When it comes to generating traffic for your content, your number of social-media followers isn’t as important as how well you engage them.
Success lies not just in getting your social-media audience to click on the links you post, but in getting them to share the link with their friends and start a chain reaction of engagement.
I had essentially the same number of Twitter followers (15,000+) and Facebook fans and friends (almost 2,000) when I posted my Dec. 19 post about granting confidentiality to sources as when I posted last Saturday about whether to avoid tweets that might tip competitors about breaking news or events you’re covering.
Only 127 people have read the post on confidential sources, which I regard as at least as important for journalists to read. But more than 6,000 people have read the post on tweets and competition. In one week, that post got more views than anything I’ve posted in the past year.
It’s reasonable to think that as many of my social media followers saw my initial tweets and Facebook updates on the two posts. In fact, most of my followers are journalists, who might have been less likely to see the Saturday tweet and update because they weren’t working that day.
The difference: My tweeps started a chain reaction of discussion and links about the post on competition and Twitter. They reached thousands of people who don’t follow me and brought those people to my blog.
At least four factors are at play in the difference between the two stories:
- Journalists have been discussing confidential sources for decades. Most of us know what we think on this topic, so people felt less need to read or share this.
- Twitter is newer, and lots of journalists (even though this fact confused, amused and frustrated some of my tweeps) worry a lot about tipping the competition with their tweets or wanted to share the competition post with colleagues who worry.
- I think “anonymous sources” is an inaccurate term most of the time and stubbornly refuse to use it. But it’s the term journalists use and if I had used that term in my tweet and the headline, it probably would have generated more traffic from social media as well as search.
- For some combination of those three reasons and perhaps others I don’t know about, the competition post got tremendous sharing on social media, especially Twitter.
This is how I announced the confidentiality post on Twitter:
One of four posts today dealing w/ confidential sources, this one on factors to consider in granting confidentiality: http://t.co/NFpjPchaMz
— Steve Buttry (@stevebuttry) December 19, 2013
Yawn, four retweets, two favorites. Who really wants to read four posts at once? (I should have made them a series, not a package.) And I never used the controversial, familiar term that might have engaged more readers: anonymous sources.
Here’s what I posted about competition and tweeting:
— Steve Buttry (@stevebuttry) January 4, 2014
I got right to the heart of the blog post: Twitter and competition. I said I answered, but teased a little by not sharing my answer. Better results right away: 15 retweets and 23 favorites (and some of those who favorited it probably posted their own tweets, commenting on the link and sharing it but not retweeting me).
Those people who retweeted me? They have more than 104,000 followers. Even granting for duplication (these are all or mostly journalists, so you have to presume some following of each other), this tweet had already reached a much larger potential audience in retweets than my own audience. Two of the retweets came from accounts with more followers than me: @journalismfest (19K+) and @AntDeRosa (68K+).
Those retweets didn’t include Jay Rosen. Instead of retweeting, minutes after I posted the blog, Jay posted an original tweet, calling my post to the attention of potentially more than 130,000 people who follow him:
— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) January 4, 2014
That was retweeted 32 times. A few hours later, Jay tweeted another link (thanks for the kind words, Jay!):
— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) January 4, 2014
That was retweeted 37 times. My potential reach from those two tweets added another 160,000-plus followers of the people who retweeted.
Let’s do some quick math here: My original tweet had a potential audience of 15K people. But the retweets of my tweet, plus Jay’s audience, plus the audience of Jay’s retweeters pushes my potential audience to 390K (minus whatever the duplication is).
Sree Sreenivasan is absolutely right that most people who follow you miss most of your tweets (or Facebook posts or whatever):
— Sree Sreenivasan (@sree) June 8, 2013
I don’t know what percentage “almost no one” works out to, but for the sake of round numbers, let’s say that just 10 percent of your followers see any one tweet. That would mean only 1,500 people see my average tweet. Again using round numbers, let’s say only about 10 percent of the people who see a tweet click the link. That gives me 150 views (about what that confidentiality post got).
But if my base soars to 390,000, the numbers change dramatically. Even if you say half of that number that is duplicated and round the potential audience off at 200,000, that means something like 20,000 of those people saw the tweet and 2,000 of them clicked the link. Well, I got more than 2,000 views, so those round numbers aren’t quite right, but that 390K figure isn’t nearly all of the potential views.
I’ve detailed just Saturday’s tweets that mentioned me at the end of this post, and you can see that the potential audience just that one day was more than 700,000 (more than 340,000 followers of those tweeting that I haven’t mentioned yet), not subtracting duplication.
And those are only the tweets that mentioned my Twitter username. If someone just tweeted a link to the post, I didn’t count that. But the tweets whose audience I’ve counted aren’t even half of the tweets WordPress counted (pictured). And I haven’t even looked at the Facebook and LinkedIn shares).
And I retweeted some of those tweets, perhaps risking annoying anyone who actually reads most or all my tweets, but trusting that Sree is right and that most of the retweets caught some followers for the first time.
All those tweets from a traffic surge like my blog hasn’t seen in more than a year. The traffic stayed strong. Saturday was one of my busiest days ever on the blog, with more than 3,500 views. And I topping 2,000 views each on Sunday and Monday and 1,000 views each on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the competition post still leading the way, even though I published two new posts. It’s slowed down finally today, six days after I published, even though I got another tweet about the post today.
The chain reaction continued beyond social media: At least five blogs linked to my post. It was posted on WordPress’ Freshly Pressed blog, which drove another 300 or so views.
In addition, as I noted in an earlier post, the post and related tweets launched lots of Twitter conversations (two of them were Storified), and those conversations doubtless drove more people to click the links.
