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.

With one full month down in 2018, there have already been plenty of changes afoot in the social publishing space.  
Algorithm changes and platform initiatives have meant that there are some new factors to take into account when stacking up the sites with the most influence and the greatest reach on social media. NewsWhip’s rankings of the most engaged sites on Facebook in January provide some insight into where the different players stand at the beginning of the year. Some of the key takeaways from data on the sites with the most likes, comments and shares last month:

  • Fox News, NBC, and the New York Times head up the rankings of the top three most engaged sites of the month
  • Some smaller publishers including the Daily Wire, Western Journalism, and the Washington Press improve their position to rise in the rankings
  • Average engagement rates for English language content as a whole has declined slightly on Facebook in the last few months

It’s important to note here that while website-based content and Instant Articles are included in these rankings, we aren’t looking at engagements on native and live videos. Ranked in order of total likes, comments, shares and reactions on web content published in January 2018, these were the top 10 sites of January 2018:
Top Publishers on Facebook, June 2018
The first thing to note is that engagement rates did not drop all that obviously for this top cohort of sites in the first month of 2018. Indeed, some leading sites such as Fox News and NBC managed to grow overall engagement rates.
In the case of Fox News, January was the network’s strongest month in terms of interactions on web content since October 2017. While most of the network’s most viral stories appealed to a conservative political base, a report about a woman who was denied permission to bring an ‘emotional support peacock’ onto a flight also saw over 400,000 engagements.  
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NBC’s 2.4 million growth in interactions came on the back of a number of highly engaged news stories during the month. The Washington Post also managed to successfully increase its engagement score by almost 2 million interactions from December to January, just 50,000 engagements behind the New York Times. The site was responsible for some of the most widely shared stories on Facebook in January, including their most popular of the month – “Trump derides protections for immigrants from ‘shithole’ countries” (1,077,089 interactions).
January also saw a raft of smaller digital native sites appear high in the top 25 rankings. Most of the new names are digital native outlets, and some would have appeared in the rankings previously, although without such high engagement scores. These sites include Western Journalism, the Daily Wire and 247Sports, all of which appeared in the top ten. The first two are conservative politics sites, and seem to have managed to build significant visibility in the news feed by covering contentious political stories and issues.
In January, the Daily Wire had an average engagement rate of 16,748 on its 1,126 articles, while Western Journalism’s had an average of 7,648 interactions on its 2,694 stories. These news arrivals in the top ten appear at the expense of The Hill, IndiaTimes.com, CNN and Breitbart.
It’s worth remembering, however, that some of these scores may very well be negatively affected going forward by the well publicised Facebook algorithm changes, which look to prioritise ‘meaningful’ interactions from users over cursory likes, as well as reducing news content from 5 percent to 4 percent of the total news feed.
Indeed, some of the sites that profited from partisan or eye-catching political headlines just months ago have fallen from the top flight of social publishers.
One relatively new name offers an interesting case study in the rapidity with which these sites can rise and fall in news feeds. At the end of 2017, a liberal-leaning site called Verified Politics was making strong gains and publishing articles that seemed to go viral with ease. It saw over 11.1 million interactions in November, putting it ahead of names such as ABC News and Mirror.co.uk. In January, the site is nowhere to be seen in the top 25, with its engagement score having collapsed. As noted back in October, when the site first appeared in these rankings:
VerifiedPolitics launched just a few months ago, signalling how quickly partisan political sites can very quickly grow huge audiences on Facebook.
But even counting for the earlier successes of sites such as the Conservative Tribune, Occupy Democrats, and even Breitbart, VerifiedPolitics appears to have achieved a staggering degree of social engagement growth since its inception. As recently as August, the site was publishing very little content. Two months later, it published over 700 politically-charged stories and was one of the most interacted with political sites on the platform.
Now the Verified Politics Facebook page almost solely links to another site, the Washington Press, which also makes an appearance in the rankings for the first time this month. Both sites seem to be connected, but why Verified Politics no longer links to its own domain is not clear – another quirk of the viral publishing playbook.
 

Engagement changes over time

 
Digiday reports that many sites have seen noticeable traffic drops from Facebook in the last few weeks. To get a sense of how the new algorithm changes are affecting the top sites, a full month of data for February should provide more insight. However, NewsWhip Analytics’ ‘Average Engagement per Article’ metric, which shows the average number of total interactions (both in the news feed, and off, through use of share buttons) on different URLs, gives a picture of declining engagement with web content overall.
Average Facebook engagement over time.
From October 1, we see a slight decline in average interactions (likes, comments, shares and reactions) on all English language content in the NewsWhip database. It has to be taken into consideration that this measurement encompasses a lot of different publishers, from mainstream media outlets, to small tech news blogs, to viral clickbait farms.
The measurement doesn’t mean that average engagement has fallen for all sites – as we see in this month’s rankings, engagement grew in January for some of the top publishers — but it does tally with some sites’ reports about declining traffic from the platform over the past few months.
In December, we speculated that 2018 could see platforms look to emphasise reader loyalty over reach, which is something that Facebook’s new algorithm changes now appear to attempt to address. Whether or not that results in some sites genuinely improving their audience and community relationships on the platform is now being tested.
 

Full engagement data

 
Below are the top 25 sites in January, ranked by total Facebook engagements on stories published that month. These numbers count all Facebook engagement on these sites’ links in January, 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.
Top publishers on Facebook, January 2018
To get full access to this data, and much more, sign up for a demo of NewsWhip Analytics today.

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