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: Facebook Is Closing the Gap

It’s time again to check our horses and see who’s pulling ahead in the social publishing race!  And the race is definitely on – 85% of the top 50 publishers increased their social traffic this month.

No looking back now
Until I started charting the incredible growth of social and its impact on the rest of the web, I wondered if it might be more hype than actual paradigm shift.  But the evidence is mounting beyond reasonable doubt, and this month’s results point to the continuation of rapid growth.

Facebook traffic to the Top 50 grew 9% in January (after growing 17% in December).  Not only that, but Facebook is closing the gap with Google: The gap between how much traffic Google sends and Facebook sends to the 50 largest publishers is down to just 30%, from 55% in November.  At this rate, I expect Facebook to surpass Google traffic to publishers some time this year.

Note: This analysis includes portals (e.g. Yahoo), which receive more overall traffic but a smaller proportion of Google traffic than the average non-portal publisher, who might see a larger gap.

 

Favorites hold their lead
At the wire it’s Wetpaint Entertainment (with 22.2% of traffic coming from social) followed by People, followed by Us Magazine.  Coming on strong on the outside is CBS, pulling ahead of NBC for 4th place by drawing 14.4% of their traffic from social (up from 11.7% in December).

Wetpaint Entertainment increased its lead this month, adding 1.4% to its social traffic and widening the gap with #2 People by an additional 0.5%.  People and Us Magazine increased their social traffic composition by 0.8% and 0.6%, respectively – just slightly more than the Top 50 average of 0.5%.  CBS was the biggest mover by far, adding 2.7% to its social traffic.

Ladies and gentleman, place your bets.  It’s still anyone’s race, but one thing is for sure: if you’re spending all of your time on SEO and SEM, you’re backing the wrong horse.

Living Up To Your Social Potential: How Much Social Traffic Should You Be Getting?

If you’re Buzzfeed and your raison d’etre is to find and distribute viral content, then it’s fair to assume that you should be getting the majority of your traffic from social (and indeed, they do).  But what if you’re Parenting Magazine?  Or Consumer Reports?

While we know that social traffic is increasing as a referral source for publishers, it stands to reason that social traffic would be more relevant to some publishers and less to others.  When I search “how to get rid of a purple rash,” I may find an extremely useful article on WebMD (and I may even forward it to a friend with a similar problem).  But am I going to post it to my Facebook wall?  Doubtful.

If you’re a publisher, you know how much social traffic you are drawing right now.  But how much should you be drawing, relative to your competitors?  To know this, we need to understand what types of content are highly shareable (and which are less so).

Pew Research studied the distribution of topics on Twitter and compared them with the distribution in traditional news sources.  To add one more dimension, I broke down the Most Shared Articles on Facebook in 2011 by topic and threw those into the mix.

The conclusions are striking:

  • Facebook users Like pop culture, parenting and weirdness.
  • Twitter hearts tech.
  • Traditional news content lines up barely at all with social sharing.

None of this is to say that traditional news isn’t getting social traffic; in fact, 53% of Facebook’s Top 40 came from four very traditional news sources: CNN, New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.  But while much of the most shareable content comes from newspapers, the average story ends up pretty lonely.

As for the most-shared topics, if you’re a publisher on the subject of parenting, you should be rolling in Facebook traffic.  SEVEN of the top 40 shared articles on Facebook are about parenting (e.g. “How to Talk to Little Girls” and “Dads, Wake the Hell Up!”)  If you’re a tech news publisher, well, Twitter wants to take you out for a lobster dinner and introduce you to his parents.

The wheels are greased, but are these publishers living up to their social potential?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s just say there’s room for improvement.

GigaOM gets a shockingly small amount of social traffic for a specialty publisher directly aligned with the interests of social users.  Parents.com fares better and beats traditional news, but lags far behind People (even though parenting as a topic is 2x more shareable on Facebook than celebrity news).

I would venture to say, of course, that ALL of these publishers should be getting more social traffic than they are right now (traditional news and celebrity gossip included).  But if you’re lagging behind other publishers with less shareable content, you especially need to get smarter about using distribution channels like Facebook and Twitter.  The social networks are ready for you – are you ready for them?

At Wetpaint, we’ve been rapidly ramping up our social traffic (from 14% to well over 20% in the last two months) by constantly refining our social distribution system.   Having content that lines up with what people like to share is only half the battle; you need to be savvy about packaging and delivering that content into the social feed.  That takes not only a great editorial savvy to understand your audience, but a tech mindset to help get it into the social groove.

Now that’s good news for GigaOM, Parents.com, and everyone else as well:  Your content is highly shareable.  Don’t let it go to waste.

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. 

Google Search Plus Your World: An Offer You Can’t Refuse

This article was published as a guest post at XConomy, and is republished here for Digital Quarters readers.

I’ve been taking in Google’s recent release of “Search, plus your world” (or SPYW as the cool kids say) over the last several days, reflecting on what it means for Wetpaint and other media companies; but perhaps even more importantly, deeply understanding what it indicates about Facebook and Google themselves. As we all know by now, these most recent changes are meant to make its search more personal by up-weighting social activity in its algorithm, and using each person’s own position within their circles to determine relevance.

