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.

IGN.com, 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 ABCNews.com were enthusiastically embracing them, others like ESPN.com 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 ABCNews.com 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; ABCNews.com 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 ABCNews.com 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.