Do Publications Walk the ...


Every publication has embraced social media.

For proof, look no further than the “cutting-edge” journalism of Tactical Knives which connects with readers through Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Pinterest (knives on Pinterest is a story for another time).

Tactical Knives Magazine Cover

But here’s the question I posed to our crack research team: Do publications operate their social channels in the spirit of putting the reader, their target audience, at the center of the universe?

Studies show that the hard sell in today’s digital world is like knocking on a door with a feather. Instead, social media attention gravitates toward the useful, revealing or amusing. And if you can deliver on all three qualities, the trifecta generates an ongoing stacatto of clicks.

To answer the question, we focused our effort on a mix of publications covering both general business and the tech sector:

  • Fortune
  • Bloomberg Businessweek
  • Quartz
  • Mashable
  • PandoDaily
  • The New York Times Bits

Next, we gathered the tweets for each publication over a 12-hour period ( 6 am to 6 pm PT) on February 12, drilling into the data with two specific questions.

First, do the publications’ tweets include links?

They got the memo that links trigger shares. Out of 176 collective tweets from our test group, 176 included tweets.

List of: Tweet provocative stories, includes links, no more sochi tweets

But what are they linking too? Does the reader’s interests rate the top priority?

To dig into this area, we simply identified the number of tweets linking to stories in other publications. No single publications has a monopoly on the best journalism  so it stands to reason that if a publication was striving to serve the reader, it would periodically identify useful/revealing/amusing stories from other sources.

The data speaks for itself:

Bar chart of tweets with links & links to other publications

The New Yorks Times tech blog seems to be the only media property that believes its readers will benefit from journalism found elsewhere.

Of course, Data Science 101 states you can’t extrapolate from one day. With this in mind, we combed through two weeks of NY Times Bits data covering the standard work weeks of Feb. 17 – Feb 21 and Feb. 24 – 28.

Pie Chart of total number of  The New York Times Bits Tweets

It seems fair to say that The New York Times Bits and its social media crew make a conscious effort to serve the reader (WIRED and MIT Tech Review appear to be their go-to sources).

Lest you think The New York Times as a company has got the sharing religion, a review of the publication’s core account reveals 100 percent of the links from this account point to NYT stories.

The New York Times Twitter account

The bottom line–

Publications use Twitter as a one-way distribution channel to shove out their content to the outside world and manufacture incremental clicks.

Even the poster child for switched-on, Mashable, deploys Twitter as nothing more than a distribution channel. Raking through a weeks worth of Mashable tweets supported our initial cut that less than 10 percent of all links point readers to non-Mashable content.

Media properties talk a good game about new business models that cultivate community.

If Twitter is an indicator, they’ve got a ways to go.




  • Sarah Skerik

    This is an excellent post, Lou, and I love the line of thinking. However, I think we could push it a bit further. What is shared from the publications’s official handle is one thing …but what about the staff? I’ve seen strong evidence (anecdotally) of willingness on the part of journalists and bloggers to share third party content (even PR content, which is why I always say to include a relevant link in your pitches) in the interest of curating content to fuel growth of followers. Curious to hear your take.

    • hoffman

      Thanks for the positive words Sarah. You have a wider window into the inner workings of journalism than myself and make a good point. I’m sure many of the journalists themselves (individual Twitter handles as opposed to company Twitter handles) have gotten the sharing religion. If there’s someone looking for a thesis topic in pursuit of a PhD in communications, the topic has some rich possibilities.


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