Users who arrive at News Sites via Facebook spend Less Time, view Fewer Pages, return Less Often

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Facebook’s efforts to cozy up to media organizations appear to be timely, as Internet users who arrive at the 26 news websites analyzed in a new study from Pew Research Center via directly typing in those sites’ URLs or via bookmarks spend far more time on those sites, view more pages, and return more times per month.

Pew analyzed three months’ worth of data from comScore for those 26 sites, and it found that Internet users who arrived directly or via bookmarks spent an average of four minutes and 36 seconds per visit, compared with just one minute and 42 seconds for those arriving via Facebook.

The gap was even wider when it came to pages viewed per month, as direct visitors averaged 24.8, versus just 4.2 for Facebook visitors.

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And direct visitors averaged 10.9 visits per month to the sites studied by Pew, while Facebook referrals accounted for just 2.9 visits per month.

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Pew detailed its findings in the report:

This higher level of engagement from direct visitors holds true across the full mix of sites studied, from those that rank among the most shared on Facebook, such as Breitbart, to those whose traffic is heavily driven by traffic from search engines, such as ABC News, and from those with a small total audience (Mr. Conservative) to aggregators (Yahoo News). Even sites such as digital native BuzzFeed and National Public Radio, which have an unusually high level of Facebook traffic, saw much greater engagement from those who came in directly.

The data also suggest that converting social media or search eyeballs to dedicated readers is difficult to do. Most people who arrived at one of these popular news sites used only one of the three modes, suggesting that, at least on desktop/laptops, individuals tend to come to these news sites using a single method. Users had not, in other words, logged into ABC News in the morning to get the latest news and then later that night followed a link to another ABC story when checking status updates on Facebook. Of the sites examined, the percentage of direct visitors who also came to the site via Facebook was extremely small, ranging from 0.9 percent to 2.3 percent, with the exception of BuzzFeed at 11.3 percent. Similarly, direct visitors who also came to a site through a search engine ranged from 1.3 percent to 4.1 percent — again with one exception, this time being Examiner.com at 8.6 percent.

At a time when news organizations are working to understand how consumers interact with news in the digital space and are implementing digital subscription plans while energetically pushing content in social spaces, these findings encapsulate some of the key challenges facing digital news. Facebook and search are critical for bringing added eyeballs to individual stories, and they do so in droves. But the connection a news organization has with any individual coming to their website via search or Facebook seems quite limited. For news outlets operating under the traditional model of building a loyal, perhaps paying audience, obtaining referrals so that users think of the outlet as the first place to turn is critical.

The data also shed light on new audience approaches. The strategy of BuzzFeed, for example, is very different from that of traditional news organizations. It is not built around building a loyal, returning audience. Instead, it is built around “being a part of the conversation,” says Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith. The site’s writers and editors develop content that people want to share so that a story reaches all those it “should” reach. It may well be a completely different audience from one story to the next. That strategy is reflected in the 50 percent of its desktop/laptop traffic that comes in through Facebook with lowengagement, but high volume — far more than the 32 percent of traffic that accesses the site directly and show higher levels of engagement. The revenue strategy — built around advertising, rather than subscriptions — reflects that strategy, as well. On the other hand, a site like The New York Times — which relies on user subscriptions for a substantial portion of its revenue, and, thus, likely places high priority on loyalty and engagement — gets 37 percent of its laptop/desktop traffic from direct visitors and only 7 percent from Facebook.

Pew Director of Journalism Research Amy Mitchell said in a release announcing the study’s findings:

These findings encapsulate some of the key challenges facing digital news. Facebook and search are critical for bringing added views to individual stories, but the data suggest that it is hard to build relationships with those users. For news outlets operating under the traditional model and hoping to build a loyal, paying audience, it is critical for users to think of that outlet as the first place they should turn.

And John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Vice President of Journalism and Media Innovation Michael Maness added:

News organizations can use this study to better understand how people find their content and what attracts and sustains audiences. The findings show that cultivating relationships is central to developing a loyal following. This highlights the need for organizations to constantly experiment with new engagement opportunities, get to know their audience, and create content that resonates.

Readers: Do you think Facebook can improve its performance when it comes to engagement with news sites?

[Source: Pew Research Center's Journalism Project]

[Complete Study: Social Search and Direct Path ways to Digital News]

6 new facts about Facebook

Facebook turns 10 tomorrow and reaches that milestone as the dominant social networking platform, used by 57% of all adults and 73% of all those ages 12-17.  Adult Facebook use is intensifying: 64% of Facebook users visit the site on a daily basis, up from 51% of users who were daily users in 2010. Among teens, the total number of users remains high, according to Pew Research Center surveys, and they are not abandoning the site. But focus group interviews suggest that teens’ relationship with Facebook is complicated and may be evolving.

New Pew Research Center survey findings show how people are using Facebook and what they like and dislike about the site.

Some users dislike certain aspects of Facebook, but fear of missing out on social activities (or “FOMO”) isn’t one of them.

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Their dislikes start with oversharing by friends and people posting one’s personal information (such as photos) without first asking permission are among the most common. Parents are especially protective of images of their children, as 57% of Facebook users with children under the age of 18 say that people posting pictures of their children without asking permission first is something they strongly dislike about using Facebook.

On the other hand, the “fear of missing out” phenomenon resonates with only a small proportion of the Facebook population. Just 5% of Facebook users strongly dislike the fact that Facebook allows them to see others taking part in social activities that they themselves were not included in—and 84% of users say that this aspect of Facebook life doesn’t bother them at all.

Women and men often have varying reasons for why they use Facebook – but everything starts with sharing and laughs.

