Social Leaderboard in April: New Heights

While top publishers pull 5% of traffic from social, Wetpaint breaks a record at 38%

I was pretty excited in December when Wetpaint Entertainment became the #1 social publisher on the web, but this month’s Social Leaderboard chart is like that rare but spectacular sunny day in Seattle.  For the sake of modesty, I’ll explain further down the page.

Mostly Cloudy

Unfortunately, the sun isn’t shining on everyone.  Total social traffic to the Top 50 publishers fell by 13% in April.  As for social traffic as a percent of overall traffic, the average publisher lost 1.5 percentage points.  In fact, 48 of the Top 50 publishers lost ground on social traffic composition this month.

Facebook’s April experiments and changes to the EdgeRank algorithm are likely to blame.  Publishers who put Facebook at the center of their distribution strategy were able to rebound quickly, while others fell behind.

Who’s Weathering the Storm?

MTV made good on its reputation as one of the most social-savvy TV brands by breaking into the Top Five (and bumping CBS down to #7).  People reclaimed the #2 spot that it ceded to NBC in March.

Three new players showed up in the Top Ten this month:  welcome, The Guardian, Patch, and Yahoo!The Guardian gets the “most improved” award for advancing from 14th place all the way up to #6.

Of course, as in The Hunger Games, we can’t all be winners on the Social Leaderboard.  MLB, Break, and Us Magazine – three publishers who have consistently been in the Top Ten since January – were washed downstream in April.  Us Magazine in particular is all wet:  after slipping slowly from #3 to #5 to #6 over the last few months, it plummeted to #18 in April.  Ouch.

And Who’s Outperforming the Rest by 3X?

Not only is Wetpaint Entertainment the #1 social publisher for the fifth month in a row, but we’re now getting 38% (a Leaderboard record) of our traffic from social.  That’s more than 3x the social traffic of the second-best social performer (People), and almost 8x the average publisher (Top 50 average = 5%).  All in a month where we had record reach, as well (more on that soon).

Thanks to the team for working so hard to build and execute a best-in-class social distribution strategy that’s a cut (or two or three) above the rest.

Social Leaderboard: March Results

How much social traffic did the top 50 web publishers attract in March?  The results are in – and it is a mixed month.

More Social Traffic

Measuring by total visits, March was the second highest month on record for social traffic to the top publishers.  The number of social (Facebook + Twitter) visits to the top 50 grew by 2.9% in March to 403 million.

But a Smaller Piece of the Pie

Volume growth aside, social’s share of traffic to the top 50 dropped slightly, dipping by 0.3% in March.  That’s because even while traffic from social grew, it didn’t grow as fast as traffic from other sources.

What gives?  It’s possible that each and every one of the top publishers’ social media teams was distracted last month by March Madness and solar flares.  It’s also possible that Facebook’s aggressive mobile push is putting downward pressure on this measurement (the comScore data we use for benchmarking overall site traffic doesn’t include mobile traffic, alas).

The Contenders:  NBC climbs, Us Magazine falls, and Wetpaint stays on top

The solar flares must have been particularly distracting to one publisher’s social team: Us Magazine continued its downward slide, falling out of the top 5 entirely this time after dropping last month from 3rd to 5th.

NBC is on a roll, climbing up another rung (after jumping two spots ahead in February) to #2 on the leaderboard.  NFL also ran the ball for an impressive number of yards, moving from #9 to #5.

Wetpaint Entertainment continued to hold a definitive lead, outperforming the closest rival by 9.3 percentage points.  We’re able to maintain this lead by constantly improving our proprietary social analytics and distribution system through rapid experimentation and a deep understanding of our audience.  The amazing thing is that our social growth has not come at the expense of search traffic.  Indeed, our search traffic has been rising as a result of our social success, and total traffic has recently hit record highs of 10 million uniques and more.

And we’re not done yet – social users are the most valuable users, and we want more.

