Why do we SHARE what we DO NOT READ? Meet the (dis)Attention Web

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Earlier this month, there was yet another lengthy public debate about Upworthy, the two-year-old publisher that has become one of the most popular sites on Facebook due to its knack for overselling its bite-size content with “curiosity gap” headlines like, “Why Is Bill Nye Acting Like A Lunatic? Because He Doesn’t Want To Get Blown Up, That’s Why.”

“We’ve found effectively no correlation between social shares and people actually reading.”

In the midst of the Twitter argument, Tony Haile, CEO of Chartbeat, which measures real-time traffic for sites like Upworthy, dropped a bomb: “We’ve found effectively no correlation between social shares and people actually reading,” he wrote.

If you work in media, or have a blog, or are the sort of person who pays any attention to things like how many tweets an article has, this statement probably comes as a surprise. There is an implied relationship between the number of people who choose to blast a link to a piece of content and the interestingness of that content. The media industry has fully digested the idea that likes and retweets are marks of merit and that the viral effect of social media is the ultimate affirmation of relevance, which is why every major news organization now has at least one social media editor. To suddenly say that a story is just as likely to have been read by a million people and tweeted by none of them, as it is to have been tweeted a million times and yet never read, seems impossible. And yet, that’s what Chartbeat has found.

Chartbeat’s lead data scientist Josh Schwartz later clarified to The Verge that Haile was talking specifically about tweets, although the expectation is that Facebook shares would reflect the same pattern. While greater social media shares clearly increase the amount of traffic to an article, that doesn’t necessarily mean that more people will actually read it.

“There is obviously a correlation between number of tweets and total volume of traffic that goes to an article,” he says. “But just not a relationship between stories that are most heavily consumed and stories that are most heavily tweeted.”

There are a number of possible explanations. Clicks from social media are more likely to come from mobile devices, where readers typically spend less time on the page. It also likely reflects readers’€™ preferences about what types of links they click ‘€” studies show people are more likely to share stories that are happy or nostalgic than they are to tweet about crime, for example. It’s also possible that some highly retweeted stories contain all the information necessary in the headline without the need to click on the article, as with some breaking news. Or it could just be that we’re in the age of the skim, as Slate’s Farhad Manjoo wrote last year, and people just don’t read things deeply on the internet.

Are we sharing stories without reading them?

But the most obvious explanation, the one that has probably already occurred to you because you’re just as guilty as everyone else, is that people are tweeting stories without reading them. “I skim hundreds of stories on a daily basis for my job, and yes a portion of those I definitely tweet without actually reading,” says Taylor Lorenz, who runs social media for The Daily Mail. “I think anyone who says they fully read and ponder every article before tweeting is lying through their teeth.”

Like Chartbeat, Upworthy measures things like scroll depth, clicks, video playback, and other metrics in order to determine whether people are actually reading. Upworthy’s data supports the false-retweet theory: users who consume about 25 percent of an article are more likely to share than users who immediately bounced away or even users who spent more time with it.

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Let’s say that a longer and more accurate version of what Chartbeat found might be stated as: “Just because an article is shared a lot doesn’t mean that people are reading the whole thing.”

But there’s more to the story. While Upworthy sees a burst of tweets from people who have consumed just a quarter of the article, it sees an ever greater boost once people have consumed the whole thing. BuzzFeed’s data-science team had similar findings: the majority of social media shares happen after people have been on a page for over three and a half minutes on desktop, or over two minutes on a mobile device.

So if you see someone tweet an article, it likely means they either didn’t really read it, or they read every word. That makes it tough to judge a story by how many tweets it has. But new insights into how many people tweet and click versus how many actually read are actually prompting a change in the way publishers market themselves to advertisers. Upworthy, YouTube, and other platforms have started paying less attention to page views and more attention to how engaged people actually are.

Upworthy has started tracking a new metric called “attention minutes,” which measures the total amount of time that people spend actively paying attention to the site, along with the amount of attention paid to each piece.

How does it work? Attention minutes is a fine-grained, conservative measure of how long people are engaging with the content on web pages.

  • Total Attention on Site (per hour, day, week, month, whatever) — that tells us (like total uniques or total pageviews) how good of a job Upworthy is doing overall at drawing attention to important topics.
  • And Total Attention per Piece, which is a combination of how many people watch something on Upworthy and how much of it they actually watch. Pieces with higher Total Attention should be promoted more.

