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.












How Long Until Social Is A Bigger Traffic Source Than Search?

In yesterday’s Media Industry Social Leaderboard, I noted that leading web publishers on the web saw a staggering 17% increase in their social traffic from November to December.  These top 50 websites are now averaging about 8 million referrals per month from Facebook.

At this rate, the question asked by Fred Wilson and others is:  how long until social drives more traffic than search?  Based on data from, it won’t be long at all.  Let’s look at the specifics.

Facebook Drives Almost As Much Traffic As Google

When it comes to driving traffic, the gap between social and search is already smaller than most realize.  In fact, for every 100 visits that Google sent to the top 50 web publishers in November, Facebook sent 62.  By December, it was already up to 73 visits from Facebook for every 100 from Google.

At the same time, search traffic to these publishers is stable to declining, with Google referrals falling 0.5% over the same period.

So how long until Facebook outranks Google?  If these monthly rates of change were to continue apace, Facebook traffic would outrank Google traffic for the top 50 publishers in aggregate by March of this year!

Seven Publishers Already Get More Traffic From Social Than Search

Shockingly, data shows that already seven of the top 50 publishers get more traffic from Facebook than from Google:  MSN, ThePostGame, Yahoo, Aol, People, Fox Sports, and US Magazine.  These seven publishers received in aggregate 12% more visits from Facebook than they did from Google last month.

And that set of publishers has already grown by five from just a month earlier, in November of 2011, when only MSN and ThePostGame showed more traffic from social than from search.

But seven is just a snapshot in time.  Based on recent trends, by the middle of this year, I’d expect it to grow to a dozen publishers or more.


Facebook is Over-Taking Google as a Traffic Source to Top 50 Web Publishers

Now That’s Ambitious: MSNBC and BermanBraun To Reinvent The Toughest Content Category?

Among all the major categories of premium digital media, political news may be the toughest to make money on.  It’s incredibly fragmented; it has no endemic advertisers; the content is often unpredictable, sensitive and/or polarizing; and it relies highly on original reporting, making it especially costly to produce.

With all those black marks that make it both especially difficult and especially rewarding, it’s refreshing to see MSNBC take up the experience revolution challenge:  According to Mike Shields at Media Week, MSNBC is talking with BermanBraun about launching a new politics site with an out-of-the-box concept.

Based on the innovative work they’ve done for MSN’s Glo and Wonderwall, it’s a safe bet that if BermanBraun takes on the case, politics won’t look the same after this makeover as it did before.

And that’s a good thing.  We know the old model is increasingly challenged to stay afloat.  So we need someone in the industry to take some big risks and try their hand at a new approach to the category – which will hopefully not only increase engagement, but monetization.

While I don’t expect that this will significantly replace any of the existing and valuable political coverage out there today, it does have the potential to inspire other news publishers to revolutionize their own experience for consumers – which is exactly what’s necessary to improve the health of their business.

With “Glo” Launch, BermanBraun and MSN Show Something Rare: Creativity!

One of my favorite questions to ask recruiting candidates is: “What content sites have a unique and differentiated user experience?”

The usual answers are as tiresome as the state of web design:  YouTube (yes, it is fun to keep clicking), Hulu (yes, they got the experience right for TV viewing), and lots of pauses and comments like “I don’t know, it’s kind of all the same.”

Let’s face it:  publishers are formulaic herds.  And the formulas are boring and tired for users.  How bad the state of the art is when Huffington Post gets major props for going with a single full-screen hero shot on its home page – and that’s considered breakthrough!

So that’s why I’m incredibly impressed with what MSN’s Scott Moore and BermanBraun’s Lloyd Braun and Gail Berman have done with their newest creation, Glo.  From logo to flow, the site’s design lets go of the old formulas, tries something new, and most importantly, takes risks.  New layouts, new interactions, and new forms of content all create a feeling that this is not an ordinary website.  Even more, they have defined their own style that is adventurously well-suited for their audience.

To start making money, publishers need to create consumer experiences that stand out.  As MSN’s Scott Moore said in a post by Kara Swisher, “we see a lot of room to grow by offering something different and of higher quality.”  These premium visceral experiences are exactly the path to profit in digital media:  they will attract loyal audiences, premium advertising dollars, and over time create opportunities for upselling to consumers.  And those premium experiences are, after all, the root reason why everyone is so excited about the iPad this week.

Apple doesn’t need to be the only one that can innovate.  This kind of innovation is rare among publishers, and yet all too valuable.

For heaven’s sake, if MSN can do it, everyone can.