Social Leaderboard: What Drives Outperformance?

We’re back with the Media Industry Social Leaderboard, fresh off the presses with February results.  For any newcomers, the Social Leaderboard is a ranking of the top 50 media publishers by their effectiveness at driving traffic from Facebook and Twitter.

Overall: No Great Shakes

From January to February, social traffic composition was flat, with the average staying at 7%.  The gap between Facebook and Google traffic coming in to the Top 50, which had been rapidly closing since November, froze in February with Google holding on to its 30% lead for one more month.

At the Races: Us Magazine Falls Behind

Only four publishers in the top 10 improved their social traffic scores this month: NBC (+1.5%) took third place by trading places with Us Magazine (the biggest loser in the top 10 with -3%, now at #5).  Break (+2%) and TMZ (+0.5%) leapfrogged the pack of MTV, NFL and MLB, pushing those three back to #8, 9 and 10.

One of These Things Is Not Like the Others

But the biggest mover and shaker was Wetpaint Entertainment.  Wetpaint took an even more decisive lead by adding 7% to social traffic composition since January, vaulting it into the elite group of publishers who, based on Compete data, receive more traffic from Facebook than from Google (in good company with People, Yahoo!, AOL, MSN, Fox Sports, and The Post Game).

With 29% of traffic coming from social, Wetpaint is outperforming its closest competitor by nearly 2x.  Is this a data aberration?  Some kind of leap year phenomenon?

Let me fill you in on the story behind the 29%: over the last two years, we took a gamble by building a new platform for social media distribution.  It wasn’t a sure bet, and not many other publishers were doing it, but we had seen compelling evidence that social was the only way forward for the media industry.

We threw all of our time and talent at the problem, building up a fan base while developing and testing and refining new strategies for delivering content through social channels.  We collected tons of data in real time about the preferences of our fans, and then we leveraged that insight to personalize and program their newsfeeds.

Today, the rest of the media industry is just starting to figure out the value of winning fans and courting likes.  But because of our early investment, we’re already two steps ahead – we’re focusing on what to do with our 1.7 million fans.  We’re delivering over 1,000 posts a week, each one targeted for the right fan with the right content at the right time.

And it’s starting to pay off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social Leaderboard: 17% Growth in Traffic from Social; and Wetpaint Is the New #1

Regular readers know that  it’s only a matter of months before social becomes the most valuable source of traffic for most publishers.

And this month’s Media Industry Social Leaderboard is sure to make you even more convinced.  So let me get straight to it:  From November to December, the amount of traffic the top 50* publishers received from social grew by a whopping 17%.

And, when it comes to who is best benefiting from social, let’s just say I’m personally very proud to announce the new leader, which, for the sake of modesty, I’ll do lower down the page.


Social Traffic Surging

As noted previously, the major changes Facebook announced at September’s f8 event caused a significant blunt in traffic to publishers last fall.  Well, the hangover has ended.  With 385 million aggregate visits to the top 50 publishers in December, volumes have recovered to pre-f8 levels.

The average top 50 publisher is now receiving almost 8 million visits per month from Facebook and Twitter.  And in December, 48 of the top 50 publishers saw increased social traffic levels over November, with these publishers averaging a 2.1 percentage point increase in their composition.

At the same time, Twitter has grown in its contribution to the traffic pie, increasing over the course of the fall months from 2.2% of total in September to 3.4% in December.

A New Leader: Wetpaint Ranks #1

As you know from my prior columns, one of the reasons I’ve published this leaderboard is because we set a goal for Wetpaint to reach #1.  What I didn’t tell you previously is the timing: our goal was to do so by the end of 2011.  And there is nothing we get more proud of here at Wetpaint than meeting our goals.

In December, Wetpaint Entertainment social traffic benchmarked at 20.8% of visits, even as our total traffic was at near-record levels.  (Our internal numbers show an even higher contribution.)  This outranks all of the top 50 web publishers, besting the number-two by nearly five points.

