Which publishers were most successful, and innovative, on social media in 2017? Here we look back at the engagement data for the year and hand out our ‘Whippies’ awards to the chosen few.
Most publishers would probably agree that it’s been a mixed year for social publishing.
Despite this, publishers became much savvier at using features such as Instagram stories, social video, and Facebook Live. But as noted in this month’s rankings of the most engaged sites on Facebook:
“Even as publishers have become more adept than ever at storytelling through social media, it was a year in which relations between platforms and publishers remained testing. Audience engagement fluctuations, disputes over the quality of certain content sources, and the ever-present revenue question remained firmly on the table in 2017.”
News publishing on social media is a space that’s continuously under pressure for space and algorithmic relevance. One recent survey indicates that very few Americans are actually exposed to news directly from publishers’ social media pages, meaning that the ability for publishers to influence social media user behaviour could be even more limited than conservatively estimated by social media editors.
Despite all this, NewsWhip’s monthly Facebook rankings showed that audiences are still finding and sharing stories in their droves. We’re looking back to highlight some of the strongest performers on social media this year to highlight the sites that made a unique impact on social publishing in 2017.
1) The New York Times
The New York Times has long been a leading publisher in NewsWhip’s Facebook rankings.
In 2017 however, the site really came to dominate Facebook engagements and rankings. It has been one of the sites that have managed to consolidate and improve their relative performance on Facebook in 2017. From January to November, the site managed to score above 20 million interactions on new content every month bar one, and had a number of stories achieve over 1 million engagements.
A lot of the site’s social success in 2017 was down to the reporting itself, rather than any intensive algorithm-gaming. Many of those stories were ubiquitous across social platforms and dominated online discussion. They included coverage of women’s marches around the world, breaking news coverage, and multiple reports of sexual harassment from high profile public figures. All of these stories saw hundreds of thousands of engagements on social media. That’s aside from the significant resonance that the opinion section of the site gets on social media, usually accounting for a significant portion of monthly social interactions for the Times.
And there’s little sign of the engagement slowdown that’s been affecting other high profile sites as the year draws to a close. Indeed, three of the Times’ top five most engaged stories of the year on Facebook were published in December. The site’s native content also boomed throughout the year, posting some of their most popular clips to date.
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Another impressive stat relates to average engagement per article. While the site is consistently among the most engaged sites on Facebook, when compared to other top sites in terms of average interactions per article, it maintains a significant lead over other publishers.
This revealed an interesting trend in publishing for some sites throughout 2017. For many publishers, there has been no slow-down in the number of links they post, even if video has been taking up more of their resources and space. The main pages of CNN, the New York Times and Fox News have all been steadily increasing the number of links posted per month throughout 2017. Some were just better than others at spreading the attention that each received.
Facebook wasn’t the only platform that the Times saw huge success with its content – Instagram proved to be another space where the publisher experimented and flourished this year, posting elaborate photo essays, and testing ways of bringing journalism to new audiences and mediums through Instagram Stories.
2) The Hill
It really was a year for politics on social media.
With a heightened political moment on both sides of the Atlantic, a lot of digital native politics publishers doubled down on partisan reporting, and seeking out a specific audience on one side or other. Many of those sites saw significant engagement success throughout the year, but are effectively limited in terms of potential audience growth.
Out of this increased share in interactions emerged The Hill as a somewhat unlikely victor in the shake-up in political reporting online. During 2017, The Hill saw its Facebook engagements grow really significantly, jumping from 7.4 million monthly engagements in September 2016 (just two months before the US presidential election) to over 17 million monthly engagements in September 2017.
Like the Times, the Hill managed to keep a consistently high average engagement rate, and publishes less than other general publishing rivals. Another NewsWhip analysis showed that the site has a very highly engaged audience compared to other political publishing rivals. The site’s Facebook engagement reached record highs in February, with over 20 million interactions on stories that month.
While the Hill still isn’t the most engaged site on Facebook by a considerable margin, its audience engagement this year showed a propensity to simply get things right on social media, something that this list looks to highlight. In a previous analysis of the factors behind the site’s success on this blog, we noted:
“The Hill’s current iteration has emerged from a long history as an insider political news site, with less of a focus on appealing to mass audiences than informing a smaller base readership. The site has largely retained this approach as it has grown, with a resolve to upholding a nonpartisan approach in the social and mobile era. This means that the site has a larger potential audience pool, as their stories have more chance of breaking into the feeds of readers who may otherwise see stories solely from one partisan extreme.”
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Three points that aid their success stand out: timely, newsworthy content, a wide network of supportive cross-posting pages (helped by the site’s strive for balanced reporting), and an ethos that rewards editorial investment in content strategies that pay returns.
3) Fox News
Fox News topped the NewsWhip Facebook rankings more than any other site in 2017.
While those numbers need to asterisked with the mention that the site saw a lot of fluctuation in those engagements throughout the year, like many other large publishers, it was an impressive ascent for a site that only occasionally surpassed its immediate rivals at the top of the chart in previous years.
Many of the site’s most popular stories dealt with politics and the ongoings of the new Trump administration, which had no end of twists and turns during the year. The NFL kneeling protest controversy provided many of the site’s most engaged stories of the year.
Outside these viral website articles and huge audience reach, Fox managed to develop quite a successful native social media campaign throughout the year. Its formula of distilling talking points into audience-friendly formats and highlighting quotable interviews continuously engaged its large social media audience in 2017.
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Elsewhere, Fox also topped our May 2017 ranking of the most engaged news publishers on Instagram, beating their nearest rivals in the news category by almost five million interactions, many of which were comments. Much of the publisher’s success was down to its huge posting schedule, making sure that it stayed relevant in a news feed that takes timeliness of content into account more than ever.
Honorable mention: BoredPanda
Bored Panda is straightforward in its audience mission statement: to create fun and light content that people share. It’s not to everyone’s tastes, but was enough to see the site beat out mainstream publisher competitors to be the most engaged site on Facebook in September.
It grew quickly throughout 2017, and achieved over 30 million monthly engagements on articles published in September, up from 26.7 million engagements in August. The site’s main Facebook page has amassed an audience of around 12.7 million. The site’s engagement grew from a little over 9.2 million at the start of the year, representing more than a threefold growth in a few months. While it’s possible that some of these engagements came via paid exposure, it nonetheless positions the site as one of the most formidable entertainment sources in news feeds.
Looking at the data, one of the main reasons behind the success of the site seems to lie with its popularity on a variety of Facebook pages promoting light-hearted and positive content. They include pages such as ‘Lessons Learned in Life’, and the ‘Thinking Minds Page’, each of which have their own enormous audiences.
Of course, Bored Panda is at risk of tweaks to social algorithms more than most, a vulnerability that has already seen the downfall of many similarly-modelled viral wonders. But for a 41-person team, it wasn’t a bad year.