Its implementation is far more precise than “Time on Page” as it’s usually measured. Time on Page generally relies on a very sparse set of signals to figure out whether viewers are still paying attention. And especially on the last page of a visit, it can be hugely misleading (Here’s a handy explainer about why that is).

Attention minutes are built to look at a wide range of signals — everything from video player signals about whether a video is currently playing, to a user’s mouse movements, to which browser tab is currently open — to determine whether the user is still engaged. The result is a fine-grained and unforgiving metric that tells us whether people are really engaged with content or whether they’ve moved on to the next thing.

Publishers Are Turning Away From Page Views and Social Shares, Looking At Attention Time

As pageviews have begun to fail, brands and publishers have embraced social shares such as Facebook likes or Twitter retweets as a new currency. Social sharing is public and suggests that someone has not only read the content but is actively recommending it to other people. There’s a whole industry dedicated to promoting the social share as the sine qua non of analytics.

Caring about social sharing makes sense. You’re likely to get more traffic if you share something socially than if you did nothing at all: the more Facebook “likes” a story gets, the more people it reaches within Facebook and the greater the overall traffic. The same is true of Twitter, though Twitter drives less traffic to most sites.

But the people who share content are a small fraction of the people who visit that content.

“I think there’€™s a group of publishers who say, ‘€˜Look, we’re web native, we can do a lot more to get a realistic picture of what’s going on on the web than we ever could in the analog world,’ €™” Upworthy’s director of business intelligence Daniel Mintz tells The Verge.

“That’s harder to dupe than page views and uniques. You can turn an article into a 20-page slideshow and voila, you have 20 times the views. Advertisers, and in particular advertisers interested in attention, don’€™t just want empty clicks.”

Upworthy’€™s critics say it maximizes for social media shares, “sending a (false) message to Facebook that those headlines are the stories its users really want to read,” as Reuters columnist Felix Salmon put it. But the company’s new emphasis on the time spent on a story contradicts that claim, suggesting that Upworthy is playing a longer game. While the number of times a story is shared may not be a perfect signal of quality, it’€™s reassuring to know that stories that hold a reader’€™s attention all the way to the end are also rewarded by the Twittersphere.

Bottom line, measuring page views, and social sharing is great for understanding volume, but if you’re using that to understand which content is capturing more of someone’s attention, you’re going beyond the data. Social is not the silver bullet of the Attention Web.

Also, this is the truth about Native Advertising and Banner Advertising

Media companies, desperate for new revenue streams are turning to Native Advertising in droves. Brands create or commission their own content and place it on a site like the New York Times or Forbes to access their audience and capture their attention. Brands want their message relayed to customers in a way that does not interrupt but adds to the experience.

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However, the truth is that while the emperor that is native advertising might not be naked, he’s almost certainly only wearing a thong. On a typical article two-thirds of people exhibit more than 15 seconds of engagement, on native ad content that plummets to around one-third. You see the same story when looking at page-scrolling behavior. On the native ad content analyzed by Chartbeat, only 24% of visitors scrolled down the page at all, compared with 71% for normal content. If they do stick around and scroll down the page, fewer than one-third of those people will read beyond the first one-third of the article.

What this suggests is that brands are paying for — and publishers are driving traffic to — content that does not capture the attention of its visitors or achieve the goals of its creators. Simply put, native advertising has an attention deficit disorder. The story isn’t all bad. Some sites like Gizmodo and Refinery29 optimize for attention and have worked hard to ensure that their native advertising experience is consistent with what visitors come to their site for. They have seen their native advertising perform as well as their normal content as a result.

The lesson here is not that we should give up on native advertising. Done right, it can be a powerful way to communicate with a larger audience than will ever visit a brand’s homepage. However, driving traffic to content that no one is reading is a waste of time and money. As more and more brands start to care about what happens after the click, there’s hope that native advertising can reach a level of quality that doesn’t require tricks or dissimulation; in fact, to survive it will have to.

For the last few years there have been weekly laments complaining that the Banner Advertising is dead. Click-through rates are now averaging less than 0.1% and you’ll hear the words banner blindness thrown about with abandon. If you’re a direct response marketer trying to drive clicks back to your site then yes, the banner ad is giving you less of what you want with each passing year.

