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.

Living Up To Your Social Potential: Understanding the Emotions That Drive Sharing

Last week I shared how most publishers are realizing just a fraction of their potential audience because they lack a social distribution strategy, and showed which topics are most likely to be shared by connected audiences.

But is topic the only aspect of content that influences sharing?  Could articles with topics as disparate as gardening and bull fighting share some other characteristic that would make them both go viral?

The Journal of Marketing Research published the study What Makes Online Content Viral? in 2011 to appease inquiring minds.  Researchers analyzed 7,000 New York Times articles over 2 months to determine what factors made an article more likely to earn a place on the Times’ “most-emailed” list.

What they found:

  • Intensely emotional content is  more viral
  • Positive content is more viral than negative
  • High-arousal emotions  (like anger, awe and anxiety) increase sharing
  • Low-arousal emotions (like sadness) decrease sharing
  • Practical value, surprise and interest (you don’t say!) all increase virality

But wait a minute…are the factors that predict email sharing the same as those that predict Facebook or Twitter sharing?  Here’s where we run into the difference between broadcasting and “narrowcasting.”  Remember that purple rash I mentioned last week?  I’ll email that WebMD article to my significant other (anxiety! practical value!) but I most certainly won’t tweet about it.

 

I looked again at the Most Shared Articles on Facebook in 2011 to see which of the study’s findings held up on the social networking stage.

Sound familiar?  It mirrors the formula for success that Nieman Lab found Buzzfeed using to achieve record results.  And, notably, practical value, the #2 driver of email virality, falls all the way down to the bottom of the list on Facebook.

In social network sharing, emotion is king.  As Jonah Lehrer of Wired puts it:

“We don’t want to share facts – we want to share feelings.  Because people have a deep need to share their emotions, there will always be an insatiable demand for funny baby videos, angry political rants and Justin Bieber songs.”

Before you go and replace all of your content with funny baby videos and Justin Bieber songs, remember that this isn’t about sacrificing the integrity of content for traffic.  It doesn’t work that way.  This is about engaging readers on the most important axis of all: the axis of significance.  Emotional content helps us connect with friends online in a deeper way than a how-to video might.

But what if you’re a publisher of practical content?  No need to despair:

“The future is going to be about combining informational content with social and emotional content,” says Jonah Peretti (founder of Buzzfeed).

We all have a powerful emotional drive to live a great life, and getting there means knowing how to be healthy, how to fix a leaky faucet and how to maintain successful relationships.  Oprah’s tagline “Live Your Best Life” is a beautiful example – no one is better at linking home décor and health advice to something far greater and more aspirational.  Publishers in the midst of developing a social distribution strategy (especially those of us not lucky enough to traffic in Bieber songs) will be wise to follow her lead.

VIDEO: Rebooting Media Think-Tank: Content Creation vs. Curation

This is the second chapter of our Rebooting Media think-tank series.  In this video, our thought leaders address the question:

Do curators bring value to content creators, or are they just stealing content?

Hear media industry executives debate the pros and cons of web curation in the video and read the most salient comments below.

 

Curators are the new editors.

As we’re overwhelmed by an increasing number of voices and information channels, we look to curators to sort through the clutter and tell us what’s important.

“I’m one of those people who reads or watches or listens a little more than the average person.  If a person wants to stay up to date on certain topics but they have a family or a job or a life, curation services can help break through and deliver.” —Jason Hirschhorn, Media ReDEFined

“A curator is an editor, essentially.  You become a trusted source by doing the hard work for your audience and telling them what’s important, whether you’ve written it or not.  Traditionally that’s been the role of great newspapers; now that function is being spread across the web.” —Erick Schonfeld, TechCrunch

 

Publishers have a love / hate relationship with curators.

Curators help to expand a publisher’s reach, but the publisher risks losing credit (and traffic).  Curators who link back and republish only enough to pique interest will keep publishers happy.

