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.
As 2018 opens, it’s a good time to reflect on some of the changes that 2017 saw in social publishing. It was a year which saw some severe fluctuations in engagement scores for many sites, and the emergence of a new structure of social publishing dominance on Facebook.
This time last year, reflecting on the December 2016 rankings, we noted some disruption in the rankings, with India Times taking the top spot for the first time, and a narrowing of gaps between other top 10 contenders. The post surmised that one reason for the change lied with broader distribution tactics being used by publishers:
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.
One year later, that theme seems to have consolidated itself. Publishers are seeing some return on investing in their own web strategies, as some social publishing features provided disappointing returns. However, it hasn’t meant that there has been a radical decline in publishing activity on Facebook overall. If anything, engagement rates (if not referrals) have increased for many sites.
Two years ago, the dominance of two of the original leaders in social publishing, the Huffington Post and BuzzFeed, was clear to see. Both sides jostled for first place each month, with a substantial fall-off to any other site. Throughout 2017 however, there was more and more evening out of engagement rates among publishers. In December 2015, there was a gap of around 16 million total interactions between the most engaged site (The Huffington Post), and the tenth most engaged site (The Guardian). Two years later, the difference between the two equivalent publishers, Fox News and IndiaTimes.com, was down to under 8 million, or over half.
Yet the new landscape hasn’t resulted in a free-for-all amongst sites looking to increase their engagements each month. Instead, a broad pattern of consolidation amongst some strong (largely legacy) publishers has emerged, such as Fox, the New York Times and NBC, with the occasional newcomer scoring a breakout month of interest before sliding back down. Despite this, 2017 was also a year that saw a large number of new names in the top charts of Facebook publishers. December saw a continuation of that trend.
With all this in mind, here were the top ten sites in December 2017, ranked by total engagements on the articles published on each site that month.
Fox News remains on top of the pile, with over 21.7 million interactions on the 49,330 articles published by the wider Fox network in December. The New York Times finished the year less than 1 million interactions behind.
Breitbart also rises back into the top ten, possibly at the expense of the Daily Wire, another right-wing political news site which had been performing strongly in recent months. The Daily Wire dropped from 15.5 million engagements to 11.5 million from November to December.
Also out of the top ten are entertainment site (and recent chart-topper) Bored Panda, and BBC.co.uk, which drops a few engagements to 12.1 million web engagements. The Hill ends in its highest position to date, with just under 17 million interactions during the month. Other risers to the top 10 include previous most engaged site IndiaTimes.com, and US sports site 247Sports. It’s 247’s first time in the top ten, even though the site previously appeared further down in the ranking. One possible reason for its sudden jump: the ramp-up of the NFL’s season.
A duo of viral newcomers
Further down the list, two new publishers arrive into the top 25 ranking for the first time. Laughing Colours and Providr both jump into the rankings, with 7.6 million and 7 million interactions, respectively.
Laughing Colours is a major Indian entertainment site, and boasts 29 million likes on its main official Facebook page. According to its about page, Laughing Colours aims to be readers’ “complete dose of daily entertainment,” and features everything from Bollywood film coverage to recipe suggestions. While there isn’t a lot of information about the site online, it appears that its sizeable Facebook page initially emerged as a popular Indian meme page, before being transformed into a more formidable publishing operation.
Meanwhile, Providr is a US-based viral news site which has been around for a few years. Its main Facebook page posts a mix of typical viral-ready stories and videos, with a notable additional focus on celebrity news and gossip. The site’s engagement rate for the month is all the more notable given that the site published just 422 stories in December, the lowest of any of the top 25 sites. Part of its success was attributable to a web of pages with their own large fan bases, which helped spread the stories to wider audiences.
2018: What next for social publishing?
In terms of what may happen this year in social publishing, there’s an established degree of skepticism in many newsrooms about endless time investment in social formats. It’s easy to forget how young the publishing industry’s formalised relationship with social platforms is.
Specialised publishing features such as Instant Articles and Facebook Live Video are less than three years old, but have already been at least tried by most publishers on Facebook. In a saturated market where attention is key, 2018 could well be the year that social platforms start emphasising the benefits of reader loyalty, rather than plain reach. A more dependable audience channel is always welcome.
As usual, there’s another promising avenue that some publishers are seeing returns from. Targeted Facebook groups are of growing interest to some sites, with success reported at the Washington Post, Bloomberg and the Boston Globe, among others.
Full engagement data
Below are the top 25 sites in December, ranked by total Facebook engagements on stories published that month. 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. Importantly, the numbers do not include engagement on live or native videos.
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