Facebook has taken a beating over the past few years about the way it handles news on its channel. Besides being blamed for aiding the spread of misinformation, there are also concerns that the nature of Facebook moves people away from local news, since stories with national significance will have higher engagement rates. Facebook is trying to address this potential issue by expanding it’s “Today In” feature to include more local sources.
Just as many people learn about national news from the “Trending” section of social media sites, Facebook has created a section for items that are trending in a local area. In theory, it should increase the reach and engagement for local content by making it easier for users to find things relevant to them.
“We’re making it easier for people to find news and information from their local towns and cities,” wrote Anthea Watson Strong in a Facebook blog post about the update. “Today we’re announcing the expansion of a new local section on Facebook called “Today In” and starting a test for local alerts from relevant government pages.”
The Today In feature connects people to local news and information about their community. The section is already available in 400 cities in the U.S., with testing in other countries on the way. According to Facebook, Australia is next on the list. Besides the international testing, Facebook has begun testing Today In near places that are considered to be news deserts, places that have few sources for local news and community information.
Similar to the local section on Google News, Today In aggregates local news and community information into a separate section within the Facebook app. There are multiple ways to access the content found by Today In. People who live in a city where Today In where the feature is available can visit this section directly on the app. They also have the option to turn on local updates to start seeing a collection of local news more regularly in their News Feed.
Facebook began testing the Today In feature earlier this year. So far, the results have been positive. People in focus groups had stated they wanted more local content in their feeds, and Facebook has received positive comments about the usefulness of the feature. As one user, Tina from Peoria, IL stated, “I use [Today in Peoria] every day. That’s the first thing I do in the morning. I work a lot of hours…my phone is always on me, and it’s how I find out about everything going on in town — news, current events, everything. It’s very handy. It’s my go-to for anything and everything.”
In addition to expanding the availability of Today In, Facebook has been running tests with more than 100 local government and first responder Pages “to help them communicate time-sensitive and need-to-know information to people on Facebook”. For example, the system can be used to provide local updates in situations such as major road closures, blackouts or natural disasters. The local alert label appears in News Feed and Today In, and Facebook is also testing notifications, which participating Pages can target to people who live in the affected areas.
The Today In feature has a lot of promise for local marketers and news organizations. It’s a good way to make Facebook more meaningful for local news and helps increases Facebook usefulness for everyday consumers. It increases the reach for local content creators and gives them an incentive to publish more of this kind of content on Facebook.
The increased availability for places near news deserts also presents new opportunities for advertisers. If the Today In section gives people more reasons to spend time on Facebook, it increases the chances for reach and engagement with ads for local businesses and services.
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