“It’s like the forest episode of Planet Earth: the animal eats the nectar and sort of destroys the plant but spreads the pollen all over.” —Jason Hirschhorn, Media ReDEFined

“A lot of money goes into making a piece of content, and then it shows up on somebody else’s website where they are ‘curating.’  That’s one word for it, and ‘stealing’ would be another.  That’s a difficult balance: we want them to put our content out there but, ultimately, if you don’t come back to us, then we’re not capturing the full value.” — Jeff Berman, NFL Digital

“You can’t capture everything and you have to make a decision about whether the value of social distribution outweighs the value of pay-for-each-play.” —Erick Schonfeld, TechCrunch

 

How does curation become a real business?  Just add creation.

Curators provide a valuable service to consumers and publishers.  But can you charge for someone else’s content?  The most compelling model going forward will be a curation / creation mix from trusted voices.

“I’m interested in content curators that are getting into the creation game.  Buzzfeed, for example, was a driver of viral content.  Then they shocked people by hiring editors and journalists and breaking a story.  They took content that they owned and used the tools and algorithms they had to publish it into the social feed.” —Greg Clayman, The Daily

“We’ve experimented with all original content and all curated content, but what performs the best is inevitably a mix.” —Ben Elowitz, Wetpaint

 

Part 3: Paid vs. Earned Media

For more from these thought leaders and others, download a PDF of the full publication Rebooting Media:  The Digital Publishing Revolution for a Fully Social Web.  

VIDEO: Rebooting Media Think-Tank: Search vs. Social Discovery

In conjunction with our Rebooting Media series and the live think-tank hosted by Wetpaint and Digitas, we are releasing today the first in a series of videos about the social web.

In this first part, our group of ten executives and journalists chewed on the question:

“Is traditional search dead as a means of discovery?”

Watch the video for yourself, and read highlights of the conversation below.

 

Search is utility, social is discovery. 

Search has never been about discovering something new, but rather finding what you want once you know what you want.  Social, on the other hand, is all about serendipity.

“Pure discovery is in what you weren’t looking for.  In search, I’m determined, I have a path.  The only real discovery in search is I’m Feeling Lucky.”   —Jason Hirschhorn, Media ReDEFined

“With search I think of words like utility and efficiency; it’s purposeful.  With social discovery, there’s an element of surprise and then, hopefully, delight.  You’re not necessarily sure what you’re looking for, because sometimes you’re not really looking for anything.”   —Wenda Harris Millard, Media Link

 

Are social users more valuable?

This was surprisingly debated in the conversation, and the conversation reflected different experiences from different publishers; and reflects the difference in methods used to draw social traffic.  For example, Forbes sees disproportionate traffic from LinkedIn to reach its largely male and older-skewing audience; while Wetpaint Entertainment uses the Facebook newsfeed to repeatedly reengage the site’s 1.4 million fans, almost all young women.   

“We see 2-3x the value with social visitors – 50% higher duration, 25% more frequency, and we’re seeing virality come [on top] of that.”   —Ben Elowitz, Wetpaint

“When you talk about running a business, the person who comes in through search is a very valuable person – more so than the person who’s coming in through social.  Social users are fleeting users, not necessarily loyal to the site.”   —Lewis DVorkin, Forbes Media

“We see equal engagement from search and social, and about equal percentages of referral traffic.” —Erick Schonfeld, TechCrunch

 

Social is hard for marketers. 

While marketers recognize the promise of social marketing, the methods and measurements are far from sophisticated for most.  We need to get better at understanding and tapping into unexpected virality and the seemingly random discovery paths in social.

“I don’t think we really know how to use social as a distribution method, other than putting “Like” buttons everywhere.”   —Erick Schonfeld, TechCrunch

“In search, purchase intent is right there.  But for advertisers in the social world, it’s harder to know exactly where that intersection is.  You want to be part of that conversation, but you risk interrupting it.”   —Greg Clayman, The Daily

“Virality happens, but it happens without warning.  By the time you can get to Madison Avenue to sell it, it’s gone.”   —Jason Hirschhorn, Media ReDEFined

 

Ultimately, social and search will converge. 

As Google works to see if it can decipher the social code, and Facebook moves closer to taking over the entire digital world, we are headed toward a merger of search and social.

