These were the most engaged sites on Facebook in March

April 4, 2018

Written by NewsWhip

We look at the most engaged sites on Facebook in March 2018, and analyse the publishers that are getting the most out of their content on Facebook.

The results of this month’s survey are among the most surprising in some time. An upswing in interactions for major news publishers saw some sites return to levels of engagement not seen in the NewsWhip rankings for quite some time.

Here were the main takeaways from the month. The full analysis, plus engagement data for the top 25 sites, follows:

  • CNN is the most engaged site of the month, with over 36 million Facebook engagements on articles published in March,
  • There was a significant increase in engagements for the top publishers on Facebook, with total engagements for the top ten sites’ content rising by 27.75 percent from February,
  • Engagement increases were seen mainly for mainstream news publishers, rather than for entertainment or viral publishers.

These were the top ten sites in March, based on total engagements (likes, comments, shares, and comments) on web-based content published that month. Engagements with native content such as Live videos are not included.
Top sites on Facebook, March 2018
As the chart shows, CNN comes out on top last month, growing its engagements by around 11 million interactions since February, a remarkable 30.1 percent increase. In this case, it’s worth noting that the numbers for CNN include engagements from CNN Money, the network’s business and technology news site, but the vast number of engagements for March still came from the main CNN website.

She's "18, Cuban and bisexual." She made a Powerpoint to convince her parents to let her shave her head. She loves to sew, crochet and paint. She stunned the world with her silence.

Posted by CNN on Sunday, March 25, 2018

What’s particularly interesting about this rise in engagements is the dispersal factor. Usually, when sites see a huge increase in interactions over the course of a few weeks, the gains can be largely attributed to a small number (occasionally a single) of articles which were shared by large social media pages and went extremely viral. This isn’t exactly what has happened in CNN’s case in March.

While the site did have some very popular stories (66 of 5,597 stories published in March saw over 100,000 Facebook interactions), there seems to have also been a general lift in interactions for stories further down the chain. CNN’s average engagement per article in March was 7,010, up from 4,982 in February. The site’s most engaging stories of the month encompassed a broad range of themes, largely related to breaking news.

CNN isn’t the only mainstream news publisher to have benefitted from an engagement increase in March. NBC and Fox News also consolidated their positions in second and third place, with increases of a few million interactions.

The New York Times also saw major growth, up 9.3 million to 27.3 million interactions. Many of the site’s most popular stories in March were from the Opinion section, with the most engaged a piece from a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Elsewhere, it was an interesting month for major news sites generally, with the BBC, the Washington Post, and the Guardian all posting particularly impressive gains. 

Which sites gained, and which didn’t? 

Outside the names at the top of the chart, one of the biggest winners of the month has to be the New York Post, which appears at 20th overall in the top Facebook rankings.

The news site topped our January ranking of the top regional US publishers on Facebook, with 3.6 million interactions. In March, that number was up to 9.8 million, with many of the most popular stories relating to a wide variety of national news items, as well as opinion pieces.

This is awful.

Posted by New York Post on Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Meanwhile, MSN News, which is a news aggregator with an audience of over five million on its main Facebook page, appeared in the rankings with 11.1 million engagements. Increases were also seen from CBS News, USA Today and NPR.
NPR, CBS News, New York Post, NY Post
Given the overall growth for many of the top sites, and the huge gains from sites like the New York Times and CNN, it’s worth looking at the sites that didn’t see such huge increases in interactions during March.
Conservative politics site the Daily Wire, which has been racking up well in excess of 10 million monthly interactions for a while now and was fifth overall in February, saw a decline in its engagement of 1.5 million. In the general working of the biggest social publishers, such a decline isn’t all that unusual. But in March, it was enough to push the site into 11th position overall, as it was comprehensively taken over by news sites such as the Daily Mail, the Guardian, and the Washington Post.

Similarly, Western Journalism, another conservative site which has many viral stories every month, dropped from 12th to 22nd position.

Other sites that did not see an engagement boost during March included entertainment and viral-focussed publishers, such as UK-based Lad Bible and UniLad, both of which remain near the bottom of the top 25. Bored Panda, a site which saw over 32 million engagements in September 2017, completely fell out of the top 25 altogether. 

Why the change? 

It seems highly likely that these changes are predicated on the ongoing news feed algorithm changes, which took effect around the end of January. It’s not clear whether these increases have resulted in more traffic for the sites concerned, and it’s not to say that all sites will have benefitted.

This data looks solely at the social engagements on articles published over a 31 day period for the very top 25 English language sites. These tend to be publishers with established digital audiences and extensive resources, capable of breaking major international news stories to huge audiences online. The effect for sites with smaller reach has yet to be determined.

Reflecting on changes in social publishing at the end of 2017, we noted that the biggest winners in a difficult year of much change appeared to be established news organisations:

“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.”

For now, this appears to continue being the case on Facebook. 

Facebook engagement data 

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

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