However, for brand advertisers rumors of the banner ad’s demise may be greatly exaggerated. It turns out that if your goals are the traditional brand advertising goals of communicating your message to your audience then yes, most banner ads are bad…. but…. some banner ads are great! The challenge of the click web is that we haven’t been able to tell them apart.

Research has consistently shown the importance of great ad creative in getting a visitor to see and remember a brand. What’s less well known is the scientific consensus based on studies by Microsoft [pdf], Google, Yahoo and Chartbeat that a second key factor is the amount of time a visitor spend actively looking at the page when the ad is in view. Someone looking at the page for 20 seconds while an ad is there is 20-30% more likely to recall that ad afterwards.

So, for banner ads to be effective the answer is simple. You have to create great creative and then get it in front of a person’s face for a long enough period for them to truly see it. The challenge for banner ads is that traditional advertising heuristics about what works have been placing ads on the parts of the page that capture the least attention, not the most.

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Here’s the skinny, 66% of attention on a normal media page is spent below the fold. That leaderboard at the top of the page? People scroll right past that and spend their time where the content not the cruft is. Yet most agency media planners will still demand that their ads run in the places where people aren’t and will ignore the places where they are.

For quality publishers, valuing ads not simply on clicks but on the time and attention they accrue might just be the lifeline they’ve been looking for. Time is a rare scarce resource on the web and we spend more of our time with good content than with bad. Valuing advertising on time and attention means that publishers of great content can charge more for their ads than those who create link bait. If the amount of money you can charge is directly correlated with the quality of content on the page, then media sites are financially incentivized to create better quality content. In the seeds of the Attention Web we might finally have found a sustainable business model for quality on the web.

This move to the Attention Web may sound like a collection of small signals and changes, but it has the potential to transform the web. It’s not just the publishers of quality content who win in the Attention Web, it’s all of us. When sites are built to capture attention, any friction, any bad design or eye-roll-inducing advertorials that might cause a visitor to spend a second less on the site is bad for business. That means better design and a better experience for everyone. A web where quality makes money and great design is rewarded? That’s something worth paying attention to.

[Sources: The Verge, Time, Upworthy, thanks to @StefanoMaggi for the inspirational article on WeAreSocial Italy]

Teens heavily use Facebook, Instagram more often than Snapchat

One of the most pressing questions about Facebook’s future revolves around teen usage. However, a new study by Forrester shows that maybe teens don’t hate Facebook after all.

Forrester surveyed more than 4,500 U.S. online users between 12 and 17 about their habits on social networks and apps. Among apps they use “all the time,” both Facebook and Instagram finished ahead dof Snapchat.

Nate Elliott, Forrester’s Vice President and Principal Analyst Serving Marketing Leadership Professionals,summed up the findings of the study in a blog post:

The results were clear: Facebook remains young users’ favorite social network. More than three-quarters of online youth use Facebook — twice as many as use Pinterest or Tumblr or Snapchat, and more than use Instagram and WhatApp combined. And 28% of young users who are on Facebook say they use it “all the time,” a higher percentage than said this about any other social network.The bottom line: The sky is not falling. Facebook does not have a problem attracting or retaining teen users.

Here’s a look at the graph, with different apps and social networks used by teens plotted in terms of adoption and hyperusage:

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[Source: Inside Facebook]

The real Data Sources for Social Media Analysis and Insights: Facebook vs Twitter

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Gnip, DataSift and Topsy are sanctioned tweet resellers while Facebook keeps its conversations under wraps.

Social data is the nectar all brands want to drink, but tapping into the source can be a costly and arduous undertaking.

Consider Facebook and Twitter, the suppliers with the most scale to offer. They have drastically different approaches when it comes to meting out access to the millions of conversations occurring daily on their platforms. And in Twitter’s case, the approach seems subject to constant change.

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Twitter’s “firehose” of tweets is already an important revenue stream for the company, and it takes a cut from sanctioned resellers that furnish raw data to enterprise customers. But it’s also been looking to restrict the firehose access of existing partners.

First, what exctly is an API? An API, or Application Programming Interface, is the instruction set created for developers to interact with some type of technology. In this case, Twitter has data and lots of it! Twitter created an open API allowing external developers to develop technology which rely on Twitter’s data.

