Study: Behavior Of News Organizations On Twitter ‘Resembles The Early Days Of The Web’

Thirteen major news organizations. One week in February. More than 3,600 tweets. And only 1 percent of those tweets sent followers to another news site.

That’s perhaps the most striking finding in a study released yesterday by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and The George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs.

The researchers, Jesse Holcomb, Kim Gross and Amy Mitchell, concluded that Twitter is mostly being used as a promotional vehicle for news organizations:

This behavior resembles the early days of the web. Initially, news organizations, worried about losing audience, rarely linked to content outside their own Web domain. Now, the idea is that being a service-of providing users with what they are looking for even if it comes from someone else-carries more weight. It bears watching whether Twitter use for mainstream news organizations evolves in this same way.

I couldn’t agree more. Especially the last sentence. Linking outside of your website is commonplace now. It’s like a gentleman’s agreement of sorts actually. It goes something like this: you linking to my website is great for search engine optimization, so when I have a reason to link back to your website I’ll do the same thing.

But with Twitter, it does not work the same way. The SEO benefits aren’t the same. Could this be an explanation for some of this behavior? Perhaps an algorithm change of sorts will need to take place to create incentives for news organizations and other brands to send tweets that include links to sites other than their own. That will probably only take place when we move of using followers as the most important metric of measuring a feed’s influence.

The study acknowledges that this is problematic:

What is not known, though, is whether people ever look at the posts that get sent their way, or whether they actively use their own Twitter account. Thus, the value of a follower is unclear. Nonetheless, having more followers is generally regarded as one sign of success in this realm.

Few news organizations are using Twitter to solicit information from followers. Fox News was a notable exception, During the study period (Feb. 13-20 of this year), fully 21 percent of Fox News’ tweets solicited information from followers. At the other end of the spectrum, 0 percent of tweets from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Daily Caller solicited information.

The Twitter efforts of The Washington Post were singled out for thoroughness. During that week in February, the Post sent the most tweets on their main Twitter feed–664–and had the most Twitter accounts, at 98. The study also looked at how reporters at the 13 news organizations use Twitter. The Post‘s soccer reporter, Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider), tweeted 101 times that week. As of yesterday, Goff has more than 94,000 followers.

Though limited (in that it only measured 13 news organizations–9 months ago), this study is interesting, and is definitely worth a read. The topline data is also worth looking at.

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