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Changing Nature of Virality: Facebook and Twitter

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After Perez Hilton recorded a single-day high of 13.9 million page views on the day after the Oscars, web research firm Hitwise found that the celeb gossip site’s top traffic source is Facebook. That’s crazy — for nearly as long as web analytics have been widely available, the top referrer for just about anything has been Google.

But since the last week of December, Hitwise analyst Heather Hopkins said, Facebook has given Perez more visits than Google; with 8.70 percent compared to 7.62 percent in a week in the middle of February.

So what part of poking your crush and sharing your vacation photos includes referring enormous amounts of traffic? Content sharing is an increasingly important activity on Facebook, and it will only grow with the company’s coming integration of real-time streams of friends’ activity. Already, Facebook says its users share 28 million pieces of content (including links, blog posts and photos) per month, with more than 18 million users updating their status messages at least once each day.

This shift isn’t necessarily widespread yet; Hitwise’s Hopkins also reported a huge 12.21 percent of traffic to came from Google compared to only 3.82% from Facebook in the same week she measured Perez Hilton. And looking at the most extensive analytics we have access to for any one site, the Facebook is hardly a referrer force for NewTeeVee. But we’re a little industry publication, so it seems natural that we don’t see the kind of personal sharing of story links on Facebook that Perez does. However, we do get significant traffic from Twitter, where many in our industry seem to congregate.

twitter-referrersOnline videomakers are probably a better fit for these personal broadcasting tools than we are. This is the souped-up version of the age-old tradition of IMing or emailing a friend a link to a funny video. Now, users themselves have huge audiences that they intercept in real time. And even if you don’t hit a jackpot hub, like getting shared by Kevin Rose or Jimmy Fallon, your link may just get “retweeted” across friend groups aplenty.

Ustream CEO John Ham told us this week he believes “viral potential” has dramatically increased due to Facebook, Twitter, and web-enabled phones in everyone’s pockets. He said he’s seen live video feeds go from zero to a million viewers faster than ever before.

To see this theory a little further along, we asked Hitwise to look at how much traffic Twitter and Facebook are sending video sites. Hitwise found that video sites got 3.32 percent of their traffic from Facebook in Feb. 2009, up 112 percent from Feb. 2008. Meanwhile, Twitter referrals accounted for .084 percent of video site traffic in Feb. 2009, up 41,900 percent from Feb. 2008.

The simple fact of the matter may be that Facebook and Twitter have both grown so much this year that they naturally deliver more traffic to other sites than ever before. But it’s still traffic! And while a user who searches clearly wants to be led somewhere useful, a user who clicks on a link recommended by a friend may just be more valuable.

58 Responses to “Changing Nature of Virality: Facebook and Twitter”

  1. This advancement of Facebook Iam sure will continue to move valuable traffic to awaiting commercial companies.
    For the common end user change is not always excepted easlly. For the up coming generation Iam sure will have access to a lot of info from their I phone etc.
    With the Internet evolution and advancing technology text messaging will no longer be needed as people will be able to talk face to face live.

  2. Too many brands and web content owners are still expecting search to solve their video discovery challenges. Sure, effectively optimizing your content for search can help. But as we’re seeing now with Facebook, there is a greater chance that your video content will go viral when it’s driven by your audience though social networks. “Fans” are still the best source for promoting your videos, and other content, online. This requires moving your Web viewers from passive status to engaged fans. I share additional insights about using social media to promote your videos at

  3. Facebook and Twitter — with their different user bases — both drive traffic that is significantly better qualified and more invested than Google does.

    When it comes to generalized information gathering, the experiences are not parallel. To use Google, you have to know what you don’t know. To use Twitter, you need to cozy up to people who WILL tell you what you don’t know and will thus fill in your blind spots.

  4. There was a “60 Minutes” special on Facebook about 1.5 years ago that predicted it would eventually grow larger than Google and bring more people. Looks like this is what we are beginning to see.


  5. Joshua Furman

    Perhaps more accurately, since web analytics have been around, search has been the most common referrer not just Google. How quickly we forget that in the late nineties, close to 80% of all web browsing sessions began a Yahoo!.

    The names Google and Facebook aren’t important here. What is important is that Web 2.0 proliferation has resulted in the new dynamic of social references replacing search for the starting point of most web browsing sessions. Now if only Web 2.0 could leverage that click stream and make some money…

  6. We’re navigating uncharted waters here. It’s exciting (and scary) to see social connections truly drive viewership.

    The ramifications of this are huge, and it should place marketing tactics at the forefront of any online media producer’s mind.

    If blockbuster movie producers put as much money into marketing them as making them, then online producers should be doing the same (even if the time is what’s spent).