Facebook Brings Users to Local Sites — But the Rest Is Up to the Sites

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I think the verdict is in: local news publishers do need Facebook, Google and other giant distribution platforms. But only to get the first part of the job done.

Whether you’re a self-funded entrepreneurial pure-play publisher or a corporate chain of daily newspapers, you can’t, on your own, generate all the traffic that the platforms deliver to your site.

Yes, a lot of that inbound traffic will quickly bounce away. But how much is lost if a local site in, say, Grand Rapids, Mich., quickly loses digital visitors from Dallas or Bogota or New Delhi or thousands of locations nowhere near Grand Rapids sent its way by the platforms? But a considerable number of those inbounds – very likely numbering in the hundreds of thousands if not more –  will be from the City of Grand Rapids and its suburbs, where a grand total of more than a million people live in the 52nd largest metro.

Those inbounds who live in regional Grand Rapids offer all kinds of opportunities to the local pure-play. It can send them clickable messages inviting them to register for a daily emailed summary of community news, or to attend a special local event, or maybe buy a Grand Rapids souvenir as a gift for a relative who moved away.

This is the second part of the pure-play’s job, after Facebook and the other platforms have done their distribution work. It’s not only work that most of the platforms don’t do – it’s work they can’t do, or do well.

Internet users don’t, in general, trust the social platforms, especially compared to local news providers. There are well-documented surveys showing the binary results. “The New News” wrote about this one from early February 2017 that BuzzFeed sponsored. The trust comparisons between newspapers and Facebook in this chart are stunning. Pure-play news publications received a lower level of trust than newspapers, but still more than twice as high as Facebook, as this BuzzFeed chart shows.

Last month, Digital Content Next released a survey that was just as explicit about the trust factor – but with much more detail about how and why users have much more trust among publisher sites – including but not limited to news – than social media. This chart tells it all.

Doing their second part of the job – nothing less than ensuring they’ll be sustainable – daily newspapers and pure-plays have to market themselves much better to their generally trusting readers. But, as the Digital Content Next report emphasizes, readers have high expectations. They expect editorial content that is not only accurate but – in the words of the survey’s thousand respondents – “unique, respected, up to date, authentic, provocative and in-depth.”

This adds up to quality content, and if there isn’t quality, all the “product” and marketing maneuvering in the world won’t convince users to become readers who decide to complete their journey from the top of the funnel to the bottom.

If you want to see quality content galore, visit Bklyner, which reports news from 11 neighborhoods in the most populous borough of New York City. Scrolling down the homepage, “School Bus Flips In Dyker Heights With Five Kids On Board” was just one of the stories that grabbed my attention.

To do this kind of local journalism on an ongoing basis, founder and Publisher Liena Zagare has to sell 3,000 voluntary subscriptions. As of yesterday, she had 1,813. I think she’s up to doing her half of the job to keep Bklyner in business.

Tom GrubisichTom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) has written “The New News” column for Street Fight since 2011. He is also working on a book about the history, present, and future of Charleston, S.C.