Allow me a moment to kvell:  I could not be more proud of the entire Wetpaint team who have achieved this goal.  Beyond the amazing results, they have built an amazing social distribution system and playbook that leads the industry.  With the virtuous cycle the team has built, we are getting significantly better every month.


Other Movers and Shakers

How did the other leaders from prior months do?  People, the previous leader, improved with 16.1% of traffic from social, increasing by 3.9 percentage points even as it fell to the #2 position.

In third place now, US Magazine vaulted all the way up from position 19, improving from an average 3.9% to achieve 14.3% of their traffic from social.  If you have any idea what drove their results, let me know.

As for places #4 and #5, CBS and NBC traded their two slots, with NBC gaining by 4.2 percentage points while CBS gained by only 3.5 points.   And all of that activity pushed MTV down to #6, gaining far slower than the others.  All the details are, as usual, in the table below.


Facebook Is Sending More Traffic Out

Publishers are clearly benefiting as Facebook delivers on its potential to be not just a network but a social operating system for the internet.  In December, we saw the best increases go to the most social publishers (top 10 on this leaderboard), who saw a 4.5 percentage point increase in social traffic composition month to month.

Innovation is attracting large audiences on Facebook.  In particular, the four publishers driving traffic via social readers have increased their share of Facebook traffic to the Top 50 web publishers by 70%.  Yahoo (not included in the 4 just described) has also begun experimenting with social reader tools across select sites and is seeing strong early results as well.  In just two months, Yahoo! News US has reportedly seen a 300% increase in Facebook traffic, driven by 1 million “reads” shared daily.


The Traffic Land Grab Is On Now

We are clearly in the land grab phase on the social web.  Those who are investing early in social as a top objective stand to gain the most – while others may be left behind.

But as my discussions with other media companies show, social is not a simple check-box initiative.   It requires complete buy-in from the CEO to transform the organization with social distribution technology and expertise.

It can be done, as our own experience at Wetpaint as shown:  In less than two years, we have launched a new property and already outranked all of the top 50 publishers on the web.  Now we want more.  And I hope you do too.

 

Details for all 50 top publishers:

MONTHLY RANKINGS

PUBLISHER

 

 

Dec

Nov

Oct

Name of Publisher (Owner)

URL

Monthly Uniques

% from Social

Change

1

2

3

Wetpaint Entertainment

WETPAINT.COM

                3,076,202

20.8%

10.1%

2

1

1

People

PEOPLE.COM

              13,203,882

16.1%

3.9%

3

21

19

US Weekly

USMAGAZINE.COM

                9,339,801

14.3%

10.4%

4

5

5

NBC Universal

NBC.COM

                6,972,501

12.3%

4.2%

5

4

4

CBS

CBS.COM

                7,367,642

11.7%

3.5%

6

3

2

MTV

MTV.COM

                9,920,294

10.7%

2.1%

7

6

7

TMZ

TMZ.COM

13,208,667

9.6%

2.2%

8

13

16

Break Media

BREAK.COM

                8,603,649

9.4%

4.2%

9

8

6

Major League Baseball

MLB.COM

                6,653,288

9.3%

2.3%

10

9

11

Patch (Aol)

PATCH.COM

9,917,563

8.7%

2.2%

11

14

12

Discovery Channel

DISCOVERY.COM

             12,769,340

8.5%

3.4%

12

7

9

Yahoo!

