Your ELi: The Bucks Stop, Here

Tuesday, December 19, 2017, 6:54 am
Ann Nichols, Managing Editor

For the foreseeable future, ELi can’t keep paying Facebook at the rate we have been to make sure you see our latest articles. Paying Facebook has become a major expense to ELi. Some have suggested that it’s not really necessary, but I’ll try to explain here why it’s been so important to us (and to readers) as a way of getting the news to the people and why it has gotten more expensive in the last two years.

If you use Facebook on a regular basis, you may notice that some people completely disappear from your feed. If you visit their profile pages, you will see that you are still “friends,” but that you’ve missed seeing their posts for months.

That’s the result of Facebook’s algorithm, the super-secret system by which Facebook decides what you will see in your feed. Although Facebook is very tightlipped about how things work, we do know that among the hundreds of signals that tell them what you want to see, users see more of people and pages based on how often they interact with them, the number of “likes,” shares and comments from their friends, and how much they have interacted with a certain kind of post (videos, memes, news articles, and so on).

So, if you don’t interact a lot with your old roommate Susan, her posts will tend to disappear. The connection is even shakier for those of us who post not as individual humans but as “pages” on Facebook.

Last year, Facebook made a change to the algorithm that governs what you see in your feed, a change aimed at showing you more from your “friends and family” than from “publishers.” Eli is, of course, classified as a “publisher.”

This change means that news, in general, won’t show up in your Facebook feed unless you personally make an effort to get it there (or we pay Facebook to get it there). You may be a person who prefers the kind of in-depth, local news that ELi offers, but you’re going to see less of that and more quizzes and cat videos if that’s what most people prefer.

The “friends and family” switch has been pretty disastrous for organizations that publish news on Facebook, including us. As is true for small news organizations nationally, the vast majority of ELi’s readers come to us through Facebook—far more than through Twitter, site visits or our real-time and weekly mailers.

In order to keep (and ideally to grow) our audience, we now have to pay Facebook to “boost” or promote articles we publish. An un-boosted post will typically be seen by fewer than 300 people in its first hours after publication, while a boosted post reaches over 500 (conservatively) and, of course, the more people who “like” or share it on Facebook, the more it shows up. The more it shows up, the more people get the news we work hard to produce for our community.

The only way to “push” the news out to more social media users besides ponying up to promote articles is to rely on clickbait headlines or summaries. You know the style: “School Board Disagrees on New Member: You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!” News, real or fake, that tends to grab readers with catchy photos or headlines goes much farther as more people click to see…what happened next.

That’s why other “local” news outlets around here are likely to publish dramatic stories on Facebook about events that took place elsewhere: they make people click, and more clicks equal more advertising revenue. How often have you clicked on a story headlined something like “Family of Five Plunges through Thin Ice into Icy Waters” with your heart in your mouth, only to discover that the family in question lives in two thousand miles away? Sad either way, but you clicked because you were lead to believe it was be a local story about people in your community.

We’ve been told that many readers choose to read our articles on Facebook because we don’t (and won’t) enable comments on the ELi site. We can’t “police” comments for our website’s standards; that would not be appropriate. But the comments on ELi’s Facebook page serve as a public forum, a way to get a read on what your neighbors are thinking, and a chance to express yourself or ask a question, if you so choose.

So if you want to see ELi’s coverage of what matters to you, whether that’s City government, East Lansing Schools, medical marijuana zoning, or downtown development, what can you do?

  1. You can financially support ELi with a tax-deductible donation that will allow us to pay to promote at least some news to our Facebook audience. Our 2018 Sustainability Drive ends January 31, but the sooner we know if we raised what we need to stay afloat, the sooner we can make decisions about Facebook expenditures.
  2. In the meantime, you can change your Facebook settings so that you see ELi posts as a priority – in other words, you can change your settings to “tell” Facebook that you want to see our articles. This will move them to the top of your feed automatically.
  3. And you can subscribe to our real-time alerts (you’ll get an email every time we publish an article) or to our Friday weekly digest, which includes everything we published that week. This will make sure that you don’t miss anything.

As always, we want to hear your feedback on what we’re doing. We exist as a nonprofit public service organization to serve you with the reporting of meaningful local news. Without your feedback, we don’t know if what we’re doing is working to help you. So do let us know.

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