“If you look a few years out and you say where’s social and where’s search, they’re in the same place.   There’s a merger between the two.  These two spaces are on a collision course, and we need to start looking three years out to see how that collision course takes shape.”   —Ben Elowitz, Wetpaint

“The intersection between social and search is growing.  I go to Google and search “bunk beds” and I get a set of useless results.  I go to Pinterest and you wouldn’t believe what I find.  That really is the intersection of social and search: it’s utility-driven, it’s purpose-driven and yet the discovery is that much richer, that much more useful.”   —Jeff Berman, NFL Digital

 

The next two parts of this three-part series:

For more perspective, download a PDF of the full publication Rebooting Media:  The Digital Publishing Revolution for a Fully Social Web.

Rebooting Media: A Live Think-Tank for Media on the Social Web

In the last several years, “social” has gone from a college fad to become the fabric that connects the internet.  And yet, even as it has taken over the wiring of the web, there is no established blueprint for what media companies should do with it.  When my company Wetpaint began reinventing media for the social web last year, I went looking for the people who had all the answers.  And I found out there aren’t any.

But there are a lot of bright, inquisitive people who have been running their own experiments and trying to find the way forward.  Wouldn’t it be great to get them all together to make a new think tank for the social web?

In conjunction with the release of our new series Rebooting Media:  The Digital Publishing Revolution for a Fully Social Web, Wetpaint and Digitas convened a group of leaders and journalists with a live audience to attack the question:  “How do you retool media for a social world?”

The conversation featured five leading executives:

  • Jeff Berman@bermanjeff (General Manager at NFL Digital)
  • Greg Clayman@Clayman (Publisher of The Daily)
  • Lewis DVorkin  – @lewisdvorkin (Chief Product Officer at Forbes Media)
  • Wenda Harris Millard  – President and COO of Media Link
  • Jason Hirschhorn  – @JasonHirschhorn (Curator of Media ReDEFined)

And who better to prompt the tough questions than three leading digital media journalists?  Our conversation included Jeff Bercovici (Mixed Media writer for Forbes); Jessi Hempel  (Senior Writer covering tech at Fortune); and Erick Schonfeld  (Editor of TechCrunch).

The conversation, hosted by Digitas SVP Entertainment and Content John McCarus and me, covered three themes.  We will be releasing the videos in three parts, listed below.  I also encourage everyone to download the full published collection of perspectives prepared by these participants and others, available via PDF at wetpaint.com/page/thought-leadership.

Event videos are available at:

Staying Connected – The Right Way to Re-Invent Publishing for 21st Century Audiences

This is the concluding entry in a series of 10 posts about the future of the media industry contained in a report titled: Rebooting Media: The Digital Publishing Revolution for a Fully Social Web.

I feel blessed and inspired to be connected to the incredible thought leaders whose insights and perspectives you’ve just read. And I’m hoping you feel challenged, provoked, and, ultimately, inspired to think about how to make the social Web a media success.

Over the last year on my blog, Digital Quarters, and in my newsletter, I have shared stories, analysis and prescriptions – all in the name of driving this new digital era forward.

To me, one essential principle lies deep at the heart of the rewired Internet.  It is a simple and basic concept, but one that guides all the promise of the social Web: We must truly understand and delight our audiences.

The social Web fully enables this concept in a way that did not exist over the last decade, much less the century before it.

Indeed, never before has the data existed and been accessible – in real time, with precision and detail, and to every publisher – to know the audience and serve it well.

But today it is.

Between usage analytics, audience data, social graphs, global Twitter feeds, and direct interactive feedback, we can receive millions of signals each minute that tell us how well we are serving and, more prescriptively, what we can do to better serve our audiences.

For the publishing industry, this provides an unprecedented opportunity for content experiences to earn deep relationships with audiences who are now connected like never before. We can know our audiences, create for them, and reach them – and, in the process, make our own brands stronger and more meaningful than ever.

And therein lies a path that will lead to the re- establishment of our industry’s success.

The future prosperity of digital media will certainly have some things in common with its past legacy; but a host of other things will undergo massive change.

What’s clear to me, though, is that the revolution in our data and connectivity-rich environment will help us create content and experiences that honor the best that our industry has ever put forth, while pushing even further.

I can’t wait to work side by side with the industry’s greatest thought leaders and practitioners to make it happen.

