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For many news sites, Facebook has become one of the biggest sources of referral traffic to its stories, and today the social network revealed some numbers that underscored how it is continuing to build up its cred as a news aggregator: it says it now has “thousands” of journalists using its new Subscribe feature, an enhanced, Twitter-like broadcasting service that lets those journalists engage with readers, highlight news and publicize their work, without the need for the reader and journalist to mutually follow each other.
But before you think that Subscribe has been taken over by those working in the world of blogs and digital-first news sites, think again. According to a blog post today, Facebook said that among those early adopters, the highest concentration of journalists using Subscribe were from two of the most old-school publications: Washington Post (NYSE: WPO) has more than 90 journalists using it; and The New York Times (NYSE: NYT) has over 50.
Anecdotally, people have said they are finding a lot more people are following them on Facebook than they are on Twitter. That’s not so strange: although Twitter has become the default place that many journalists hang out online today, Facebook is fundamentally a much bigger site: 300 million versus 800 million subscribers, respectively. The only surprise, given how much traffic Facebook generates for some sites, is that more journalists aren’t using it as a way to reach readers, or would-be readers. That might be because some see Facebook as a down-time activity, compared to Twitter as a work-time network. (I know I do.)
So Facebook may have a roster of thousands of engaged journalists to canvas, but it took a selection of only 25 to draw some early conclusions on how journalists are using Subscribe. Does that sound like a small number? “When it comes to qualitative, it’s enough to draw conclusions and see patterns,” Vadim Lavrusik, Journalist Program Manager & Betsy Cameron, Data Analyst, wrote in response to one person’s questioning of the sample size.
Some early take-aways from that group of 25. There will likely be some that have seen significantly different results.
— The average journalist has seen a 320 percent increase in his/her traffic since November 2011.
— People are finding journalists via friends in their news feeds (for example, through shared articles); Facebook search and Facebook’s own recommended subscriber list.
— Links are good: 62 percent of posts contain a link, and when posts have some analysis with the link, that triggers 20 percent more referral traffic.
— Questions are better: 25 percent of posts ask a question, and Facebook said that an earlier study that found posts that asked for input received 64 percent more responses from users — although those might not be click-throughs and just simple likes.
— Self-promotion actually works: 30 percent of posts contain calls to action such as “read this.” Those receive 37 percent more engagement than those without the self-promotion. Asking reads to comment also got good responses: between two and three times more engagement from subscribers.
— So do photos: surprisingly only 12 percent of posts were based around photos — but those that used them got 50 percent more “likes.” Again, no detail on how that actually translated into people reading those posts, if those posts also included links to stories.
— Videos are equally less common — only 13 percent of posts feature them.