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It's Official: News Media Are Missing The Twitter Boat

Less than 0.2 percent of people who use Twitter wind up going to news and media sites from the social-networking site, according to a recent analysis by traffic-measurement firm Hitwise (although Hitwise just looked at traffic coming from the web site, not any third-party apps or services). So what are the top places that users go from Twitter? About 60 percent go to other social networks and entertainment sites, says Hitwise, primarily photo and video-sharing sites — in other words, places like Twitpic, Tweetphoto, YouTube, Vimeo, CollegeHumor and so on. This isn’t all that surprising, since many of the most popular links that get passed around are photos and videos that have “gone viral,” as marketing people love to say.

So why don’t more Twitter users go to news and media web sites? Maybe Twitter users just aren’t interested in the news — or at least not as interested as Facebook users, who accounted for 3.64 percent of the visits to news and media sites, or roughly 15 times the amount of traffic that Twitter accounted for. But I think it’s more likely that the reason Twitter doesn’t push more traffic to news and media sites is that not very many of them make good use of the social network to promote their content. Sure, plenty of them have RSS feeds that they push onto Twitter, and some even have millions of followers. But how much engagement comes from those links? In most cases, very little.

Most blogs and web-native media outlets, however, make it easier to share their content and are more active on Twitter in general, and they see a resulting benefit: at GigaOm, for example, the social networking site is regularly one of our top sources of traffic. Twitter says one of the main purposes of its new @anywhere platform, which was announced at SXSW, is to enable web sites to integrate Twitter and make it easier for users to follow them and share their content (some web sites are making better use of Facebook fan pages as a place to share their news, which could explain why those referral numbers are higher).

And why do people share content from Twitpic and Tweetphoto and YouTube and Vimeo? Partly because it’s easy to upload and easy to share, something that can’t be said of the content at most media sites. Lots of mainstream media outlets offer readers or users the ability to upload photos and video, but then they make it so cumbersome and layered in legal verbiage about copyright and liability that very few people do it. And virtually none make good use of Twitpic or YouTube or any other media-sharing site, because they are afraid (or their legal departments are afraid) of releasing their content into the wild where people might do unsavory things with it, like posting it to Twitter.

It’s hard to draw too many concrete conclusions from the Hitwise data, in part because it only tracked referrals from rather than any third-party apps and services. According to Twitter spokesman Sean Garrett, more than half of the traffic Twitter sees comes from outside the web site, which is roughly equivalent to what data-mining service Sysomos found when it looked at more than 500 million tweets over a six-month period last year. Regardless of the numbers, however, I would argue that the low numbers of Twitter referrals has a lot more to do with the media’s failure to make efficient use of the social network to promote their content than it does any inherent lack of interest in the news on the part of Twitter users. Am I wrong? Let me know in the comments.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Are Sponsored Apps the Key For Traditional Media in Mobile?

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Paulo Brandeo

23 Responses to “It's Official: News Media Are Missing The Twitter Boat”

  1. I think the problem is bigger than they’re just missing the Twitter boat (anyone can catch the boat at a later stage). But the problem is their current business model, it has to be changed altogether. If I’m not mistaken, the TIME will be charging for accessing its news section very soon. I wonder how many people will actually pay for that, when there are so many free alternatives to get “facts”, and literally hundreds of thousands of places to get “opinions”.

  2. Frankly, this site might bring up the potential that news sites need to do a better job getting stuff through on twitter, but the article glosses of probably the most important piece of information — how twitter users access twitter.

    Straight up the article says that APIs were not counted for this data. Therefore everything it infers from the “data” or lack there of is barely worth the pixels displaying the text.

    I don’t know anyone who has used twitter more than a day who does the majority of their twittering via the website. Everyone uses some form of third party API to get the information. So this really doesn’t speak to how twitter users access anything at all.

    Please next time cover all aspects of your data before you try to force some inference just so you have an article to write. If you really want to give credibility to your data try referencing how many users use APIs vs the website. At least then there is something to grab onto and think that these numbers might actually be worth something.

    • Nate, maybe you didn’t read to the end of the post, but I specifically mentioned that the data from Hitwise didn’t include API access and therefore only limited conclusions could be drawn from it, and I also gave an estimate from Twitter about how much access comes from third-party apps and services.

  3. I think it’s safe to say that Twitter users are not particularly interested in the news. Studies have shown (in the U.K.) that the majority of Twitter users are on the site for less than 5 minutes per month.

