With the end of summer 2018 fast approaching, we decided to take another look at how local and regional publishers are faring on Facebook.

Indeed, the newest Poynter Media Trust Survey found 76 percent of Americans across the political spectrum have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of confidence in local television news, and 73 percent have trust in local newspapers.

According to the survey, that contrasts with 55 percent trust in national network news, 59 percent in national newspapers and 47 percent in online-only news sites.

So what does social media reveal for local publishers? We took a look at NewsWhip Analytics for the data on 40+ local publishers. 

The top local publishers on Facebook 

Below are the top local/regional publishers, ranked by their total Facebook engagements to web content.
For this analysis, we included the likes of the New York Times, Washington Post, and Boston Globe, since they have significant local bases as well.

Local publishers facebook social media total
The publishers with those national focuses are the ones on top, by a wide margin. Still, it’s worth noting that ABC7, Manchester Evening News, and ABC13 are ranking up here with the bigger papers.
Switching our look to average Facebook engagements per article, things even out a little more.

Local publishers facebook social media average
While the New York Times still leads, it’s directly followed by very local publishers. The margin is considerably smaller throughout the rest of the list as well.

Patch, as a local news aggregator, had the most articles at 27,604 in July. The Houston Chronicle was second, at 17,553 articles. The average was 4,151 across the 43 publishers we analyzed.  

What’s been the trend? 

Interestingly, we’ve seen a spike in Facebook engagements this summer for a selection of the publishers. Approximately 15 of the local publishers we analyzed saw significant boons in their average Facebook engagements on web content.

ABC 7 Chicago Facebook
Why? A lot of these have come from a few original stories getting buzz and picking up momentum on social media.

As we saw in a recent analysis, original reporting can stand out and break through the wasteland of digital noise. As local journalists are experts of their own communities, these reporters are best placed to find the unique stories unfolding each day. 

Dark social 

So where are readers discovering these local stories? We decided to investigate whether readers are engaging with the stories directly on the publishers’ Facebook Page vs. elsewhere. We did this recently for larger publishers here.

To get a sample, we looked at the 20 local publishers with the highest average of engagements per article. Here’s what we saw when we calculated how many of their web engagements came from link posts on their main Facebook Page.

dark social local publishers
As we can see, there’s quite a variance. Some publishers see about half of their web engagements coming from their Facebook link posts, suggesting that they have strong audiences on the platform.

Others, like Alabama Local, only saw 12 percent of web engagements come from its Facebook Page. This suggests that its readers are discovering and sharing AL.com’s stories elsewhere on the platform.

For Fox 5 Atlanta, which had the highest percentage from its Facebook Page on this list, the top link posts generally were articles about ordinary people in extraordinary stories.

The top Facebook post was “Henry County triplets graduate with perfect GPA’s” with 50,000 engagements, followed by “Mom shoots man who took her car with kids inside”.  

The top stories from local publishers 

A Duke University analysis of 16,000 stories, across 100 U.S. communities, found that very little actual local news was provided to their audiences.

Well, then, which of those stories pick up the most momentum on social media? The local ones, or the not-so-local ones? We looked at the top engaging stories of July.

top local stories
Despite the Duke University study, 0ur data revealed that the top engaging stories from each of the hyperlocal publishers were generally local with a few national or broader stories mixed in.

For the New York Times and the like, the top stories had a national focus. It’s also interesting to see that this above list of top 20 stories isn’t dominated solely by those national publishers.

Some stories did go viral across a network’s local sites, such as “Sink your teeth into avozilla, the 4-pound avocado as big as your face” performing in the top three stories for both ABC7.com and ABC13.com.

The top local stories tended to be, again, about ordinary local people in extraordinary situations. There were also many stories that were cautionary or urgent — such as product recalls, Amber alerts, or crime stories. And then there were weird stories like the “Avozilla” one above.

We regularly see smaller, local stories quickly going viral in our real-time platform, NewsWhip Spike. Why? Followers might care about the stories that are timely, urgent, and truly close to home. 

What’s next? 

Discovering and reporting on stories that are interesting, timely, and stand out on social is just part of daily life as a content creator. As more tools become accessible to journalists, reporting and enriching these local stories should get easier.

For example, our new Snapchat Geo search can surface public Snaps by location and caption.

Further, we’ve seen publishers spend more time on their homepage strategies. According to the New York Times, they found three major needs that readers want to fulfill on the New York Times’ homepage:

First, they wanted to catch up on the latest news and find out what they might have missed.
Second, they wanted to deepen their understanding of major events through analysis and opinion articles.
Lastly, they wanted to discover something unexpected from our wide variety of stories and sections.

As we’ve seen in our assessment of dark social, a lot of this optimized content ends up finding its way on Facebook and social channels regardless. Social users still choose to share the content that they agree with, find timely or resonate with emotionally.

Take a demo of Spike here for early access to our Snapchat Geo Search, or to explore your own social metrics. 


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