Strategy report: What local news Facebook videos are most engaging and why?


Facebook videos (live and on-demand video) accounted for only 11% of posts but drove 24% of all interactions on local news content, according to the CrowdTangle U.S. local news trends report. Newsrooms are finding success with interactive videos as well as local heartwarming video featuring user-generated content.

Overall native video interactions at Gray Television have more than doubled YOY, an increase of +108% comparing January to July, according to Digital Content Manager Jason Old.

“When Facebook announced that the algorithm would favor meaningful social interactions, we saw that as an opportunity to look at our strategy even closer and figure out what we could do to help ourselves in the algorithm,” he said. “We’ve talked a lot in the last year and a half just about the importance of making sure every post counts.”

Bob Harrigan from My Sun Coast/Sarasota ABC 7 WWSB did a live Q&A with followers on Facebook ahead of Hurricane Dorian.

Some of the top-performing videos at Gray tend to center on weather, Old said. For example, Meteorologist Bob Harrigan from ABC7 Sarasota WWSB used Facebook Live for a Q&A with followers to share weather updates around Hurricane Dorian.

“This Facebook Live had more than 700 people watching at one point,” Old said. “I like how Bob was always in the corner, but the weather maps and animations were featured more prominently.”

People were more likely to comment on a Facebook Live than any other type of post, according to the CrowdTangle report. Comments accounted for 40% of the ~158M interactions on live video in the 12 month period. On other post types (links, photos, video and statuses) comments make up an average of <16%.

At Fox 8 News Cleveland, comments are a top interaction on Facebook Live posts asking viewers to share their opinions about a daily question.

Facebook Lives that support interaction with the audience have been at the forefront of the social video strategy at Fox 8 News Cleveland, where Jessica Bates is managing editor. She said an anchor uses Facebook Live to pose a question of the day before and during the 5 p.m. newscast.

“It’s a topic that we think is going to generate the comments and the engagement,” Bates said. “We look at what’s doing well. This is a story people are talking about; let’s bring it to the forefront.”

The anchor mentions viewers by name and responds to comments on Facebook Live and during the television broadcast. Outside of breaking news, the new topic-of-the-day Facebook Live posts are some of the top-performing videos on the Fox 8 News Cleveland Facebook page, Bates said.

“Our Facebook Lives garner a lot of comments — not always a lot of shares — but we get hundreds of comments,” Bates said. “We use the comments on-air too which helps get people to react more with us.”

From January to July, about 30% of all of the Fox 8 News Cleveland Facebook comments were on Facebook Live posts, compared with 13% for Facebook video, while about half of all comments were on link posts.

But not all Facebook Live videos work. John Colucci, senior director of social media at Sinclair Broadcast Group, said he discourages Facebook Live engagement bait, which doesn’t perform well, such as polls soliciting votes with specific reactions or generic landscape scenes with broad messaging.

“An ambient, light video to try to get people to answer questions like, ‘Are you going to the beach this weekend?’ doesn’t really tell a story or provide news or information,” he said. “We want to stay away from the click-bait or engagement-bait method of using Facebook; we want to really stick to quality local journalism.”

Among U.S. local news Facebook pages, longer videos generated more views than shorter ones, accounting for an outsized share of the total views.

Colucci said he recommends Facebook Live posts last at least 10 minutes to give viewers a chance to tune in. However, for Facebook video in general, he said the news story should define the video length.

“We have done analysis on the length of videos and how they perform … but we try not to get too deep into issuing specific numerical guidelines. We want them to just do what’s right for the content.”

After likes, the love reaction is by far the most-used interaction on local news videos. People loved U.S. local news video posts 105% more YOY. The data shows that U.S. Local News organizations are connecting with their communities on Facebook through heartwarming stories on topics including family, pets, and inspirational individuals.

This Milwaukee Journal Sentinel post that mentioned a Wisconsin community in the headline received significantly more engagement than similar posts without localized social messaging.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel shares cross-posted native Facebook video from the USA Today Network’s brands of inspiring, social video, said Emily Ristow, loyalty and engagement news director.

“We have access to a lot of good social videos through Humankind, Animalkind, Militarykind, and those you tend to perform with reactions, especially when it’s heartwarming, which they pretty much all are. That’s sort of the brand,” Ristow said. “We definitely have tried to play with some of the share language, like pointing out something is really touching … which brings that reaction out.”

Reactions are especially high on content from the state or local community, Ristow said, such as when an owl was rehabilitated by the local humane society before being set free, or military homecomings in Appleton, Wisconsin.

“Once we put Wisconsin in the share line, it was huge.”

At WTNH, the positive videos that perform well on Facebook come directly from the community via content submissions around topics such as National Dog Day and back-to-school. Though they more often get photo submissions rather than video, Vanessa Wojtusiak, director of audience development, said her teams build slideshows with user-generated content that have boosted comments and shares.

“People want to jump in and share their animal. They’re proud of their child on their first day of school. They get a lot of shares, and we get a lot of submissions that way, and it’s all local content,” she said. “We’ve been taking a lot of the photos that have been submitted and creating our own videos that are shareable. They’ve been performing well because when people get to watch the video, they’re watching for a longer period of time to see if they’re animal or child made the cut, and then they’re it sharing too.”

Wojtusiak said the local, community-focused content also breaks up some of the violent and breaking hard news seen on social.

“[Heartwarming] posts perform so well because they are relatable,” Wojtusiak said. “People want to see positive news: the inspiration of someone overcoming cancer, or that kids are getting together for the elderly and doing something great.”

Takeaway: Lean into local inspiration and two-way interactions as a foundation of highly engaging video.

Keep reading: How local news publishers are embracing an audience-first approach on Facebook

This report was produced by the Local News Resource Center, funded by the Facebook Journalism Project