YAHOO.COM

            167,257,797

7.6%

0.5%

13

10

10

Aol

AOL.COM

              50,093,953

7.4%

1.1%

14

15

15

CNN

CNN.COM

              45,650,334

7.1%

2.1%

15

12

13

IGN (News Corp)

IGN.COM

              10,263,828

6.7%

1.4%

16

23

25

MailOnline

DAILYMAIL.CO.UK

              16,656,093

6.4%

2.8%

17

25

22

TIME

TIME.COM

                9,256,468

6.3%

2.7%

18

16

14

TV Guide

TVGUIDE.COM

                7,546,763

6.0%

1.3%

19

11

8

The Guardian

GUARDIAN.CO.UK

                8,495,543

6.0%

0.0%

20

19

18

FOX News (News Corp)

FOXNEWS.COM

              24,444,163

5.9%

1.3%

21

29

23

CBS News

CBSNEWS.COM

              12,064,240

5.7%

2.6%

22

24

26

CBS Local

CBSLOCAL.COM

9,574,168

5.7%

2.1%

23

20

27

The Washington Post

WASHINGTONPOST.COM

              18,671,039

5.5%

1.4%

24

18

17

MSN

MSN.COM

           111,990,691

5.3%

0.7%

25

30

32

New York Daily News

NYDAILYNEWS.COM

                9,585,617

5.1%

2.1%

26

17

20

BBC News

BBC.CO.UK

              14,480,236

5.1%

0.4%

27

41

36

FORBES

FORBES.COM

              12,232,929

5.0%

3.0%

28

26

31

The Huffington Post (Aol)

HUFFINGTONPOST.COM

              36,196,784

5.0%

1.6%

29

31

28

New York Post

NYPOST.COM

                8,085,270

4.8%

1.8%

30

37

41

Bleacher Report

BLEACHERREPORT.COM

                9,178,003

4.7%

2.4%

31

22

21

New York Times

NYTIMES.COM

              30,575,839

4.6%

0.8%

32

34

29

Cartoon Network (Turner)

CARTOONNETWORK.COM

              10,600,092

4.5%

1.7%

33

33

30

Nickelodeon (MTV Networks)

NICK.COM

                9,752,977

4.5%

1.5%

34

27

24

IMDB (Amazon.com)

IMDB.COM

              38,220,405

4.3%

0.9%

35

32

35

Los Angeles Times (Tribune)

LATIMES.COM

              17,080,642

4.2%

1.2%

36

40

39

FOX Sports (News Corp)

FOXSPORTS.COM

              22,401,409

4.2%

2.0%

37

36

34

Food Network (Scripps)

FOODNETWORK.COM

              19,614,352

3.8%

1.2%

38

39

37

Wall Street Journal (News Corp)

WSJ.COM

              12,521,560

3.6%

1.4%

39

35

33

Allrecipes (Readers Digest)

ALLRECIPES.COM

              25,288,480

3.5%

0.8%

40

45

42

CNET (CBS Interactive)

CNET.COM

            28,948,963

3.1%

1.5%

41

38

38

Reuters

REUTERS.COM

              11,692,493

3.0%

0.7%

42

44

45

CNBC

CNBC.COM

                5,674,719

3.0%

1.3%

43

43

44

Bloomberg

BLOOMBERG.COM

                7,515,601

2.8%

1.1%

44

46

47

Businessweek (Bloomberg)

BUSINESSWEEK.COM

           7,964,543

2.6%

1.0%

45

28

43

USA Today (Gannet)

USATODAY.COM

              17,222,775

2.6%

-0.6%

46

42

40

WebMD

WEBMD.COM

              11,901,016

2.5%

0.5%

47

47

46

LIVESTRONG (Demand Media)

LIVESTRONG.COM

                9,464,669

1.8%

0.5%

48

48

48

About.com (NY Times)

ABOUT.COM

              58,684,194

1.6%

0.6%

49

50

50

eHow (Demand Media)

EHOW.COM

              45,015,977

1.5%

0.8%

50

51

51

ThePostGame (Yahoo)

THEPOSTGAME.COM

              18,321,581

1.4%

0.8%

51

49

49

Mayo Clinic

MAYOCLINIC.COM

                9,198,317

1.4%

0.5%

* The publishers included in the Media Industry Social Leaderboard are the top 50, as ranked by comScore-reported uniques, whose primary business is web publishing.  Once they are selected, data from Compete.com is used to estimate the amount of traffic referred to each by Facebook and Twitter. 

