Who is the ‘share-est’ of them all?

This project is called Share Wars because we believe social media sharing is the main battlefront in the war for audiences of digital content. Whoever wins the “sharing battle” will win the war for eyeballs.

For now, most Australian news organisations get more traffic from Google than Facebook but the gap is closing.

Facebook traffic has benefits over audiences arriving from Google. Sharing is an endorsement. A Facebook share indicates a type of “quality” – a fitness-for-purpose, a usefulness and a keenness on the part of the audience to be associated with the content. Sharing actively markets your content to new sympathetic audiences. It is also a key input into the Google and Bing algorithms.

Our three-month data capture of 119 Australian and international news sites was designed to help with the analysis of those elements that make news stories shareable. Along the way, it has also provided an insight into which news sites are doing the best job of distributing their content through social media.

As you can see from the graph below, ninemsn news leads the Australian sites for total shares across our data capture period, just ahead of news.com.au, with The Sydney Morning Herald further back in third.

Total_FB_shares

These sharing instances include all likes, comments and shares for all stories that received more than 100 shares published to the homepages of the sites listed above. Our methodology is explained in more detail at the bottom of this article.*

So ninemsn news, the site with the biggest audience in Australia, wins.

But how does the result look when normalised for total monthly audience? We used the official currency, Nielsen Answers, to index the sharing results based on monthly audiences for June 2012. As you can see from the chart below, news.com.au comes out on top, ninemsn news is second, ABC is third, Adelaide Now comes in next as the top metro newspaper masthead, with the Daily Telegraph winning the battle of the Sydney newspaper sites over the SMH.

Facebook_shares_per_audience

Breaking down sharing instances into likes, shares and comments also reveals some interesting data points.

Facebook sharing by type

If likes are the lowest form of social interaction with content (clicking a thumbs-up button), and comments and shares represent higher social engagement, some sites are doing a better job then others of getting their audiences interested.  News.com.au has a noticeable bias towards comments. Ninemsn, the SMH, The Age, Daily Telegraph, Courier Mail and Brisbane Times also have more comments than likes and shares.  In the likes corner, the ABC, Herald Sun, Yahoo7 News, the Australian and the West Australian index higher for thumbs-ups than shares and comments.

Why would that be?

First, there might be mechanical or product differences in the sharing tools on article pages that encourage different sites’ audiences to interact in a particular way. For example, ninemsn and the Fairfax mastheads allow users to comment on stories using their Facebook logins. This drives Facebook comments.

Some sites have large Facebook fanbases and use their Facebook pages effectively (ninemsn/Nine News, news.com.au and the News Limited tabloids). Some do not (The Australian’s Facebook page has less than 4000 fans and had not been updated for seven days at time of writing).

Some sites might create a greater proportion of content that provokes their audiences to comment.

Differences in the sites’ audiences should not be discounted. Although it’s hard to see what the common thread might be, something about the readers of Yahoo7 News, the Herald Sun, The Australian and the West Australian might compel them to like, rather than comment on, stories.

Overall, our data reveals some distinct winners and losers in the sharing battle and a bunch in between. The fairest summary is the middle chart above: “Facebook shares per audience member” that shows the following pecking order:

  1. News.com.au
  2. Ninemsn news
  3. ABC News
  4. Adelaide Now
  5. Daily Telegraph
  6. Sydney Morning Herald
  7. Courier Mail
  8. Herald Sun
  9. The Age
  10. The Australian
  11. The West Australian
  12. Brisbane Times
  13. Yahoo7 News

The good news for the laggards is there are tangible social weapons that can be deployed to pull them up the rankings. Share Wars is focusing on one of these: understanding the narrative drivers of content sharing. And we’ll be using insights from our big data capture to reveal more about this in the next few weeks. Stay tuned.

* This article is based on data captured from March 20-June 23, 2012 by the Likeable Engine, propietary software that tracks  119 global news sources, including 13 Australian sites. Likeable reconciles articles from these sites with Facebook and Twitter APIs to track sharing behaviour in real-time. The database contains more than 3 million articles.   

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Andrew Hunter

About Andrew Hunter

Andrew Hunter is Editor-in-Chief of Microsoft's MSN. Twitter: @Huntzie

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