Or, as we saw with WSB-TV, try to relate it in some way to a trending topic or hashtag.

As an additional strategy, it may be worth trying to post certain types of content that don’t do well on Facebook to other networks, like Twitter and Instagram, that as of now do not yet employ exclusively algorithmic feeds like Facebook’s.

Piers Mathieson and Matt Bologna are Client Success Managers with Shareablee.

For more information about how local news organizations drive engagement on social, check out our presentation about the State of Local News Publishing on Social.

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