Some Early Data Shows Facebook Plugins Increasing Web Sites’ Traffic

More data is starting to come out about how Facebook’s new social plugins are impacting other sites around the web. The buttons, as intended, appear to be sending more Facebook users to other parts of the web, especially media sites., a News Corp.-owned web site that covers media, digital distribution and video games, gets around 29 million monthly unique visitors. Two weeks in to using the plugins, it told ClickZ that it experienced a 20% increase in referral traffic from Facebook via the button. It’s not clear how much traffic that actually is, but it’s something.

The plugins, including the Like button, Recommendations and Activity Feed, were released at f8 on April 21 with 75 partners, including CNN and Levi’s, as we previously reported, and were implemented across 50,000 web sites within the first week of their introduction. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg predicted at f8 that the plugins would receive a billion impressions in the first 24 hours after launch — this happened. The caveat is that some  portion of the impressions were generated simply because people went to web pages that included the Like button but did not actually engage with it.

Facebook says its users have an average of 130 friends, with 25 billion pieces of content shared monthly by the 400 million-plus users on the service. The plugins, in one form or another, let you see overall Facebook user activity on other sites. The real value comes, though, when a user is signed in to Facebook and goes to another site. They show you what your Facebook friends have liked, shared, or otherwise engaged with on the other sites.

Referral traffic is enhanced because the plugins also make it easier to share activity back to Facebook for your friends to see and click through. If, say, you hit the Like button for a news article, a link to the article will show up in your personal profile’s stream of activities. It will also show up in your friends news feeds, at least in the unfiltered “Most Recent” view; the “Top News” view of the news feed doesn’t appear to show Likes very often. However, the other sharing widgets — like the Activity stream showing full shared links that your friends have posted to Facebook — are quite likely to show up in Top Stories.

Media sites were the subject of an interesting analysis by Mallary Jean Tenore at Poynter. She found that, while some companies like were enthusiastically embracing them, others like were being more cautious, and still others like The New York Times were developing ways to add even more socialization and personalization to the plugins. While the report focused on percentage gains rather than hard numbers, the changes appeard

One week into the plugins’ release, April 28, Tenore reported that saw a 250% increase in referrals from Facebook. The company’s web site changed to feature an “ABC News on Facebook” module very prominently allowing those signed in via Facebook Connect to see numbers of people who liked a story; also experienced a 50% boost in referrals from Twitter and Digg by adding those buttons to their stories.

“We’ve opted to place the Facebook recommendations higher than the most popular recommendations,” Jonathan Dube, vice president in charge of told Poynter. “We believe that recommendations from people who are friends of yours are probably more likely to be stories that you’re interested in than a general ‘Most Popular’ list.”

CNN and The Washington Post were partners with Facebook when the plugins launched and both seemed to be very careful with how users perceived the plugins accessing their Facebook data. For CNN’s part, the module displaying stories recommended by Facebook friends on the right side of the company’s home page allows only a Facebook user’s friends to see their recommendation on the site. CNN used the “Recommend” button instead of Like, as it would be strange to like a story about the Haiti earthquake, for example.

“We really respect our users and we want them to feel open and engaged but not forced,” Jennifer Martin, senior director of public relations for CNN Worldwide told Poynter.

The Washington Post, on the other hand, allows anyone to see who likes something but includes an opt-out button giving users the option to hide the company’s Network News module featuring Facebook-recommended content. This module also helps readers stumble onto more content.

But, for The Post, money is definitely a factor when it comes to the plugins. Raju Narisetti, The Washington Post’s managing editor explained that by increasing engagement the company can attract more advertising and Facebook is an important way to do that.

“A lot of our content is circulated on Facebook, so we ought to make it easier for our readers who are on Facebook to share content and also see what their friends like and are reading without having to leave our site,” he was quoted as saying. “For a free site… more engaged readers have an impact on its ability to attract more advertising and thus help fund more content creation.”

So, taking media companies as an example, Facebook’s new plugins seem to have the potential to actually help businesses sell themselves to customers (or readers, etc.). Once people are able to intertwine Facebook with their preferred web sites, it would seem, the sites experienced increased traffic that may, in some cases, lead to more business. That’s at least what some managers are hoping for.

The potential for these plugins to generate revenue is just beginning to be explored. As we saw with Levi’s and their implementation of the plugin, the Like button is also particularly good for products. Yet, there are more subtle ways the plugins can help companies. The Activity Feed, for example, may expose a visitor to a web site to something they didn’t even know, or remember, they needed or wanted. An increase in traffic at a news site may allow a company to charge more for advertising. And there are, obviously, many more possibilities.

Media companies proved to be an interesting example, we’ll be on the lookout for more as web sites continue to develop around the plugins. For a more in-depth look at how plugins may affect the future of the web check out our premium service Inside Facebook Gold.