  4. Your take: “Regardless of the numbers, however, I would argue that the low numbers of Twitter referrals has a lot more to do with the media’s failure to make efficient use of the social network to promote their content than it does any inherent lack of interest in the news on the part of Twitter users.”

    My take: Regardless of the numbers, however, I would argue that the low numbers of Twitter referrals has a lot more to do with the fact that most Twitter users young and are therefor more interested in entertainment than in current affairs. It’s a generational thing and once they grow up they will move into other interests, with a greater focus on news and current affairs. Give it 10 years and you’ll see the stats changing.


    Shim Marom

  5. An interesting story that corresponds with my own internal Twitter analysis. I would estimate that 90% of @N_E_I ‘s Tweets point to major media outlets. [Depending upon the content] we’ll see an average of 20-25 clicks for each link.

    The most-clicked on link to date? A YouTube clip of workers at the Hershey’s factory making a full-scale replica of the Stanley Cup from chocolate: 225 clicks…and counting.

  6. Good post. I do agree with @Leo that perhaps the stats are alittle “confuddled”. We’ve seen Twitter jump to the number 3 referrer to — but we’re just small potatoes in the ‘News Media’ arena. Regardless, we feel like tweeps are interested in news. It’s all relative to traffic expectations, perhaps.

  7. Matthew, You hit the nail on the head at the end of the post. The low number of referrals to main media has to do with their failure to have the right social engagement platforms (a la Disqus) with bi-directional links to the Twittersphere, in addition to most of their writers not participating in these conversations with their readers.
    This has forced readers to go and discuss these in social networks, Facebook, Twitter et. al. The irony is that we’re discussing old media’s content in social media-friendly places.
    Missing the boat is under-statement; I think it was a huge vessel or a even cruise ship.

  8. I find this interesting as it seems to me that at one point, nearly every talking head in the news media was talking about their twitter account. It was to the point that I would click the mute button so not to hear it. So, I think, at least the TV side of things, they are trying, even if they may not be seeing results.

    I think on the print side of things, the problem is that they have laid everyone off, so there is no one left to send the tweets. I think that most people view automated tweets that function as an RSS feed as noise. I think you will see a much better CTR if the twitter feed is a conversation of sorts with a real person in the newsroom.

  9. tolleson

    And it is not for a lack of trying. It’s almost comical to see news outlets promoting the crap out of Twitter. For what? This is bad news for “faddish” Twitter. If the news media bails on them I believe it will be game over as a high flier.

  10. Hi Mathew, I sent you a note on Twitter but wanted to expand a little.

    I tend not to link to mainstream news news sites from Twitter. Frankly, they don’t need the traffic.

    But there’s also a content issue. Many Twitter users operate in niche communities writing about topic not covered by mainstream media. So you’re more likely to see links to lesser-known blogs.

  11. I think the stats are a but confuddled here. The article seems to merge two different issues, outgoing clicks from Twitter with how many incoming views came from Twitter users.

    In the graph you have around 4% of onward site visits from Twitter going to news and media.

    Whereas the 0.2% is Twitter’s share of visits TO news and media. Facebook has loads more share of these visits but it has loads more users – isn’t the total Facebook population omewhere between Indonesia’s and the U.S.’s?

  12. overall agree. twitter has, in large measure, replaced my rss feeds as a news-reader, but as you noted, most of these point to blog posts (i.e. “new” media, whom i much prefer anyway).

    in this regard, despite the enormous numbers, twitter is still in a bit of an early-adapter phase, so it’s not surprising that mass media is not getting mass traffic.

  13. Not as many ‘experts’ seem to be on Twitter, to help me access the news and articles of my interest. I am not selective about Following, but there just isn’t that large a community that provides good Tweets on, say, Economics.

    Also agree with Mark Russel. News sites need to come up with a good strategy to highlight their content. FT does it decently it appears, but with very few updates. Ideally, a choice of area of interest would be great in case of heavy Tweeters.

  14. Matt,
    I believe news & media companies need to look at microblogging as a whole and come up with a careful strategy for highlighting their content. Particular the more distributed networks (, open microblogger,,buzz?) which are capable of intercommunicating messages fluidly in real time between services.

  15. Ryan Osborn

    Hey Matthew…

    Interesting post.

    I think news sites have made a lot of progress becoming more social but still have a way to go.

    I believe the bigger issue is that when news or even just headline is provided within a tweet most users do not feel the need to click-through.

    It still creates a valued impression but it is a metrics problem.