And, as we look forward, if you’d like to join the discussion, I’d welcome your thoughts, opinions, views, comments and criticisms.

Please send them to me at ben@wetpaint.com.

And, if you’re interested in participating in a future edition of this thought leadership gallery, by offering your take on things, I’d love to hear from you as well.

Thanks for reading.

Ben Elowitz


To download the complete report, please click here:  Rebooting Media: The Digital Publishing Revolution for a Fully Social Web

The People-Powered Web Is Revolutionizing Innovation

This piece from Anthony Soohoo is the ninth in a series of 10 posts about the future of the media industry contained in a report titled: Rebooting Media: The Digital Publishing Revolution for a Fully Social Web.

Q:  How does the rise of Facebook change the relationship between media and its audience?

What’s changed is how we reach users at a global level. In essence, Facebook has created an important layer of intelligent recommendations adding more relevancy than previously possible in a broadcast world.  In the process, this will change how the media companies deliver their content. The downside, however, is that there’s less discovery of content going on. But the media has a real chance to build deeper relationships with users now; consumers just aren’t anonymous anymore. They – and we – know what they like, and don’t like.

So, the delicate balance is this: Facebook makes discovery more challenging, but it affords us an opportunity for infinitely more personalization. And that means engagement is a lot more effective.

 

Q: What’s changed fundamentally about media with the rise of the social Web, and what do publishers need to do to adapt?

When they put content together, publishers have to determine who their influencers are. Who do they resonate most with? Then, they have to get to that group first, and build a groundswell with that audience. In the past, publishing was a broadcast type of model. Think of a bullhorn. It’s completely changed with the social Web. The key, as I’ve said, is to reach the influencers first, and then have them add to the story. That’s how you really engage an audience.

 

Q: We’ve gone from SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to SMO (Social Media Optimization), so how will search change as the Web becomes more social?

That’s a great question. First of all, I’d say we’re going to see more personalized search results. In other words, search based upon what someone’s interests are, and what a person’s friends like. It’s putting a personalized interest graph on top of search results. And the efficiency and effectiveness will improve; instead of getting 43 million results, many of which are irrelevant, you’ll get the top 20, and they’ll be of considerable interest. So, in this way, the social Web will add more meaning. The people-powered-Web will be the big driver of innovation over the next five to 10 years.

 

Q:  How do you build a brand in publishing when, with greater frequency, media is distributed through social channels?

It seems to me that you have to recruit and engage your influencers. And you have to make certain you’re hitting the right audience. Finally, you have to layer content down in a very social and personalized manner. Blasting content out like a billboard takes the uniqueness out of the social Web. I believe the stories of the future will actually integrate tidbits from influencers, and they’ll also be more rhetorical and open-ended. Publishing will become more Wiki- like. People can – and will – contribute. And those contributions will matter as much as the stories themselves. The role of the editor will be to get the fire started by determining which channels and influencers are necessary to ignite the story. The editor will bring up worthy discussions across the Web and highlight them, too. This is how the stages of conversation will unfold. At first, it will be unfiltered and like the Wild West, however. Then it will get reined in, and most stories will go through a filtered version via friends or an editor. This filtering process will allow content to live a longer and richer life on the Web.

 

Q: What are the critical success factors in publishing as we look to 2020; and who will be the winners?

Facebook could be a winner. And the two guys in the garage that we don’t know about will be winners. There are five to 10 big winners that we don’t know about yet. But the critical success factors are clear: know your audience; serve users and delight them; and then go beyond this. Content will change over time; and these changes will change because of the social Web’s profound influence. What we’re really talking about here is content plus one.

 

Anthony Soohoo is the Co-Founder & CEO of Rumpus and former SVP & GM of Entertainment at CBS Interactive. Soohoo joined CBS in 2007, when it acquired Dotspotter, a fast-growing community-powered entertainment property where he served as Co-founder & CEO. Prior to Dotspotter, Soohoo was Vice President at Yahoo!, where he was responsible for the strategy, management, development and financial performance of various business units.

To download the complete report, please click here:  Rebooting Media: The Digital Publishing Revolution for a Fully Social Web