Facebook Finds Local Publishers Use Groups To Facilitate Dialogue, Editorial

Facebook has released new case studies of local publishers using Facebook Groups to connect and converse with readers, uncover interesting stories within the community and dive deeper into topics that resonate with their audiences.

The case studies are part of the Facebook Journalism Project, which it launched in 2017 to help publishers navigate their businesses in a digital world impacted by the Facebook platform.

One of the case studies focuses on the Texas Tribune and how it facilitated political discussions with its readers using its Facebook Group.

Facebook says a post about teacher strikes on the “This is Your Texas” Facebook Group run by the Texas Tribune helped bring attention to a state law barring public employees from striking. The Tribune published a story about the law, and “it became one of their biggest stories of the year,” according to the post.

The membership-driven Tribune started the group to bring Texans together and discuss the biggest issues facing the state each month. The group has covered topics like education, gun rights and property taxes.

Each month, the Facebook Group, with over 2,000 members, explores a different topic. Only posts that are about the monthly discussion topic are approved on the page. 

Discussion is largely led by the community, but Tribune journalists will pose questions, share related stories and facilitate conversations with experts on the Group.

Alex Samuels, the Tribune's community reporter, said “it’s a 70/30 split with the audience leading the way.” The group has also been a source for breaking stories and other editorial on the Texas Tribune site.

Amanda Zamora, head of audience growth and engagement at the Tribune, said Facebook Groups are “a way to simulate” the level of engagement at the 60-plus events it hosts each year.

“It matters for us and our business to facilitate quality engagement with our audience — to get to know names and faces. By having that kind of space and delivering that kind of experience, they'll be more engaged, and ideally join our memberships programs,” she told Facebook.

Samuels said the monthly topic is chosen with the help of crowd-sourcing ideas. He asks for suggestions with a post to the Facebook Group, and then runs a poll.

Zamora said the goal is still to grow memberships for the publication. “We're still in cultivation mode. For us, email is the biggest converting channel for members.” For social, she added, “this is a great next step for engagement. It's great when stories take and have reach.” 

Zamora said they plan to do “special programming” with the Facebook Group this fall.

“We're planning on doing referral programming campaign where we incentivize people to get other members to join their program, and incentivize them with rewards.”

Other publishers who have found success with the use of Facebook Groups and included in the case study are built around specific topics, ranging from racial tension to local policy to severe weather.

For example, "Discussing Race In Boston" from the Boston Globe Spotlight team was created after an editorial series was published on racial issues in the city. "Gradebook by the Tampa Bay Times" was formed by education reporters at the Tampa Bay Times, as a place for media and the public to discuss education news from Tampa Bay and the state of Florida.

"Hurricane Season: Miami and Broward" was created by reporters and readers of the Miami Herald, giving real-time updates about severe weather during hurricane season for residents of south Florida.

In August, Facebook announced it was investing an additional $4.5 million in programs to support news publishers, extending its initiative to help metro news publishers grow their digital subscriber base and give funding to the NewsMatch campaign.

It's also introducing a new program for nonprofit news organizations and local publishers with membership models, called the Facebook Membership Accelerator program.

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