At the beginning of the year, rumors started swirling that Twitter users soon won’t be restricted by a 140-character limit. They’ll be able to tweet content that’s up to 10,000 characters long. In other words, you’ll be able to tweet an entire blog post that doesn’t leave the Twitter ecosystem.
Facebook rolled out Instant Articles to a select group of publishers last fall (with a more complete rollout soon). LinkedIn Pulse encourages experts to post directly to an internal CMS and Instagram won’t let companies use links on any posts.
Social networks are building walled gardens. They want to make sure that when someone engages with content, they stay on the social platform instead of clicking somewhere else. The statistics show that this is already happening. Since January 2015, Facebook referral traffic from publishers dropped by 32 percent, but user interaction on Facebook increased by almost 3x from 2014 to 2015.
This year is going to be a big year for native social content. Ad-blocking and mobile have made it more important than ever for brands to provide a seamless user experience across channels and devices. And, for social networks, this means offering native content right within the app itself.
But what is the risk of investing heavily in native social content? And what are the opportunities?
Native social content is starting to catch a lot of attention at a time when traffic to major websites is declining. In 2015, the digital media hockey stick broke. Traffic growth is slowing or declining for most major publishers, from Buzzfeed to Mashable and Quartz. Traffic to The New York Times homepage dropped by about 50 percent from 2012-2014.
This isn’t just a phenomenon for digital publishers. Hubspot, which receives about 1.5 million visits a month, found that only 3 percent of the website’s traffic comes in from the homepage, while 97 percent comes in from individual articles from search, social, and email.
Many people are now getting the majority of news – and content – from social networks especially. Almost two-thirds of Twitter and Facebook users (63 percent) say they get their news from social media.
After they’ve read the article, most visitors bounce back to social. The average monthly time someone spends on a news article after getting referred by Facebook is 1 minute and 41 seconds. The average time someone spends after coming to the news site directly is 4 minutes and 36 seconds.
Content saturation and algorithm changes have made standing out on social much harder. Since 2012, organic reach on Facebook has dropped by 60 percent.
It’s certainly not for lack of effort on the part of brands. Forrester research showed that, compared to 2014, brands in 2015 posted:
- 18.3x more on Twitter
- 6.5x more on Facebook
- 50x more on Instagram
Despite the inundation of content, user engagement is dropping or stagnant, with Instagram engagement especially falling by about half from 2014 to 2015. The only network that showed higher engagement was Facebook, which Forrester speculated was due to the fact that more brands are paying to promote their content.
Social media networks are trying to keep users within their respective ecosystems. And users don’t want to leave, either.
Native social content really helps with engagement. Help Scout’s Greg Ciotti explained that re-publishing blog posts on LinkedIn Pulse netted an average of 40,000 views. Video content that’s uploaded directly to Facebook gets 80 percent of total interaction of all video posts on the social network.
Social networks are much more interested in surfacing content that won’t interrupt the user experience, and the algorithms reflect that. But does it mean that publishers and brands should actually push more of their content directly to the networks?
“I’d trade 8 seconds of loading for 8 minutes of on-site interaction any day”
The reality is that the browsing experience for many consumers starts and ends with social apps. While users might click articles, they rarely click deeper into the brand’s web property.
In the short run, native social content gets more exposure in front of a social audience. But in the long run, if people can get your content directly from social, the traffic and SEO value of your own website will keep going down.
That’s the danger of investing too much in native social content, according to Brock Murray, director of web marketing at seoplus+:
Facebook Instant Articles might make content load faster. It might be better for mobile browsing and, yeah, it increases the odds of someone consuming your content instead of scrolling past on their feed. However, that’s as far as the advantages go.
The fact that content no longer redirects to the publisher’s website kills the potential for conversions and on-site interaction (like falling down an article rabbit hole and discovering new favorite writers and topics). Though Facebook still counts views as traffic to the original publisher, the practical value of an on-site visitor simply cannot be replicated. I’d trade eight seconds of loading for eight minutes of on-site interaction any day.
This is the question publishers and brands will have to face this is year: if native social content gets more exposure than on-site content, how do you balance the mix?
Some brands may end up deciding that going all in on Facebook Instant Articles or LinkedIn Pulse makes more sense than having a robust content strategy for their own website. Others will try to syndicate content or re-post content to native social mediums, but still build out content on their own sites, too.
Movement & Measurement
Native social content will play a key role in content strategies this year. In every case, brands will have to rethink the link. Every piece of content posted to LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter will need to have links and calls-to-action that build the relationship. Otherwise, you’re uploading the content into the vacuum of the social network.
More social mediums make measuring and centralizing social media metrics even more difficult, too. How does a Facebook Instant Article compare to the same article on your website? How does it compare when that article is posted directly on Twitter and organically linked back to your site on Facebook? Or when an image from the article is posted on Pinterest or sponsored on Instagram?
By using links in all of your social content, you can discover the exact number of people coming from each channel, which content they’re clicking on most, what time of day and what device they’re using. That way, you can better optimize content to drive the best results.
Ultimately, the fear of this walled garden effect is overblown. Native social content — whether Twitter 10k, Facebook Instant Articles, or LinkedIn Pulse — is just another syndication opportunity. As long as you have the right links in place throughout the channel and the content, you’ll still be able to drive traffic back to your branded properties, whatever new social innovation comes out next.
Blaise Lucey is Senior Content Strategist at Bitly. He’s in charge of developing and distributing content in many formats and channels. He also works closely with the sales team to coordinate content across the company and establish the Bitly brand across the omnichannel, social, and mobile marketing space.