No One Actually Reads Viral Content

Most viral content is being shared by people who only read about one-third of the article. Now sites like Upworthy and Buzzfeed are looking for new metrics to measure their audiences.


When posts from the likes of Upworthy and BuzzFeed enter timelines and streams, they’re likely to be shared extensively. By their nature, these sites see content live and die by social share counts. However new information from Chatbeat indicates that these social share numbers don’t necessarily mean any of the viral content is being read.

Tony Haite, CEO of Chatbeat tweeted “We’ve found effectively no correlation between social shares and people actually reading.” This may come as a shock to social media managers or any service trying to emulate the success of Upworthy. As damning as it sounds, the truth is a little less straight forward than Haite’s comment.

The lead data scientist for Chatbeat, Josh Schwartz, clarified the statement while talking to The Verge. “There is obviously a correlation between number of tweets and total volume of traffic,” he said. “But just not a relationship between stories that are most heavily consumed and stories that are most heavily tweeted.”

Upworthy’s own data partially supports this theory. Readers who consume around a quarter of a piece of content are more likely to share than those who read less, or more of the story. The exception to this is the group that consumes the entire piece of content. Those who consumed the entire piece of content shared nearly 10 percent of the time, whereas the one quarter consumers shared a little less than eight percent of the time.

Because more people are sharing content that they just skimmed, the metric of page views is becoming less useful. Upworthy has started tracking “attention minutes” to get a better picture of how long users spend with its content. As share habits change, tweets and reshares are no longer reliable indicators of success.

Upworthy’s director of business intelligence David Mintz told The Verge, “Advertisers, and in particular advertisers interested in attention, don’t just want empty clicks.” The longer a user engages with a piece of content, the more time they can be exposed to an ad. And that’s the metric advertisers want, not page views or any other dubiously padded metric.

Image credit: Jemimus