October 2011 Media Industry Social Leaderboard: Facebook Traffic To Publishers Down 13%

Back by popular demand is an updated ranking of the Media Industry Social Leaderboard.  As a reminder, my company and I are obsessively focused on data about the social web – so much so, that we decided to track and publish not only our own results, but those of the top 50 media companies.  This is all captured in the chart below which profiles the top 50 web publishers’ effectiveness at driving traffic from social media.

For the inquisitive among us, you’ll note that we determine the top 50 relevant web publishers; then, using data from Compete.com, we determine and chart how much of their traffic is from Facebook and Twitter.

One important note is that Facebook’s changes in its algorithms launched at F8 impacted nearly all publishers in this ranking – more on that in a moment.

But first, let’s get to the results:


Facebook Traffic Down by 13%.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the bars are lower this month. In fact, over 90% of the top 50 web publishers saw a decreased percentage of their visits coming from Facebook and Twitter in October, with the bars shortening on average by 50 basis points.

In terms of aggregate performance, if you sum the total Facebook visits for all properties, they’re down 7.1% October vs. September, and 12.8% comparing October vs. the pre-F8 August highs.  We believe this trend is the direct result of the F8 algorithm changes made in mid-September.  Savvy social publishers (ourselves included) have been battling to reclaim previous highs since the F8 changes; but by October few had recovered.  The chart below highlights the reduction in referrals from Facebook to publishers over the course of their algorithmic change.


Winners and Losers:  CBS down; People, MTV, Wetpaint up

CBS has continued to fall in social traffic composition (-3.7% September-over-August, -5.5% Octocber-over-September), moving from the top rank on the Media Industry Social Leaderboard to number 4.  Unclear what has caused this decline although one hypothesis could be an increase in either SEO or paid audience acquisition.  If you have any insight here, shoot me a note.

Closer to home, People, MTV, and Wetpaint maintained their relative rankings and have moved to the top 3 spots.  At Wetpaint, we credit our climb up the ladder to our relentless A/B testing that has allowed us to understand what our audience desires in a deep way, and inform our editors with this insight.  The result is that we are creating, packaging, and distributing the right content, at the right time and our audience has voted with clicks, likes, and shares.

With Siri TV, Apple Will Dismantle the TV Networks

This article was published as a guest post at All Things D, and is republished here for DigitalQuarters readers.

Steve Jobs died without fully transforming television, but the day after he passed away, Apple unveiled Siri, its natural language interface. Though it’s currently only embedded in the new iPhone 4S, Siri could eventually change the face of the TV industry.

Notice I said “TV industry.”

But from my perspective, Siri’s greatest impact won’t ultimately be on users, or on device manufacturers (though they certainly risk losing market share to Apple). It will be on the TV industry’s content creators and packagers. Why? Because a voice-controlled television interface will fundamentally disrupt the six-decade-old legacy structure of networks, channels and programs. And that’s a legacy that — until now, at least — has been carried forward from analog to digital.Most observers and analysts believe that Siri’s voice commands could eliminate the need for those clunky TV remote controls. With the blurring and exponential proliferation of television and Web content, telling your TV what you’d like to watch, instead of scrolling through a nearly infinite number of program possibilities, makes a lot more sense.

There’s an important underlying precedent here.

If the Internet can be generalized to have one effect across every industry that moves online, that effect would be disaggregation. Choices go from finite to infinite. Navigation goes from sequential to random access. And audiences choose content by the item far more than by the collection. We’ve gone from the packaged and channelized to the unbound and itemized. Autonomous albums are fragmented into songs; series into clips; and magazines and newspapers into articles and individual photos.

