Though the term social media is relatively new, the concept is not. The world may be connected 24/7/365 through social media, but social networks have existed throughout history, according to British journalist Tom Standage in his book Writing on the Wall: Social History - The First 2000 Years. From letter exchanges in ancient Rome to Martin Luther's posting of his Ninety-Five Theses to the Twitter storm that follows today's breaking stories, people have always found ways to share information that they deem important.
Research by Searchmetrics found that in 2013, The Washington Post drove an average of 275,173 tweets each week, with The New York Times and USA Today rounding out the top three with 261,422 and 149,960 tweets per week on average. Hinting at the importance of video content, Searchmetrics also found that the most-tweeted articles in 2013 (a USA Today article about the shooting of a Texas gunman and a Washington Post article about the Newtown, Connecticut shooter) both included video content.
Research by Pew has found that 41% of adult internet users repost photos or videos they find online to social media sites. Newspapers are discovering that having a sound social media strategy builds their audience and brand, drives website traffic, and improves revenue development features like premium subscriptions, advertising, and custom job boards.
Social Media Platforms: Who Uses What?
Of the major social media platforms, Facebook is the most popular in general, while other social media platforms tend to have more focused user demographics. Pinterest, for instance, is four times more likely to be used by women as by men. LinkedIn is most popular among college graduates and higher income internet users. Instagram and Twitter appeal to younger adults, non-whites, and people who live in cities.
If you're looking for high levels of user engagement that can help you increase website traffic, Facebook and Instagram have the highest levels of interaction, with the majority of users checking them on a daily basis. Forty percent of Facebook users check the site multiple times each day. While Instagram and Twitter have smaller pools of users, those users tend to visit frequently, with 35% of Instagram users and 29% of Twitter users visiting multiple times per day.
Newspapers That Dominate Social Media
The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today are the most dominant newspapers on social media platforms. Not only do they use social media to reach and engage with readers, they have found novel uses as well. For example, in August 2013 the website of The New York Times went down, so the paper published story updates on Facebook and Twitter to maintain engagement with their audience during that time.
Big News + Social Media + Advertisers = Win
Advertisers are starting to learn that certain circumstances converge to increase website traffic to sites they advertise on. With newspapers with strong social media presences, big advertisers often want to be able to buy ads quickly should a major news story break in order to reach a bigger audience. Many smaller, local newspapers have found that when a story of national prominence takes place within their geographic coverage area, having a strong social media presence not only boosts their social media profile, but also serves to increase website traffic to their original stories.
The Most Engaging Types of Stories
Media Life Magazine says that human interest stories tend to be the most engaging, particularly when they are tied to big national stories. As an example, Media Life points out that a post paying tribute to one of the victims of the 2013 Boston bombings generated more engagement than the hard news story surrounding it. Other high-engagement stories feature animals, crimes, natural disasters, breaking stories, and stories of political controversy. Stories about finance and politics in general tend to inspire lower engagement and do less to increase website traffic, though they are still shared.
Whether your news site's revenue development plan includes paid mobile apps, subscriptions, e-commerce, or a custom job board, your social media presence is critically important. Creating high quality content and making it easy to share on social media is the starting point. Regularly engaging with readers through social media is an excellent way to increase website traffic over the long run, even if there aren't any major breaking stories to produce a spike in readership. ''Mobile'' and ''big data'' are strong buzzwords in the digital publishing industry, but social media is at least as important in 2014 as it was in 2013. Smart publishers know that investing in a solid social media strategy is a great way to increase website traffic.
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