Are Publishers Only Getting Social ‘Half Right’?

There is little doubt that online publishers have embraced social media as a core component of their marketing toolkit. And with good reason. One of the fastest ways to acquire new readers is to encourage existing ones to share content with their friends and colleagues. BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, and MailOnline are some of the earliest publishers to have cracked the social code. As New York Magazine writer, Andrew Rice, recently noted about BuzzFeed, “[its] articles only nominally live on the website, spending most of their time out of the house as links on social networks like Facebook and Twitter.”

But here’s the rub: while publishers are getting much better at using social media to distribute their content, many are struggling to understand the impact of this social activity. For example, it’s great that readers are sharing the opinion piece on gun control legislation, but how many new potential readers saw it? How many clicked on the link? How many read the content and wound up becoming regular visitors of the site?

To help establish industry benchmarks, my company recently examined sharing behavior on 500 of the world’s largest publishers to better understand what types of articles are most actively shared vs. which generate the most URL clicks once they get distributed via social media. Surprisingly, there was very little correlation between the two behaviors. In fact, in many cases, content that was highly shared had extremely low click-back rates while stories that were shared less frequently were often clicked significantly more often.

For example, we discovered that science-related articles are shared often – approximately 12 percent of pages viewed – which compares to an average share rate of 3 to 4 percent of page views across 23 other categories. And yet, despite the fact that readers love to share science articles, few people are clicking on the shared links: only approximately 9 percent of shared links get clicked on for the science category vs. 24 percent for the other categories.

“Men’s media” (e.g., as health and fitness articles), conversely, has one of the smallest sharing rates at less than 1 percent. However, the click-back rate for this category is extremely high at 47 percent. In other words, while stories within this category are very rarely shared, once they are, they are opened almost half of the time.

What are the takeaways for publishers? First: measuring social success by how often content is being shared is only 50 percent of the battle. True success should be defined by analyzing the click-back rate in addition to the share rate. A related takeaway is that editorial teams can take advantage of these benchmarks to identify content opportunities on their sites. For example, knowing that parenting articles have high click-back rates could suggest to science editors to add new content that parents would be eager to share and click, e.g., a piece on the new children’s program at the local planetarium.

By getting a better understanding of the “inbound” part of the content feedback loop, publishers can truly understand the impact of social, which in turn will lead to a larger and more loyal readership.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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