Want Higher Engagement? Form Facebook Groups!

Amid the flurry of industry headlines regarding the Facebook algorithm changes during the first quarter of 2018 emerged a conversation around the renewed potential for news organizations to use Facebook Groups to connect with their audiences. Facebook hosted a small group of journalists at their Austin headquarters during the SXSW conference in March to take a deep dive into Groups and here are some of the learnings from that session: 

The meeting began with an algorithm update: As you are likely aware, changes were made to filter out Tag baiting, Like baiting, and Share baiting; all have decreased importance on Facebook today. 

The 2018 Priorities for News on Facebook:

- Trusted sources and Informative content: Prioritizing news that people have told Facebook they find informative
- Local news: 82% of people are somewhat or extremely interested in local news on Facebook
- Local + News source = local publisher (per the algorithm)

For the discussion on Groups, Facebook invited MIchelle Holmes, VP of Content at AL.com and Spaceship Media to run through a case study (Spaceship Media is a small startup with former journalists to help news organizations with “dialogue journalism”).  AL.com has launched several successful Groups, including one for sketch comedy, “It’s a Southern Thing,” (with 700,000 members) and Bama Ink for tattoos.

The partners started a group for female voters in the Bay Area of California who voted for Clinton and female Alabama voters who voted for Trump with the following objectives:

- Bring them into the conversation
- Provide reporting and information
          - Use “fact stacks” to insert journalism into the conversation
- Content is produced

Here’s a NiemanLab article on the project. 

Other Spaceship Media partners include The Seattle Times, Minnesota Public Radio, and Digital First Media. Holmes says several of their groups are heavy lifts and require a community manager to build and maintain deep connections. 

Other projects centered around Groups include:

- Black Magic Project: Topics of interest to black Alabamians
- Southern Girls Project: How do we convene girls in the south
- Next big project: Guns, an American conversation

AL.com is not measuring KPIs, but looking at these as experiments. “Do we think we are connecting with our audience in a different way?” And “Do they help us report better?” are the questions they are asking.

Some recommendations from Holmes:

- Define the period that a group will live - not open-ended. The logic here is to give staff a set amount of time on the “heavy lift” and give the audience a sense of how long the Group will exist. The “end date” can always be modified if the Group has momentum, of course.
- Define the moderation plan: You can do limited hours and state that on the About page.
- What is your goal? How do you serve the audience and tell your stories?
- Groups have moderator tools not available on a regular Facebook fan page. Use them.
- Groups don’t have direct monetization tools, like branded content and handshakes (but we asked Facebook to develop them!)
- Search for existing Groups on CrowdTangle before launching one.
- Education on audience engagement in newsrooms is critical.
- Find people on your staff who have passion for the group/topic.

Several years ago, KING-TV in Seattle launched a Group called Get Fit at the first of the year and invited the audience to join the morning anchor team in, well, getting fit. The anchors engaged with the audience on their own diet and exercise plans and cheered on community members as they completed 5K runs and achieved their own goals. The group eventually grew to more than 3,000 members and lasted about a year. 

Here is an example from The Texas Tribune on a story idea generated from their Facebook Group called This is your Texas:


The reporter’s Facebook post reminds people the story idea came from their Facebook Group.  And at the beginning of the story on their website, this graphic also encourages readers to join the group:

Other examples include:

- Conde Nast with a Group for women who travel that has 46,000 members
- The Boston Globe formed a Group for Race in Boston to coincide with a multi-part investigative project
- Vox has a Group called Weeds 
- Gatehouse Media has a ton of Groups on topics ranging from pets to local history

If you have questions about Groups and how to structure and manage them, contact your SmithGeiger consultant for more information.