You might think that I would be one of the first to jump in the game with Google. After all, my company Wetpaint has been making a massive investment in distributing our content via other social channels, particularly Facebook. We’ve been seeing massive returns. And, I’ve even gone on a limb to predict that Facebook should be implementing its own Web-wide search this year.

Still, when it comes to playing Google’s social games, so far I’ve advocated staying on the sidelines of all their social venues—even their recent business pages. That’s been because even though the stadium lights are on, no one is on the field. More specifically, even though Google has 90 million registered users of the service, we see very little activity of significance among our target audience. But with its new SPYW changes, the question is: Has Google indeed forced companies’ hands?

Unfortunately, they have. And, in doing so, it marks a milestone in the changing mentality of Google. The search company’s great innovation—using the signals of the Web to best determine what the audience really wanted—has now been subverted. The company’s originally unshakable-seeming ethos of mechanistic neutrality has slowly, slowly, slowly, and now all of a sudden given way, and the new precedent is to favor its own business interests over those of the audience.

The result, like it or not, is that companies that rely on search for traffic must hear and obey loud and clear Google’s message that Google will favor those that favor it. It’s a dirty truth, and one far more chilling than the other more technical biases of its algorithm before.

Google has already started infusing search with the content that’s been blessed via Google+. Do a search for “New York Times” and you’ll probably find the New York Times plus.google.com page as the second search result. Search for “Mark Zuc” and you’ll likely see Zuckerberg’s Google+ page (despite the irony) populate as an option in the Google Instant choices.

I haven’t seen this bleed over to news stories yet, but I believe that it’s coming. Soon you’ll do a search for the latest headlines and your search results will be chock full with musings from your friends and non-friends inside Google+.

Google+ may not take off as a real social network, but Google has indicated that it’s throwing its full weight behind it anyway to make the best of what it’s got. Even if consumers don’t adopt it en masse, whatever activity is present will pepper the famous algorithm’s search results.

The irony here is that Google’s pivot toward a social search belies how important that social data is. The company is putting its lock on search at risk to gain a chance at a foothold on social. But what really comes through to me is that a great social search can be a winning product—if it’s populated with the right social data. So far, Google’s is not.

The question is—if that’s what I’m after—won’t I still just go to Facebook, where all my friends actually are (and which Google has adamantly cut out of SPYW)?

While SPYW does force publishers to support Google’s social network, fortunately it will be a temporary sacrifice from publishers during this period of transition from these days of search to a socially wired world. And that forthcoming world looks increasingly like it will be wired not by Google, but by its arch-enemy Facebook. Indeed, by corrupting the quality of their search product, Google may have just opened up a clear product entry into search for their rival as well.

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.

What We Learned This Year About Creating Successful Media Properties Online

This week, we made some announcements about our achievements at Wetpaint, and it has prompted me to take a look back at 2011.  It’s easy to be proud of the 6.4 million unique visitor audience we have built at Wetpaint Entertainment monthly.  It is a significant accomplishment in just 15 months since we launched, and the Wetpaint team has worked passionately to get us here. But even a number like that is, well, just a number. The real value of what we did in 2011 lies in the all the learning we had about how to build, run and monetize a successful media property online.

And that learning makes me feel grateful – because as successful as we have been this year, it’s been against a context of upheaval in the industry.  Media is not easy.  Old formulas from print and broadcast are no longer working.  And even the just-minted generation of seemingly successful digital companies, from Demand Media to Zynga to Facebook itself, are having to constantly innovate to stay on top of the wave that they’re on as they hope to catch the next.

Clearly, the most important keys to financial success in media are building audience and monetizing that audience – and we’ve made significant progress on both here at Wetpaint.  Our greatest strength has been the data engine we’ve built to acquire, assimilate, and apply every possible insight about our audience.  We learned that smart and targeted analysis can improve everything we do; that lots of rapid experimentation is critical; and that social traffic is far more valuable than search.

We also learned more about the Kardashians and the people on the The Bachelor/Bachelorette than anyone in this world should.  Our editors did a bang-up job capturing the liveliness of the entertainment industry and they definitely deserve plenty of credit.

But while all our great content and social mojo would succeed in delighting audiences, it wouldn’t be enough to make a strong business without excellent monetization.  And so I’m equally excited to note that as we get ready for 2012, we’ve found that our formula of great content and social mojo is just as valuable to advertisers as it is to our audiences.  I’m pleased that we will be working with the team at Cambio Group via their joint venture between AOL, Jonas Group and MGX Lab.  Together, we will be  serving outstanding advertisers with some of the most innovative offerings around.

With this partnership in place, we are able to turn amazing traffic into amazing financial results. It will mean strength for our model and our company into 2012 and beyond.

But the implications are even broader for the industry, and that’s because we are setting a model that others can follow as well.  And that is what I’m most excited about:  What media needs most is a model that can be scaled and repeated – and our latest results make it clear we are on the right track to build it.