Facebook is influencing what news gets read online as people use the Internet’s most popular hangout to share and recommend content.
That’s one of the key findings from a study on the flow of traffic to the Web’s 25 largest news destinations. The study was released Monday by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Facebook was responsible for 3 percent of traffic to the 21 news sites that allowed data to be tracked, according to the study’s co-author, Amy Mitchell. Five of the sites studied got 6 percent to 8 percent of their readers from Facebook.
The referrals typically came from links posted by friends on Facebook’s social-networking site or from the ubiquitous “like” buttons, which Facebook encourages other websites to place alongside their content.
The Facebook effect is small compared with Google’s clout. Google Inc.’s dominant search engine supplies about 30 percent of traffic to the top news sites, according to Pew.
But Facebook and other sharing tools, such as Addthis.com, are empowering people to rely on their online social circles to point out interesting content. By contrast, Google uses an automated formula to help people find news.
Among the report’s findings:
- “Even the top brand news sites depend greatly on “casual users,” people who visit just a few times per month and spend only a few minutes at a site over that time span. USAToday.com was typical of most of these popular news sites: 85% of its users visited USAToday.com between one and three times per month. Three quarters came only once or twice. Time spent was even more daunting: When all the visits were added together, fully a third of users, 34%, spent between one and five minutes on the paper’s Website each month.
- “There is, however, a smaller core of loyal and frequent visitors to news sites, who might be called “power users.” These people return more than 10 times per month to a given site and spend more than an hour there over that time. Among the top 25 sites, power users visiting at least 10 times make up an average of just 7% of total users, but that number ranged markedly, from as high as 18% (at CNN.com) to as low as 1% (at BingNews.com).
- “Even among the top nationally recognized news site brands, Google remains the primary entry point. The search engine accounts on average for 30% of the traffic to these sites.
- “Social media, however, and Facebook in particular, are emerging as a powerful news referring source. At five of the top sites, Facebook is the second or third most important driver of traffic. Twitter, on the other hand, barely registers as a referring source. In the same vein, when users leave a site, “share” tools that appear alongside most news stories rank among the most clicked-on links.
- “When it comes to the age, news consumers to the top news websites are on par with Internet users overall. This stands apart from news consumption on traditional platforms, which tends to skew older, and may bode well for the industry.
- “Facebook is at the forefront of this shift because it has more than 500 million worldwide users. That’s far more than any other Internet service built for socializing and sharing.”
“If searching for the news was the most important development of the last decade, sharing the news may be among the most important of the next,” the Pew report said.
Meanwhile, major news sites are getting less than 1 percent of their traffic from Twitter, even though it had about 175 million accounts last year.
Among those studied by Pew, only the Los Angeles Times’ website got more traffic from Twitter than Facebook. Twitter accounted for 3.5 percent of the online traffic to the Los Angeles Times, compared with slightly more than 2 percent from Facebook.
The Drudge Report, a site started during the 1990s, is a far more significant traffic source for news sites than Twitter, according to the Pew study.
The Pew report is based on an analysis of Internet traffic data compiled by the research firm Nielsen Co. during the first nine months of last year.
So what does the data mean for news organizations?
“All of this suggests that news organizations might need a layered and complex strategy for serving audiences and also for monetizing them,” the report’s authors said.
“They may need, for instance, to develop one way to serve casual users and another way for power users. They may decide it makes sense to try to convert some of those in the middle to visit more often. Or they may try to make some of their loyal audience stay longer by creating special content. Advertising may help monetize some groups, while subscriptions will work for others. And the strategy that works best for each site may differ.”
Read the full report here.
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