2018 Key Executives mega-Conference

Facebook to newspapers: Please like us

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I’m from Facebook and I’m here to help.

That was the message Alex Hardiman, Facebook’s director, news product, delivered to a near-overflow—but skeptical—audience of newspaper executives on the second day of the Key Executives Mega-Conference in San Diego.

Hardiman was addressing this gathering a little more than a month after Facebook announced that it was changing its News Feed algorithm to favor posts from family and friends over posts and pages from news publishers and other third parties. As the head of Facebook’s News Feed team, Adam Mosseri, said at the time, that “means we’ll show less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses.”

During her long and poised presentation, Hardiman portrayed—or, in the view of at least some at Mega-Conference—spun the changes as good news for the publishers in the audience.

Her arguments:

It’s really all about quality over content—and you guys have great quality, right?

We’re prioritizing local—and who’s more local than you guys?

Facebook’s new MSI goal—seeking posts that attract “meaningful social interaction”—means that content will be judged, and ranked, according to how much it is informative, trustworthy and inclusive. “And for inclusive, local is really a bedrock part of that,” Hardiman said. So, see just above, K?

And, anyway, it’s not like a drastic diminution of local news. Before the algorithm change local news accounted for 5% of News Feed posts. In 2018, it’ll be more like 4%.

This “focus on quality over quantity” should be regarded by publishers as good news that will open up “better monetization opportunities,” Hardiman argued.

“You’ll actually see that the pivot to quality is cause for optimism,” she concluded.

Under the new MSI-seeking formula, Facebook will be looking for “signals” to evaluate how meaningful the story may be for a user. Among the signals: Who posted the content and how likely would a user be to comment on the content.

Another important signal is how trustworthy a content’s publisher is, Hardiman said. Without going into detailsk, she said Facebook is surveying users about their trust or distrust of news sources. And in an apparently separate survey, 82% of responding Facebook users said they are “somewhat, very or extremely interested in local news, with 56% saying they’d like to see more local news in News Feed. Just 11% want less local news, Hardiman said.

Facebook also is now ranking local domain names higher for News Feed posting, Hardiman said, suggesting that media hyperlocal sites will benefit greatly under the new formula.

The new formula also punishes “bad” content, Hardiman said, blocking video or engagement clickbait and ads delivered from pages that “repeatedly” share false news.

In another touchy issue for publishers, Hardiman said the social media giant is taking steps to grow publisher subscriptions through Facebook.

“We realize that what’s been missing is conversion to actual subscriptions,” she said. Growing subscriptions is now a Facebook “alpha goal,” she added.

So what’s the next action step for publishers? “For now, keep doing what you’re doing,” Hardiman said. “Keep providing a great user experience.”