Publishers are freaking out about Facebook’s plan to show 20% less news in the News Feed. But over the past four months, Facebook already has become a less dominant social traffic source for publishers while Twitter has ticked upward, according to new data obtained by BuzzFeed News. The development could potentially mitigate the negative effects of Facebook’s News Feed changes on media companies.
"News publishers and journalists are essential to Twitter, and we strive to be a dependable, valuable partner. Their success is our priority,” Twitter director of global news partnerships Peter Greenberger told BuzzFeed News. Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.
In October 2017, Facebook sent 4.7 visitors to publishers per post for every one visitor Twitter sent, according to data from SocialFlow, a publishing tool used by approximately 300 major publishers, including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Since then, referrals from Facebook declined and those from Twitter rose. This month, Facebook is sending just 2.5 visitors to publisher sites per post for every one sent by Twitter, essentially cutting the lead in half. SocialFlow’s data spans 10.1 million social posts and 2.8 million clicks.
Twitter’s growing capacity to send meaningful traffic to publishers marks a somewhat remarkable transformation for a company long known for its ability to drive the news cycle but not the news business. Its emergence as a viable social traffic source could help dull the hit many publishers stand to take when Facebook’s News Feed changes roll out broadly in the coming months. And for some publishers, Twitter is already proving its mettle as a Facebook-esque traffic source.
“Twitter has always been an important place for us to reach a hyper-engaged audience and now we’re seeing the traffic it drives beginning to rival that of Facebook,” Esquire.com site director Michael Sebastian told BuzzFeed News.
SocialFlow CEO Jim Anderson told BuzzFeed News that Twitter’s recent product tweaks are likely responsible. Longer tweets, Anderson said, are generating more engagement than shorter tweets for publishers. And the algorithm is likely helping too. “It stands to reason that professionally produced content is going to do well with algorithms,” Anderson said.
In 2017, Google surpassed Facebook as the top traffic referrer to publishers. Add in Twitter’s recent uptick, and the future for publishers might not look as dire as some predict. “We’ve seen substantial Twitter usage from our media clients for years,” Anderson said. “It’s nice to see a return for your efforts.”
Alex Kantrowitz is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco. He reports on social and communications.
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