We look at the most engaged sites on Facebook last month, and examine the publishers that are getting the most out of their content on Facebook. 

February has been a time of some uncertainty for publishers: from mobile operators blocking online ads to one national newspaper (and NewsWhip top 25 Facebook site) announcing the end of their printed product, it’s been a tumultuous few weeks.
Add to that the announcement that Facebook’s Instant Articles will be going live to all in April, and Google’s AMP feature launching, the month’s developments encapsulated modern publishing.
With the backdrop of these wider issues, our monthly Facebook rankings take on a new resonance. What publishers are best placed to make the most of their native strategies? What strategies are working, and what are users responding to?
This month:
– BuzzFeed maintain a significant lead at the top
– CNN and CBS News make gains to achieve their highest position to date
– Vox.com post some very impressive average share numbers
These were the top ten sites in January, ranked by shares of content published that month. See the bottom of this post for a top 25 breakdown.
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BuzzFeed take the lead from the Huffington Post, growing their share count by almost 300,000. Their month was helped by a raft of lists, on everything from Cat Lady characteristics to chart hits from 2003.
It’s interesting to note that BuzzFeed’s approach means that the content that they find works well for them on Facebook may differ to that on other platforms.
The Huffington Post are down somewhat on their December numbers, although they stay in second place for overall shares. They aren’t the only site to have seen a decline in engagement numbers from December to January, and this is likely part of the January effect. But these are high level stats only. Across the board, publishers in different language markets and niche categories are seeing steady engagement rates.
Elsewhere, CBS News and Breitbart both enter the top ten chart. CBS are a site that consistently do well in our rankings, and will be pleased with the entry. They’re particularly strong on video, and had numerous hit posts in February, mostly around election coverage, and using short native video clips to promote links.

[fb_pe url=”https://www.facebook.com/CBSNews/videos/10153390886200950/” bottom=”30″]

Average Share Rates High For Vox And CNN

Let’s take stock of what the numbers mean. Of the 25 sites listed at the bottom of this post, the happiest will be the ones with the highest average share rates.
We looked at five different sites, all with relatively strong average shares rates, to see what the breakdown looks like.
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First of all, Vox.com make an impression, with an average of over 800 shares on each of the 700 articles they published in December.
The site that looks to ‘explain the news’ hasn’t managed to breach our top 25 rankings so far, but they still see significant engagement on a relatively low output each month. In January, we recorded them produce one of the most engaged stories of the month on Facebook. That piece, ‘Donald Trump has flip-flopped so much that Stephen Colbert has hosted a Trump vs. Trump debate’, had over 1m total Facebook engagements in December. Vox’s content appears to be resonating with a certain audience on Facebook, and as the US election goes on, their engagement share looks set to grow.
Next, CNN come out strongly, with an average of 609 Facebook shares per article in January. The site was the eighth most shared site in January, and the tenth most engaged overall, their strongest performance in a long time. While not regularly in the top 10, CNN is employing a sophisticated social media strategy across their channels. With their ‘war room‘ (which features our own Spike platform), CNN are using social media signals to tap into their audience’s interests in a major way.
“We go where the audience is, and that may mean doing five different versions of the same story for each of the social platforms, whether it’s Facebook, YouTube or Snapchat,” Ed O’Keefe, VP of CNNMoney and CNN Politics, told Digiday this month.
It’s the first time we’ve recorded the Daily Mail record over 20 million Facebook engagements for the month. Fox News also have reason to cheer in this report, as they rise to a level that they haven’t seen since their surge to second last summer.
The BBC and New York Times are neck and neck for engagement on Facebook, with just 40,000 engagements over the month separating the two news giants. As illustrated in the chart above, the Times manage to edge ahead on the share front, with many of their opinion pieces helping them there.
Further down the list, a notable entrant is the NBA. We’ve commented on the NBA’s performance and social strategy in the past, and they’re making a serious impact on news feeds and social streams, on Facebook and elsewhere.
Having said that, the overwhelming majority of their engagements (over 95%) were likes, indicating that much of the brand’s engagement took place in the news feed itself. Similarly, wrestling site WWE.com had their best performance in our rankings to date, coming in at 26th overall.
Elsewhere, we see the return of the Manchester Evening News to the top 25 as the only truly regional publisher. As ever, their football coverage helped them enormously.

News Feed Updates And Native Engagement Bring Changes

One change that we’ve seen in the newsfeed on February 1 was the results of a qualitative survey conducted by Facebook on 1,000 users to see what stories they’d like to see at the top of their feeds.
How this affects different publishers remains to be seen, but some sites will almost inevitably be disappointed with the engagement and referrals in the coming weeks. Adjusting to what the algorithm expects may take some testing.
However, it seems obvious that native content is balancing out some of the on-site engagement that publishers have seen on Facebook in the past. For example, BuzzFeed’s most shared story of the month (also one of the top shared items in our database during December) had around 200,000 Facebook shares during the month.
Meanwhile, a clip on their video page, titled ‘I Jumped Off The Golden Gate Bridge’ had almost half a million shares in the same month (and even more since), as well as 28.2m views to date. At a recent conference, BuzzFeed publisher Dao Nguyen explained that the site is seeing Instant Articles (and presumably native video) are having a ‘positive impact’ on metrics.
As we’ve recently seen with the example of the New York Times on this blog, it’s more important than ever that audience development teams are scrutinising the different metrics and analytics at their disposal.

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Where Does The Data Come From? 

All the data comes from Spike, our content discovery platform. Spike tracks the stories, videos and more that matter around the world in real time – Sign up for a free trial today.
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