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.
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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Paulo Brandeo