There are three different ways to access Twitter data that we hope you will be able to differentiate by the end of this blog posting.

  1. Twitter’s Search API
  2. Twitter’s Streaming API
  3. Twitter’s Firehose

Twitter’s Search API

First up is Twitter’s Search API, which involves polling Twitter’s data through a search or username. Twitter’s Search API gives you access to a data set that already exists from tweets that have occurred. Through the Search API users request tweets that match some sort of “search” criteria. The criteria can be keywords, usernames, locations, named places, etc. A good way to think of the Twitter Search API is by thinking how an individual user would do a search directly at Twitter (navigating to search.twitter.com and entering in keywords).

How much data can you get with the Twitter Search API?

With the Twitter Search API, developers query (or poll) tweets that have occurred and are limited by Twitter’s rate limits. For an individual user, the maximum number of tweets you can receive is the last 3,200 tweets, regardless of the query criteria. With a specific keyword, you can typically only poll the last 5,000 tweets per keyword. You are further limited by the number of requests you can make in a certain time period. The Twitter request limits have changed over the years but are currently limited to 180 requests in a 15 minute period.

Twitter’s Streaming API

Unlike Twitter’s Search API where you are polling data from tweets that have already happened, Twitter’s Streaming API is a push of data as tweets happen in near real-time. With Twitter’s Streaming API, users register a set of criteria (keywords, usernames, locations, named places, etc.) and as tweets match the criteria, they are pushed directly to the user. Think of this as an agreement between the end user and Twitter – you agree with Twitter that whenever they receive tweets that match keywords relating to “hockey”, they will deliver the tweet directly to you as they happen.  This is a push of data by Twitter, rather than a pull of data initiated by the end user.

The major drawback of the Streaming API is that Twitter’s Steaming API provides only a sample of tweets that are occurring. The actual percentage of total tweets users receive with Twitter’s Streaming API varies heavily based on the criteria users request and the current traffic. Studies have estimated that using Twitter’s Streaming API users can expect to receive anywhere from 1% of the tweets to over 40% of tweets in near real-time. The reason that you do not receive all of the tweets from the Twitter Streaming API is simply because Twitter doesn’t have the current infrastructure to support it, and they don’t want to; hence, the Twitter Firehose.

Twitter’s Firehose API

The final way to access data is by having access to the full Twitter Firehose. The Twitter Firehose is in fact very similar to the Twitter’s Streaming API as it pushes data to end users in near real-time, but the Twitter Firehose guarantees delivery of 100% of the tweets that match your criteria.

The Twitter Firehose is handled by two data providers, GNIP and DataSift, which have tight relationships with Twitter. Similar to the streaming API, the firehose consists of an agreement between an end user and distributors of the Firehose (GNIP or Datasift) on what tweets the end user should receive in near real-time. As the data providers receive tweets they are pushed directly to the end user.

The two differences between Twitter’s Streaming API and Twitter’s Firehose access is that you are guaranteed delivery of 100% of the tweets and it’s not free. The Twitter Streaming API is free to use but gives you limited results (and limited licensing usage of the data). Access to the Twitter Firehose removes a lot of the usage restrictions imposed by Twitter but is fairly costly for access to all the tweets.

Why the difference matters

The Twitter Search API and Twitter Streaming API work well for a lot of individuals that just want to access Twitter data for light analytics or statistical analysis. Marketing companies and social media analytic companies use Twitter’s Search API to analyze trends in social media. However, these differences are significant when you are in a situation that requires you to monitor Twitter in real-time during a specific event or critical situation.

Sports ArenaFor example, professional sports teams provide security during games for spectators. It is critical that they be able to see what is happening in real-time at the venue.

Real-time, full access is also imperative for law enforcement. Whether it’s a specific situation that is evolving minute by minute or a high-profile event that is happening in their jurisdiction, the police need to know what is happening, when it is happening, and where it is happening to keep citizens safe. They can’t rely on just a sample of the information and have it delivered after the fact.

 

Facebook

Facebook, meanwhile, has nothing resembling a firehose and keeps the majority of conversations taking place on its pages under wraps. Brands that want to know what’s being said about them can use listening tools to tap into public posts that haven’t been hidden by privacy settings, but no more.

