Who are the Biggest Politics Publishers on Social?


By   |   June 15th, 2016   |   Reading time: 6 minutes Digital Journalism

A look at which publishers of political content generate the most engagement on Facebook and Twitter.

Regular visitors to the NewsWhip blog will be aware of our monthly Facebook rankings, in which we take a look at which publishers are gaining the most engagement on the platform. One of the trends we’ve noticed from these rankings is the popularity of different kinds of news on Facebook – politics, science, and parenting-focused content tends to find a large audience.

With interest in politics particularly high in this US election year, we looked at how publishers of political content are faring on social. Given the popularity of Twitter with political reporters, this analysis incorporates Twitter shares as well as Facebook interactions for an indication of which publishers earn the most engagement.

For this piece, we looked at English-language content published between May 13th and June 13th 2016 and categorised under the “Politics” tab in NewsWhip Spike. As a result, this list includes publishers with a broader remit as well as those which publish exclusively political-themed content.

Combining total Facebook interactions (likes + shares + comments) with Twitter shares for this period, here are the top ten publishers for this period:

Top 10 publishers of political content, May/June 2016

There is some divergence when publishers are ranked by Twitter shares alone, but this ranking is mostly the same when ranked by Facebook interactions. If anything, this is an indication of Facebook’s influence when publishers look to collate information on social shares.

This screenshot from NewsWhip Analytics shows the breakdown of publishers by Facebook and Twitter interactions:

Screenshot from NewsWhip Analytics showing a breakdown of politics publishers

From this data, we can see that Breitbart has a commanding lead over fellow publishers of political content. The publisher earned a total of 9,098,013 interactions in this period, of which 8.1 million (89%) came from Facebook and 985,850 (11%) came from Twitter.

Breitbart has a lead of nearly 2 million interactions over The Huffington Post, which earned an equally impressive 7.3 million total interactions in this period, and nearly 4 million more than The Hill (5.5 million total interactions). Our previous research has shown that conservative news tends to be very popular on Facebook and the strong numbers evinced by Breitbart here underlines this.

Interactions were more evenly split throughout the rest of the top 10. CNN, with 4.2 million total engagements, has a comfortable lead over lower-placed publishers. The Guardian, Washington Post, and Politico each earned over 3 million interactions this period, with the Wall Street Journal generating just under 3 million. The Daily Kos and NBC round out the top 10, with 2.4 million and 2.3 interactions respectively.

The vast majority of these engagements came from Facebook. None of the publishers in this ranking earned more than 1 million shares on Twitter, though some had a comparatively wider reach when the list is ranked by Twitter shares alone. For instance, CNN and the Wall Street Journal generated more Twitter shares than the Huffington Post, The Hill and the Guardian in this period. By this ranking, Fox News also enters the top 10 with 292,800 Twitter shares, while Slate earned just under 260,000 to supplant NBC.

Average Engagement Rate

One of the notable results of this ranking is the absence of stalwart names such as the New York Times and Fox News from the top 10. These publishers tend to fare extremely well on Facebook when ranked by all content published and are, for many readers, authoritative voices on political news.

However, the above ranking is slightly deceptive in terms of the publishers’ reach. If we break the numbers down a little more closely and look at the average engagements elicited by each piece of content, the list is re-ordered as follows:

Table showing average engagements earned by politics publishers in May and June 2016

The New York Times earned its 1.2 million overall engagements from 143 pieces of content, meaning each politics article published generated an average of 8,513 interactions. Similarly, conservative publisher Allen B. West – ranked 12th overall – generated an average of 6,274 engagements for each article published, indicating the site has a wider reach than the overall figure may suggest.

Vox, a more Millennial-focused publisher, also fares well when ranked by this metric. It generated just under 1.3 million interactions this period but earned those from 295 stories, indicating an average engagement rate of 4,368 interactions per piece of content.

Elsewhere, the Guardian and Politico’s positioning is relatively consistent – ranked 5th and 7th respectively overall, they come 9th and 10th for average engagements. Both published over 1,000 pieces of content in this period and generated over 2,000 average interactions per story.

The value of this metric is that it shows the reach an individual story has for a publisher. While some sites may not amass colossal engagement overall, a large amount of average engagement shows that the publisher already has an active and interested audience. For the likes of The New York Times, its heritage and influence gives it an added boost in engaging users, enabling it to publish fewer pieces while still reaching a significant audience.

By contrast, some other publishers with large amounts of overall engagement fare quite poorly by this metric. Yahoo, for example, earned 640,643 total interactions this period to rank within the top 25 publishers. However, it generated these from some 10,076 stories, meaning each story elicited only 64 engagements on average this period. While this number seems low, Yahoo still boasts a large audience – the latest Reuters Institute Report on Digital Media found that it remains the most popular online news source in the US.

Top Stories

Political content during this period – as with most of this year – was dominated by coverage of the upcoming presidential election in the US. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump featured regularly in stories, as did incumbent president Barack Obama.

The top story for this period was published on the Guardian’s website. A profile of Pete Souza, the White House official photographer during Barack Obama’s two terms, earned 199,500 Facebook engagements and a further 6,110 shares on Twitter for a total of 206,150 interactions. It stands apart in the list of big stories for this period, casting a retrospective eye over Obama’s presidency and the candid photography with which Souza documented it. As a lengthy reflection on Obama’s legacy as he enters his final few months in office, the story’s tone stood out in a period dominated by contentious election debate – something which may have helped it strike a chord with users.

The next most successful piece was an article published by the Wall Street Journal. An opinion piece entitled “Clinton might not be the nominee” speculated that Bernie Sanders might still pip Clinton to the Democratic nomination. This was published before the California primary which saw Clinton become the presumptive Democratic nominee but lost none of its momentum afterwards, generating over 178,000 combined engagements from Twitter and Facebook.

Outside of Election 2016, some recurring topics for this period include transgender rights, the death of Muhammed Ali, and pay equality. This latter topic features in the Huffington Post’s coverage of a Senate resolution seeking to ensure the US women’s soccer team are paid the same as their male counterparts. In a month which saw a woman become the Democratic nominee for President for the first time in US history, it seems fitting that this story was the fourth biggest overall, generating 161,163 engagements on Facebook and Twitter.

The top ten stories for this period are below.

Top 10 Politics Stories on Facebook and Twitter, May/June 2016

These are the top 25 publishers for this period, ranked by total Facebook interactions + Twitter shares.

Table of the top 25 politics publishers for May/June 2016

All the data for this post comes from NewsWhip Spike. Sign up for a free trial and track the biggest political stories in real-time.

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