We’ve heard that social media is a great source of traffic for news outlets so often that it’s close to textbook. Yes, Facebook, Twitter and the rest are important, according the 2012 State of the News Media report by Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism — but not yet as important as the buzz might lead you to think.
That’s not to dismiss the value, rather to put it in perspective in a way that may be hard to see when you spend a lot of time immersed in various forms of social media. Nine percent of the respondents in the latest PEJ annual survey “very often” follow news recommendations from Facebook or Twitter via computer, mobile or tablet — a growing number, up 57 percent from 2009.
But most digital news readers are still “very likely” using search (29 percent), web or app news aggregators (27 percent) or direct visit (38 percent). When you get granular, Facebook users are more likely to follow recommendations than those on Twitter; 27 percent follow Facebook if you combine “very likely” and “somewhat likely” for tablet and smartphone users, compared with 9 percent for Twitter.
The likelihood that you’ll use Twitter and Facebook as conduits to news — that is, actually follow links and recs — increases if you use both a smartphone and a tablet. That makes a certain kind of sense: more digitally inclined plus more mobile = more comfortable with social media. Instead of using apps or sites to aggregate, they use certain social networks as aggregators. (According to PEJ, about a quarter of those device users are using curation/aggregation sites or apps like Topix or Flipboard to follow news.)
Those who rely primarily on laptops or desktops rarely follow Twitter for news — in fact, 85 percent say they never do; that number drops to 53 percent for Facebook. At the same time, those who use Twitter to follow news are the most likely to own a smartphone and also to own a tablet.
They’re also more likely to follow links from news outlets than Facebook users and to follow news recs from non-news sources. Again, that makes sense to me despite the emphasis some news orgs are placing on Facebook. Twitter is a constant flow of news and information; when news is breaking, people are likely to follow the flow. Facebook is still more about the personal.
Another thing that makes sense: Twitter users are more likely not to know where a news recommendation comes from. My guess is a fair amount of that relies on the way they’re accessing Twitter.
Who are they? I was intrigued by some of the demographics, particularly the differences between Facebook and Twitter users. Twitter users surveyed for Pew tended to be “less white” than Facebook users or the general population, also more male and more educated. Facebook users are more likely to have children in the house. Both tend to be younger: more than one-third are 18 to 29.
Here’s the full section from the study on how some people use Twitter and Facebook for news — and who doesn’t.
A little on the methodology: Pew’s traditional survey partner Princeton Survey Research Associates interviewed 3,016 adults in the continental U.S. during the second half of January. The phone interviews were mixed between landline (1,809) and cellphone (1,207). Of the latter, 605 only have cell phones, not landlines. That mix suggests a fairly good chance at getting a relevant blend of users. The margin of error is 2.2 percent. Those margins change as the larger group gets broken into subsets when researchers pursue certain topics. That said, it’s still a survey — it offers insights into behavior based on a sample.