Strategy report: What local news links overperform on Facebook and why?


For the last year, local media have been posting links about 80% of the time, though this varies by page size, skewing to more video posted by the largest Facebook pages, according to the CrowdTangle U.S. local news trends report. The link strategy is working, and local news publishers are seeing higher returns on publishing links on Facebook as a means to share news, garner engagement, and drive traffic. In addition, local news organizations are tailoring content links for a social audience and producing more of the most-shareable stories.

John Colucci, senior director of social media at Sinclair Broadcast Group, said links are performing well despite heightened focus in the industry on video.

“As much as we try to make sure that our stations are diversifying their content offerings – in terms of whether it’s using a photo, video or a link post – we’ve been seeing that across the board, the top-performing stories have been link posts,” he said. “It’s interesting that there’s always a lot of talk and focus on video, which is understandable, but we’re finding that link posts are outperforming them.”

Matt Martin, executive editor of the Erie Times-News, a GateHouse Media newspaper, said Facebook interactions have doubled year-over-year for the Erie Times-News page. They post primarily links, often to galleries.

The Erie Times-News galleries are high drivers of click-throughs and engagement, according to Executive Editor Matt Martin.

“Nothing works so consistently well on Facebook as [links to] photo galleries to create engagement and drive referrals.”

As a general rule, the Times-News newsroom keeps links local.

“We stay away from most national political posts. They don’t lead to referrals and they create a battleground reputation for the page,” Martin said. “We see a lot of unfollows and unlikes if we post anything that can become polarized. After gaining about 12,000 new likes annually for the five years ending 2017, churn has slowed us by about 70-75 percent to a gain of right around 3,000 per year in 2018 and 2019.”

Overall, GateHouse Media Facebook pages from January to July, YOY, saw a 48% increase in interactions, a 67% increase in post shares, and an 8% bump in page likes, per CrowdTangle data provided and analyzed by Sherri Horton, data scientist at GateHouse Media. January through July, YOY, social referrals have grown +37% despite post count dipping slightly by about 5%.

“Our post count has been relatively steady since 2018, while our social visits have climbed. We’re also seeing more interaction with those posts, showing we’re reaching audiences that are willing to participate and share our content; both of which have shown light correlation with an increase in traffic over the past year.”

According to the CrowdTangle report, total interactions per link post shared by U.S. local news pages experienced an increase of 50% YOY. People shared news link posts 97% more YOY. We used CrowdTangle’s historical data feature to analyze the top 100 posts for shares from LMC and LMA members and found that 80% were Amber Alert related.

At WTNH, a Nexstar station, missing person alerts—whether federally issued Amber Alerts or state and local Silver Alerts—are posted to the site and Facebook, where they tend to rally the community and encourage sharing and comments, according to Vanessa Wojtusiak, director of audience development.

“The amount of interaction and the amount of shares that Silver Alerts get on Facebook is just incredible. Primarily they’re shares and then we get lots of comments and conversation too, some people at-mention other people that might be from that town or maybe have some sort of connection to this person,” Wojtusiak said. “This person is missing and it’s really up to the community to spot this person. [For our followers,] it’s the simple act of clicking on the share button to really help get the word out. It’s great to see the community helping out.”

Social messaging for Amber Alerts from all local news pages often use call-to-action phrases, such as “Please help” and “It only takes a moment to share.”

“It’s definitely a big priority for us to help resolve these cases, especially if they have to deal with younger children,” she said.

At Gray Television, Digital Content Manager Jason Old said links to Amber Alerts are widely shared by station audiences and the content aligns with Gray’s objectives.

“It’s the vision of this company to provide a service to our communities, and that certainly includes helping find missing children,” he said. “We see posts about missing people receive a lot of engagement on Facebook and I think people tend to like to share that content to try and help find them.”

Takeaway: Work to understand the kind of links that overperform in your market and tailor messaging expertly.

Keep reading: Can local media benefit from refined posting schedules on Facebook?

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