NPR seeks to help media organizations geotarget Facebook content at scale

NPR plans to develop an application called GeoGraph, which will expand upon its efforts to improve Facebook engagement and media consumption by geotargeting posts. The public radio organization says Facebook has committed to support the endeavor.

NPR found success with an initial experiment that led to record traffic and an increase in Likes, comments and shares, but to scale the test, the organization will need to use Facebook’s API. NPR detailed its plans in an application to the Knight News Challenge, a media innovation contest. The project could have an impact on how other media companies — and possibly brands — distribute content through Facebook.

In October 2011, NPR began its experiment with Seattle member station KPLU. Each day or so, NPR would post a KPLU story to its Facebook page, but it would use Facebook’s geotargeting capabilities to limit the audience to only Seattle residents. NPR ultimately posted about 50 geotargeted KPLU links over a four-month period. The posts accounted for 12 percent of KPLU.org’s total traffic during that time. The test also resulted in record traffic to the website, both for a single month and a single day.

NPR found that local stories outperformed global stories six-to-one in terms of engagement rate on Facebook (likes, comments and shares as a percentage of unique viewers of a post). Anecdotally, NPR noticed deeper conversations in the Facebook comment threads of local stories.

Geotargeting posts is a lesser-known feature of Facebook pages that we’ve detailed in The Facebook Marketing Bible. Geotargeting allows organizations to maintain one large page, while sharing more content per day with audiences that are more likely to engage with each post.

To expand geotargeting beyond a single city, NPR wants to build GeoGraph using Facebook APIs. It explains GeoGraph as “a newsroom tool to manage the pitch-to-publish process” that “addresses unique editorial and localization needs of news organizations where publishing directly through Facebook or other tools fail.” The project could lead more pages to take advantage of this strategy. The organization says it plans to make the tool publicly available and documented so others can replicate it.

According to NPR, Facebook Journalist Program Manager Vadim Lavrusik will provide support through the process. A Facebook spokesperson tells us the company will provide NPR with feedback about best practices and technical implementation of APIs, but it will not fund the project or devote a set number of hours to the effort.

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