As much as we may think that has already happened with video, it is nothing compared to the great leveling that will occur in the voice-controlled living room. Voice-controlled TV means direct navigation to individual episodes, programs and clips. And it will almost certainly lead to a discernible deconstruction of the network and channel structure — not to mention the decomposition of even the aggregated marketplaces like Netflix, Hulu and YouTube.

Here’s the simple reason: No one is going to sit on their couch and say, “Siri, show me NBC’s ‘Community.’” In a voice-activated world, monikers like “NBC” become useless. They don’t stand for anything meaningful to the consumer. They’re just remnants of a decrepit channel structure that’s unraveling. And, in the end, they’ll simply connote the fast-fading allure of mid-20th century mass appeal.

To be sure, the TV majors will lose much of their ability to realize network effects. Already, you’re hearing less about “lead in” and “lead out.” What you are hearing more about, however, is disconnected videos. A program on YouTube, for instance, will sit on a level voice-controlled playing field with an NBC show, and that field will soon become even more level, because Siri will eliminate the menus that structure the artificial hierarchies of content collections.

So how will we be able to get network effects back in video? Let’s look at four possible ways:

  • Branded Content — Players can build a strong brand that stands for something with their audiences. Break.com, Discovery and Oprah are all meaningful and build long-term customer loyalty. (“Siri, show me new TED Talks.”)
  • Curation — Brand the collection with a curation strategy so that the curator’s name and stamp of approval means something to the audience. (“Siri, show me Jason Hirschhorn’s latest movie suggestions.”)
  • Social — In the fully social world that we expect to see, focusing on the virality of content means you tap the human distribution network and social operating system. (“Siri, show me what videos my friends are watching.”)
  • Personal — We’ve already seen the extraordinary value of well-tuned personalized recommendations, with Netflix’s notable prize and other famed stories of the benefits of great recommendations. Increasingly, our own patterns of individual videos and the brands we affiliate with, along with recommendations from friends, will be combined into personalized recommendations we won’t even have to ask for. I have no doubt that Siri will be as good a “Genius” as iTunes is at recommending what else to watch. Ultimately, in the age of data, whoever knows the most about us will be able to give us the best experience.

Beyond disaggregation, personalization is ultimately the most powerful consumer value of digital media. My mother’s TV experience was to walk over to her TV set and turn a dial to select among three channels to satisfy her individuality. But in the next generation, no two people will receive the same recommendations from the millions of content choices available.

Before he died, Jobs now famously told Walter Isaacson, his biographer, that he had finally cracked the TV code. It’s unclear what Jobs meant, what this entailed or what he thought it would lead to in the years to come. So, barring further posthumous disclosure, Jobs’s own predictions of his ripple effects will be a media mystery for now.

One thing that’s clear, though, is that Jobs’s Siri will start the dismantling — or creative destruction — of the TV industry as we’ve known it for the last 60 years.

Hulu vs. The Networks – The Networks Would Be Foolish To Isolate Themselves

HuluVentureBeat featured a guest-post from Transpond’s CEO Peter Yared yesterday, and editor Matt Marshall asked me to offer a comment for inclusion.

Peter presents an argument and five predictions as to the balance of power and profits between Hulu vs. its corporate constituents tilting back further towards the content owners:

Hulu sells ads on the video it streams, meaning that Hulu’s ad sales team competes with the networks’ own ad sales teams. Hulu’s sales pitch to the networks was, “let us compete with you on your new content and we will help you monetize your older assets”. But Hulu hasn’t been able to monetize the older TV shows it runs. Pull up any TV show over two years old on Hulu, and all of the ads are public service announcements.

But the original reason for Hulu was not that the networks thought they couldn’t monetize their inventory, but because they believed in the power of a single consumer destination with major network effects.  And that is by and large working.

As I responded in the VentureBeat post, Hulu is working and it’s because they nail their consumer experience.

It is inevitable that in the digital future, consumers will watch what they want, when and where they want it.
Read the rest of the the post, including my featured response about how the networks would be foolish to isolate themselves, at VentureBeat.