Social Sharing data from over 600,000 news stories indicates that a majority of articles never make it onto Twitter or Facebook.
When we talk about social distribution’s impact on media, we tend to focus on the viral superstars – the BuzzFeed listicles that pick up hundreds of thousands of Facebook shares, or the massive Guardian scoops that spread across Twitter like wildfire. However, these articles are only the very tip of an enormous, mostly invisible iceberg.
The reality is that the average news story is never shared publicly even once. They live, briefly, on a site’s homepage, are fired out through RSS feeds, are consumed for their nutritious but unremarkable information – then sent out to pasture in the site archives.
From a sample of 612,212 articles published over 72 hours in April, we measured the total sharing activity for each. We found that 527,793, or 86% of the articles, never saw any engagement on Facebook or Twitter. It’s a long, long tail, such that if the graph below included the articles that didn’t get any social sharing at all, the bar would be more than ten times higher than the count for 1-10 interactions. Take a look:
I don’t like those odds! This information should serve as a reminder to publishers and marketers that social media isn’t a guaranteed traffic driver unless you’re creating content that people actually want to share. Although social distribution can be an extremely powerful way to drive traffic, it only works if you’re creating content that your audience feels is valuable enough to share with their network. Otherwise, you’ll end up with an article like the vast majority that are published every day: unliked, unshared, and unread.
September 2013 update: Recently, our computer people have been compiling a lot of sharing-related data (stay tuned for more on this) which give us a deeper insight into the nature of sharing. Analysing data from a longer period – the month of August – allowed us to study how story-sharing goes on in the days after publication.
The results were somewhat more reassuring for publishers.
After the 72-hour window, we found that the share count eventually does clock up for many stories. Notably, over the course of a month, 58% of stories don’t reach Facebook, while 51% never reach Twitter. Obviously, the longer the research period the more accurate the results, but for many in marketing and journalism, these shares are less important. The time period immediately after publication will remain most valuable for time sensitive pieces, but picking up shares and tweets as time goes on isn’t a bad thing either.
Enjoyed this? You should check out our story about how the length of headlines impacts the shareability of an article.