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Users say they especially appreciate photos and videos from friends (47% say that’s a major reason they use the site), the ability to share with many people at once (46% cite that as a major reason), updates from others (39% cite that), and humorous content (39%). Other aspects of Facebook—such as keeping up with news, or receiving support from the people in one’s network—appeal to a more modest audience of users. Men and women sometimes vary in their reasons for using the site.

Half of all adult Facebook users have more than 200 friends in their network.
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Facebook users differ greatly when it comes to the number of friends in their networks:

  • 39% of adult Facebook users have between 1 and 100 Facebook friends
  • 23% have 101-250 friends
  • 20% have 251-500 friends
  • 15% have more than 500 friends

Among adult Facebook users, the average (mean) number of friends is 338, and the median (midpoint) number of friends is 200. In other words, half of all Facebook users have more than 200 friends, and half have less than 200.

Younger users tend to have significantly larger friend networks than older users: 27% of 18-29 year old Facebook users have more than 500 friends in their network, while 72% of users age 65+ have 100 friends or fewer.

12% of Facebook users say that someone has asked them to “unfriend” a person in their network.

Younger users are more likely to have experienced this than older users: 19% of 18-29 year old Facebook users have had someone ask them to remove a friend from their network (compared with 10% of 30-49 year olds, 7% of 50-64 year olds, and 5% of those 65 and older).

These “friend removal” requests tend to come primarily from other friends (35%), or from current (23%) or former (12%) spouses or romantic partners. Some 38% of those who received this type of request say that they were asked to remove a friend from their Facebook network, while 22% were asked to unfriend a former romantic partner.

Facebook users “like” their friends’ content and comment on photos relatively frequently, but most don’t change their own status that often.

When asked about the frequency with which they engage in certain behaviors on the site, Facebook users tend to point towards “liking” content that others have posted and commenting on photos as the activities they engage in most often. On the other hand, most users change or update their own status only occasionally:

  • 44% of Facebook users “like” content posted by their friends at least once a day, with 29% doing so several times per day.
  • 31% comment on other people’s photos on a daily basis, with 15% doing so several times per day.
  • 19% send private Facebook messages to their friends on a daily basis, with 10% sending these messages multiple times per day.
  • 10% change or update their own status on Facebook on a daily basis, with 4% updating their status several times per day. Some 25% of Facebook users say that they never change or update their own Facebook status.

Half of internet users who do not use Facebook themselves live with someone who does.

Many non-Facebook users still have some familiarity with the site through family members. Among internet users who do not use Facebook themselves, 52% say that someone else in their household has a Facebook account. In many instances, these may be parents who do not use Facebook but live with a child who does. Fully 66% of parents with a child living at home who do not use Facebook themselves say that someone in their household has a Facebook account.

In addition, some 24% of Facebook non-adopters who live with an account holder say that they look at photos or posts on that person’s account.

[Source: Pew Research Center]

Twitter NOT a Reliable Indicator of Public Opinion

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Seemingly dozens of startups exist which try to make sense of Twitter sentiment, and Twitter itself has been trying hard to portray its sentiment data as an accurate reflection of public opinion. However, Pew Research Center — among the gold standards of public research polling — says it might be all for naught.Pew compared traditional public poll results with Twitter sentiment data around eight of the most significant political events over the last year, often finding significantly divergent results.According to Pew, in some instances — Barack Obama’s reelection, the first presidential debate and a federal court ruling on California’s same-sex marriage ban — the reaction on Twitter was “more pro-Democratic or liberal than the balance of public opinion.” However, other events — Obama’s second inaugural speech, John Kerry’s nomination as Secretary of State and Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address — elicited a more conservative response on Twitter than they did in opinion polls.

Pew also pointed to the general negativity of political tweets, which perhaps suggests people are more likely to tweet about something about which they disapprove rather than vice-versa. That would affect Twitter sentiment data vis-a-vis public polling data, as Twitter data is comprised of opinions from people who weren’t directly prompted to share an opinion whereas public opinion polls rely on respondents’ answers to a series of questions.

Why else is there a difference between Twitter sentiment and public opinion polling? Three reasons, according to Pew: Demographics, sampling and grouping.

  • On demographics, only 13% of adults use Twitter, and only 3% said they regularly or sometimes tweet about the news, according to previous Pew studies — hardly enough to form a representative sample of voters. Additionally, Pew found that Twitter tends to skew young and left. “Twitter users are considerably younger than the general public and more likely to be Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party,” reads the study.
  • There’s also a sampling issue: Twitter conversations can include non-voters (such as those under 18 or international citizens), while public opinion poll samples about domestic politics are limited to citizens aged 18 and older.
  • Finally, there’s a problem of grouping: Not everybody who tweets about politics tweets aboutevery political event.

“Those who tweeted about the California same-sex marriage ruling were likely not the same group as those who tweeted about Obama’s inaugural or Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan,” reads the Pew study, which pointed to the substantial difference in the number of people who tweeted about Obama’s relected compared to Kerry’s nomination as evidence.

“In the two days following Obama’s re-election on Nov. 6, there were nearly 14 million Tweets from people expressing their reaction,” said Pew. “And more than five million expressed their reactions to the first presidential debate. But other events, particularly the federal court ruling on same sex marriage in California last February and Obama’s nomination of John Kerry in December, drew a much lower volume of tweets.”

There is, of course, a potential conflict of interest here: Pew might not want Twitter infringing on its opinion-polling turf.

Mashable has contacted Twitter for its response to the Pew study, and we will update this post with any comment.

Do you think Twitter can be a reliable source of public opinion?

[Source: Mashable]