Standalone Hyperlocal Website Rockville Central Moves to Facebook

This gives new meaning to the term “Facebook post”.

I recently visited Rockville, MD and learned about an interesting development that the city has done with their hyperlocal city website Rockville Central — they have migrated operations from a standalone website to a Facebook page. Their standalone website remains as an archive of past posts, but as of March 1, 2011, stories, photos and more can be found only at their Facebook page. At a time when news organizations are strategizing their online strategies, is Rockville Central’s big shift a bold move or a big mistake?

Rockville Central Migrates Fully to Facebook

Facebook’s online ubiquity cannot be ignored. As of 2011, there are over 500 million active Facebook users, and half of them are logged into the site in any given day. Facebook users are more trusting than others, according to a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. On Rockville Central’s announcement post, founder and publisher Brad Rourke summed up the reason for the move quite succinctly:

Some time ago, we initiated Rockville Central’s Facebook page, and this has grown to become its own robust space for comments and participation. What’s more, in examining our traffic logs, it is the most important source (after Google) of traffic to the site.

We believe that this suggests that Facebook is where people, by and large, have decided to go for their first-stop online community activities. Which begs the question: Why have a separate site, and try to drag people away from Facebook? Why not go where they are?

A quick glance of Rockville Central’s Facebook page shows that they post their news stories as notes on Facebook, allowing fans of their page to comment, like, and share these stories on their respective pages. Using Facebook’s Insights feature, Rockville Central can measure their level of engagement with their fans and post interaction. Fans can also post to the page, turning it into more of a community bulletin board. The page also has custom tabs for the upcoming election season and a welcome tab for new fans. So far, the move looks like it has been good for Rockville Central.

What do you think? Should news organizations start considering migrating their online presence from standalone websites to Facebook pages? Do you think this strategy will work for long-term reporting?