The Most Engaged Sites on Facebook in December 2016

January 18, 2017

Written by NewsWhip

We rank the biggest sites on Facebook in December 2016, based on how many engagements their articles attracted in December 2016. 

We last published an analysis of the most engaged websites on Facebook in August 2016. A few months on, the social publishing picture has changed somewhat.

Using NewsWhip Analytics, we can rank the performance of all sites, based on how many Facebook engagements they achieved with links to their website, published in December only.

It’s important to remember what we’re measuring here in this analysis. We aren’t looking at the impact of native videos or images on Facebook, but rather how links to owned websites, as well as Instant Articles, performed in terms of social engagement on the platform.

Here are some of the key points this time round:

  • comes out as the most engaged English language sites on Facebook in December 2016, with over 25 million engagements on content published that month.
  • NBC, Fox and CNN make significant gains to finish in the top five sites on the platform.
  • There has been a general narrowing of the field for top publishers, with a difference of just seven million engagements between the first and tenth sites.

Here were the top ten sites last month, based on total Facebook engagements (likes, comments, shares and reactions):

The Top Sites on Facebook, December 2016

All data from NewsWhip Analytics – click to learn more


And what you’ll note is that the engagement with some of these articles are phenomenally high. This dataset represents the most disruption we’ve seen in these rankings in a long time.

On top of the pile is the India Times, who have over 25 million engagements on their web-owned content and Instant Articles for the month. The site is aimed at a young Indian audience on mobile, posting a huge range of stories from breaking news to entertainment and lifestyle pieces, which see very large levels of engagement each month. It’s their first time in top spot, and signals a rare displacement of the Huffington Post.

We noted last year that the vast majority of the site’s engagements are Likes, indicating high news feed activity. India Times also run Instant Articles, which could make a crucial difference in a mobile-first market like India’s.

But apart from the India Times’ explosive engagement, there’s a good deal of disruption on the rest of the chart.

NBC are less than 300,000 engagements behind India Times, seeing an increase of over 1 million engagements since August. Fox News have perhaps even more reason to celebrate, as their 4.5 million engagements for the month represents almost a 25% jump since August, and is enough to lift them from 8th to 3rd overall in the rankings.

Another TV network that has grown its engagements significantly is CNN, who broke the 20 million monthly engagement mark for the first time. That’s an all-time high for CNN, who had a bumper year with the US election. Their best-performing story of the month was an original titled ‘The extinction crisis is far worse than you thought,’ with 238,000 engagements.

In a recent interview on this blog, CNN’s Head of Social Media, Samantha Barry explained that ‘moving fast’ is one of the main keys to the growth in engagement for the site. She also had this advice for social media editors looking to grow their audiences:

“Listening to your audience is so important. We listen through the data and insights that we gather. What worked, what didn’t work? Constantly asking those questions as social media editors is important. It sounds simple, but so many don’t do it. Look at your insights. What is it telling?”

It’s worth remembering the depth of content that this trio of broadcasters have available. As well as their main sites, they include many other associated brands, such as CNBC and MSNBC (NBC), and local affiliates.

After, who we named one of our best Facebook publishers of 2016, three legacy brands in the shape of the Daily Mail, BBC and the New York Times all put in strong Facebook performances to round out the top nine.

In tenth place, USA Today was another significant mover last month. The national news site managed to break into the top ten with almost 19 million engagements, with 11,500 articles published last month. Many of the site’s most popular stories were regular news stories about everything from Standing Rock to snow fall in Hawaii.

Further down, there are some more new entrants, including Indian Express, Bored Panda and Occupy Democrats, all of whom feature in our top 25 sites on Facebook for the first time.

The stories that got people sharing

In terms of the content itself, there’s been plenty of range in the stories that gathered attention in December.

Entertainment site Bored Panda made their first entry into the top 25 sites last month, helped by a story that achieved over 1.1 million engagements, the highest of any content in the top 25 sites.

Partisan political news sites also continued to see an engagement bump in the aftermath of the US election, with both Breitbart and Occupy Democrats scoring highly engaged stories during the month.

One of the most engaged stories of the month came from NPR, on the death of astrophysicist Vera Rubin. The story had over 250,000 engagements, including almost 90,000 alone on the below NPR post, which sparked a lively discussion about Rubin’s work and legacy in the comments. 

Many sites saw break-out success on individual stories that resonated with a much wider audience than their regular posts. These stories often deal with an issue of global interest or concern, and are accompanied by a catchy headline and description. To help them spread, it’s crucial that they’re picked up and shared by other non-publisher pages with relevant audiences.

One example is this post about recycling in Sweden from, which saw over 350,000 Facebook engagements in the month, having been picked up and re-shared by a variety of other Facebook pages, from Quartz to the Canadian Green Party. These stories introduce publisher brands to new readers, and boost engagement. In this case, it contributed to the Independent’s top 25 finish. 

In an interesting development for publishers, Facebook have announced that publishers will be able to post multiple Instant Articles simultaneously. Readers can also subscribe to be notified when the series of articles goes live. The hope is that readers will start using the service as a habit, to return and get their news fix each morning. It remains to be seen if those publishers will make this part of their daily news reading habits.

Why the change amongst top sites on Facebook?

What’s changed in the last few months, since we announced the biggest sites on Facebook in August 2016? It’s obvious that there’s been a significant re-ordering of the usual rankings that we’ve been recording up until last year. From late 2013 up to 2016, there was a very defined hegemony among the very top social publishers. While there were often changes in the order of sites outside the top ten, the top five sites were dependably non-transient most months, and commanded engagement rates far beyond what those further down the rankings were able to achieve.

These rankings show that the gap is narrowing.

Large publishers have started to seek ways to reach and engage their readers that don’t rely simply on the premise that readers will share stories from their websites back to their own news feeds. Larger mobile audiences, changing consumer reading habits and the platforms’ own changes have meant that the performance of web-based content is now just one of a few different access points. Newsletters, native video, podcasts and other formats will all have their own audience verticals.

In December, our data recorded seven sites record more than 20 million Facebook engagements on their web-based content. But what’s perhaps more interesting is the cohort of publishers just outside that range. Instead of there being a huge chasm, there are good number of sites jostling for gains in the 14 million – 20 million engagement category.

As we noted in a recent analysis of the Washington Post’s performance on Facebook, publishers need to get better at fostering organic engagement with their content on social platforms. Simply relying on one big general broadcast page may not necessarily guarantee consistent attention.

The more targeted you can be in getting your stories to the right people on any social network, the higher the engagements are likely to be. The easiest way to grow this process is by creating stories that your audience are genuinely interested in, and likely to pass on to their own network.

The top 25 sites, with full data

Below are the top 25 sites last month, ranked by total engagements on stories published in December 2016. These numbers count all Facebook engagement on these sites’ links in December, including shares from publisher pages, copy-and-paste shares, and use of social sharing buttons on the websites themselves. As mentioned above, the numbers don’t include engagement on live or native videos.

To get full access to this data, and much more, sign up for a demo of NewsWhip Analytics today.

The Most Engaged Sites on Facebook, December 2016
We strive for complete coverage – if you think our numbers could be improved, please let us know.

Sign up for a demo of NewsWhip Analytics today


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