 

The social network has no agreements in place with data resellers, so in theory an individual who knows how to code can get just as much out of Facebook’s data conduit—its Graph API—as an enterprise-level service.  In practice, of course, the infrastructure that social-listening companies have built up makes them better equipped to handle the available data.

There’s a broad consensus among marketers that Facebook furnishes rich data insights on a one-off basis to high-spending media partners. (Facebook declined to comment.) If and when the social network decides to make enhanced data insights into a product that advertisers can pay for—offering a view into how many mentions of a brand are trending across the network, for example—it could have a robust new revenue stream.

“It would be a pretty valuable tool, one that people would be willing to pay for,” said Tim Fogarty, lead strategist for the social-media agency M80.

[Source: AdAge and BrightPlanet]

Seven Deadly Sins of Social Media

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The seven deadly sins: just the mention of the term stirs up feelings of guilt and an urge to right your wrongs. This goes for social media too! When it comes to social media, there are countless examples of individuals and companies making all sorts of mistakes and not using social networks to their full potential. So let’s strike a little fear into your hearts here and show you how the seven deadly sins can have a damning effect on your social media efforts.

1. Gluttony

You are a social media glutton if you try to be everywhere at once. You feel the need to create an account on every social network in existence, regardless of whether or not the network is appropriate for your specific goals.

If you do not know what your social media goals are, start by asking the following questions. Does your target audience use the social network? Do you produce content that the social network can showcase appropriately? What results are you looking to see from being on the social network (i.e. leads, website traffic, exposure, etc.)? Answer these questions for each social network before actually creating your account.

2. Sloth

If you created a social media account and then left it dormant, shame on you! Or perhaps you post some great content to your social media account on a regular basis: great! But what about engaging your audience? Facilitating conversations with your followers?

If you leave your social media accounts inactive or fail to respond to social media interactions, then you are guilty of social media sloth. Sloth is a sure way to have your followers lose interest in you or to give them the impression that you do not care about them as customers or as an audience.

3. Greed

Are you willing to do whatever it takes to gain more followers? Will you pay, lie, cheat, maybe even rent out your firstborn to get your follower counts into the 10K range? If so, then you are guilty of social media greed.

The number of followers on your social media accounts is an important metric in terms of the growth and success of your efforts. Your main focus, however, should remain on producing quality content, nurturing relationships and building a community online.

4. Wrath

Have people criticized or complained about your services via social media? If so, don’t respond in haste. You most definitely should respond, but you have to make sure your response is tactful and not attacking in any way. If your response is mean-spirited or fails to address the complaint, then you are guilty of social media wrath.

Don’t think it’s a bad thing to take your time to calm down and contemplate any criticism on social media. It lets personal offense simmer down so you can see things from the complainer’s perspective. Even if you think responding is futile, according to Kissmetrics 22% of social media complainers welcomed the interaction that resulted from their complaining and later posted a positive response.

5. Lust

If your business is struggling to market itself effectively, you may think that social media will help you out. In fact, you may believe that social media will be the golden ticket to instant success, fame and profits. If your mouth waters at the perceived magic of social media to solve all your marketing problems, then you are guilty of the social media sin of lust.

The truth is social media is a tool that takes time and effort. It’s part of a larger, long-term marketing strategy. Social media is definitely not a quick fix or a panacea for broken or inadequate marketing strategies.

6. Envy

Do you look at others’ social media accounts, large followings and constantly shared content and get an overwhelming desire to be just like them? Then you are guilty of social media envy. No two companies, individuals or organizations are exactly the same, so don’t feel envious just because your competitor is performing a particular way on social media. While it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your competitors on social media to look for opportunities to grow and gain inspiration, it’s not a good idea to copy your competitors under the illusion that you’ll achieve the same results.

7. Pride

Yes, you (hopefully) control your social media accounts. Yes, social media is a tool that can help promote your brand. But no, your social media content cannot be all about you. If so, then you are guilty of the social media sin of pride. If you talk about you, your business or your product all the time or even most of the time, it bores your audience and puts yet another nail in your social media coffin. Instead, mix it up. Remember the 4-1-1 rule: for every self-serving message you post (i.e. promoting an article you wrote or an event you’re hosting), you should share one message from another user and four pieces of others’ original content.

[Source: DashBurst]