News organizations should be thinking about Twitter popularity

An interesting study on Twitter use by four researchers at Yahoo Inc. and Cornell University offers some useful insights for news organizations.

The researchers made four important findings:

  • roughly 0.05% of the population accounts for almost half of all attention
  • almost half the information that originates from the news media is spread by opinion leaders, not the media organizations themselves
  • the URLs with the longest life come more often from bloggers and less often from media organizations.
  • videos and music have the longest life, “continually being rediscovered by Twitter users”

Top 20 URLs that lived for more than 200 daysOne of the charts in the study being discussed today revolves around the third point. It shows social media blog Mashable ranking seventh among the top 20 domains for URLs that lived more than 200 days. It’s interesting because no traditional media organization is in that list; in fact, few original content sites are.

Business Insider’s Nicholas Carlson argues that Mashable’s popularity is due to its focus on “service-y” content with evergreen characteristics. The Nieman Lab’s Megan Garber argues further that Mashable’s success is built on listicles — Top Five-type lists — anchoring articles that are context-focused and offer “frameworks for understanding a topic or event.”

What does this mean for news organizations? Obviously many news stories aren’t easily structured in a list. In fact, the very nature of a list suggests an overt editorial ranking, which is at odds with the traditional journalistic approach, which values impartiality. But the research also lends support for the “news you can use” approach. Derided by some as tabloid-y, it speaks to a strong desire among social media users (and news consumers generally) for context and understanding.

A long life in Twitter may not necessarily be a goal for news organizations. (Is a story on an important constitutional challenge going to live long on Twitter? Probably not.) But Twitter popularity is something all media organizations should be concerned about. Raju Narisetti, the Washington Post’s managing editor for online said Friday “To survive as a media company, we have to grow our [online] audience.”

One Canadian news organization that has clearly been thinking about these issues is the Toronto Star, with its Moneyville personal finance site. Take a look at Mashable and then Moneyville and you’ll see a lot of similarities. Lots of lists, Top Five selections, and stories focused on helping readers solve their day-to-day problems — especially in areas such as credit, home buying, renovations and autos. Is it news? Not really. But it need not be far from it. In fact, the one thing the Star could be doing better is making a more direct (and frequent) link between news content and the Moneyville news-you-can-use. For example, a story published yesterday “5 things you should never do with your credit card” could be more tightly linked to a news story about increasing rates of credit fraud.

It’s certainly an issue more news organizations should be thinking about.




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