Despite reports that social readers are “all collapsing,” an analysis of monthly and daily active users of Facebook-integrated social news applications shows no clear trends in growth or decline across the board.
We looked at 12 media sites and apps that integrate Open Graph to allow users to automatically share their reading and viewing activity with friends, and have concluded there is no single trend affecting these apps the same way. The Huffington Post‘s web and mobile integration, for example, continues to steadily gain new monthly active users. The Washington Post Social Reader, a canvas application with a mobile component, has seen a decline over the past month. Yahoo‘s web and mobile integration has seen a dip in MAU recently, but it has more than doubled its usage since March to become the app with the more MAU than any other built on the Facebook platform.
The slight downward trends within the past week indicate Facebook might have changed something as far as how it displays social reader activity to some users. For example, we’ve seen the site testing a new Trending Articles feature and icons to indicate whether user activity will be shared.
However, a closer look at some of the less popular news integrations show that the decrease in MAU is not consistent across all apps. In fact, MTV.com, Mashable and ESPN have all seen increases in that same period.
It is also worth noting that the dramatic changes in some apps’ numbers around April 10 are related to the fact that Facebook did not return MAU data for a period of five days leading up to that date. As such, the growth or decline appears more suddenly than if the graphs included growth for those five days prior. It’s possible Facebook made some changes during this time that might have affected apps afterward, but there is no universal trend that we can identify.
There are also a number of factors on the publisher side that can have an impact on growth or decline in MAU, for example, ad campaigns or changes in how clearly an app prompts users to log in with Facebook. The Washington Post spent $800,000 in Facebook advertising last quarter, according to Facebook’s filing for an initial public offering. It’s possible that the app’s lower MAU is related to a change in ad strategy or spend this quarter. The Independent‘s decline could be related to a bug. We were unable to log into the site using Facebook, and a number of commenters appear to have had the same issue.
Many users have complained about social reader applications, mostly those that require users to authorize the app and share their activity in order to read any article. We recommend developers add clear controls for users to decide what to share, when and with whom. There also seems to be a lack of explanation of what users gain from enabling this type of sharing. Facebook and news outlets that create these integrations should consider how to reframe the benefits of these applications so that users want to add them to their Timelines, rather than feeling forced into it.