If you care about this topic, check out the detailing of tweets below. I’ve placed it at the end because it’s so long, made longer by the fact that Twitter’s option to exclude the media and the parent tweet doesn’t work, so you have to see the card for my post again and again (fix that, Twitter! It’s annoying.)
Before we get to that, though, I want to address the issue of anonymous sources. You’ll get the full argument on the post (read it please, somebody! It’s getting lonely), but most sources are not at all anonymous to reporters. Except for a few phone callers or tipsters in website comments or emails, reporters generally know their sources very well. And we never quote those truly anonymous sources; we check their tips out and if they’re valid, we end up quoting other sources, even if we don’t name them.
I have been thoroughly unsuccessful in my efforts to get journalists to refer to the sources we choose not to name as confidential sources. But my stubbornness on the topic kept me from using the phrase journalists use and find interesting to discuss — “anonymous sources” — in either my headline (to help search traffic) or in my tweet (to help social traffic).
Here’s the original headline:
I rewrote the headline this morning, to give me a better shot at reaching the people who search for “anonymous sources”:
You (meaning I) should never let stubbornness overrule sound engagement or search-engine optimization. I’m never going to win my argument over how to refer to sources if I don’t reach the people searching for “anonymous source” or those who would click on the link in a tweet with that term.
Back to the chain reaction: Here are some of the tweets sharing my post with different tiny slices of the Twitterverse:
— Melissa Juergensen (@MLJ_WebGirl) January 4, 2014
She has 449 followers.
— Greg (@g_r_e_g) January 4, 2014
He has 640 followers.
— Mindy McAdams (@macloo) January 4, 2014
She has 8,682 followers.
— Fuego (@NiemanLabFuego) January 4, 2014
That’s a bot with 2,529 followers.
— Patricia Zengerle (@ReutersZengerle) January 4, 2014
She has 2,890 followers.
— Neal Augenstein (@AugensteinWTOP) January 4, 2014
He has 5,241 followers.
— Tricia Flatley (@TFlatley660News) January 4, 2014
She has 352 followers.
— Steve Klamkin (@NewsProvidence) January 4, 2014
He has 2,580 followers.
— Brandon Bowers (@brandonbowers) January 4, 2014
He has 2,389 followers.
— Don O’Brien (@DOB23) January 4, 2014
He has 1,255 followers.
— Dean Zambrano (@DeanZambrano) January 4, 2014
He has 1,346 followers.
— Mediagazer (@mediagazer) January 4, 2014
Mediagazer has 38,413 followers.
— Elyse Skura (@eskura) January 4, 2014
She has 204 followers.
— Steffen Konrath (@StKonrath) January 4, 2014
He has 112,191 followers.
— Patrick LaForge (@palafo) January 4, 2014
He has 27,954 followers.
— Brian wheeler (@brianwheel) January 4, 2014
He has 603 followers.
— Raju Narisetti (@raju) January 4, 2014
He has 18,754 followers.
— mediacademie (@mediacademie) January 4, 2014
He has 386 followers.
— mark little (@marklittlenews) January 4, 2014
He has 52,648 followers and was retweeted 13 times by people with 16,000-plus followers.
— Desk of L. Riding (@leanneriding) January 4, 2014
She has 630 followers.
— Vivian Schiller (@VivianSchiller) January 4, 2014
She has 9,266 followers.
— Donna Behen (@MadonnaPatricia) January 4, 2014
She has 256 followers.
— Kirstine Stewart (@kirstinestewart) January 4, 2014
She has 21,686 followers.
— Nicole Kraft (@Nicole_Kraft) January 4, 2014
She has 1,066 followers.
— hlalande (@hlalande) January 4, 2014
He has 293 followers.
— Bruno Boutot (@boutotcom) January 4, 2014
He has 1,411 followers.
— ryan (@ryaninnz) January 4, 2014
He has 899 followers.
— Doug Fisher (@dougfisher) January 4, 2014
He has 779 followers.
— LaurenceReisman (@LaurenceReisman) January 4, 2014
He has 342 followers.
— GlenFaison (@GlenFaison) January 4, 2014
He has 406 followers.
— Sarah Marshall (@SarahMarshall) January 4, 2014
She has 4,821 followers.
— Brad Greenberg (@bradagreenberg) January 4, 2014
He has 1,965 followers.
— Scott Stanford (@Scott_Stanford) January 5, 2014
He has 758 followers.
— Scott Stanford (@Scott_Stanford) January 5, 2014
She has 478 followers.
— Craig Newman (@craignewman) January 5, 2014
He has 4,460 followers.
— FifeFreePressEd (@FifeFreePressEd) January 5, 2014
He has 1,999 followers.
— Christopher James (@BECJ2k) January 5, 2014
He has 486 followers.
— Jamie Kelly (@jamietie) January 5, 2014
He has 1,357 followers.
— Will Slaton (@wslaton) January 5, 2014
He has 650 followers.
— Lyle (@Citizensnews) January 5, 2014
He has 1,758 followers.
— Markell DeLoatch (@markellPO) January 5, 2014
He has 275 followers.
— Isabel Lara (@isalara) January 5, 2014
She has 3,736 followers.
— bob sacha (@bobsacha) January 5, 2014
He has 4,574 followers.
— Mariana Fioravanti (@marifiora) January 5, 2014
She has 333 followers.
About these numbers: I worked on this post on and off over a few days. The numbers of followers I cite for people were accurate when I collected them, but probably have moved a little as people followed or unfollowed.
A final point: I thought I had an important point to make about the chain reaction, but I hated the initial draft. Felt too much like boasting about all the traffic that my competition post attracted and all the retweets I got. As regular readers know, I’m not averse to boasting, but that was too much even for me. I hope the self-deprecating references to the post on confidential — er, anonymous — sources leavened that a bit.
Earlier #twutorial posts
This post is part of a series I call #twutorial. Earlier posts: