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“News = mobile. Mobile = Facebook”? The rise of social sharing news sites

16 Dec, 13 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower

In a previous post, I discussed the increasing importance of social media optimisation (SMO) at the expense of traditional SEO methods. This week, I’ll be looking at how traditional publishers are testing this theory with product launches that rely almost entirely on consumer behaviour on Twitter and Facebook.

Buzzfeed, a website that combines a platform for detecting viral content with an editorial process to provide a snapshot of “the viral web in realtime”, revealed that it had reached a record high of 130 million global unique users last month.

The company  credited a lot of the growth to an increase in traffic coming from Facebook. However, Twitter referral traffic has also surged, with 180% growth in the past year. The seven-year-old site is experiencing breakneck growth, with global unique user numbers up 350% year-on-year.

Following in Buzzfeed’s steps, the born-digital site UsVsTh3m has also grown rapidly, receiving 7 million unique visitors in November, a 600 per cent increase on September. It seems that 57% of users accessed the site from mobiles or tablets and just 2% of the traffic came from search engines.

Malcom Coles, Product Director, explained that:

What many don’t realise, however, is that the site is actually funded by Trinity Mirror, who own a number of traditional publications, including Daily MirrorSunday Mirror and People.

UsVsTh3m is part of a series of initiatives the company is experimenting with to invest more fully in digital. The objective of the site seems to have been attracting an audience that the group don’t currently reach with their existing national and regional publications.

Martin Belam, a digital consultant who worked on the launch of the site, explained on his blog that they were “charged with proving that, divorced from the existing production methods and priorities, Trinity Mirror can produce web content that people want to share. And they wanted to test a more lightweight way of publishing”.

He also pointed out why the decision was made to host the site on Tumblr:

We are aiming to reach 18-30 year old people who love looking at funny stuff on the internet. Tumblr already has a squillion of those using the platform. Why wouldn’t you go and publish there, instead of trying to drag those squillions kicking and screaming off to somewhere else?

Product principles for the site, which went from concept to launch in just 6 weeks, include:

  1. Social. Not SEO.
  2. Visual. Not articles.
  3. Every sentence a tweet.

Ampp3d is another venture by Trinity Mirror into content created to be shared via social media, this time around data journalism. Interestingly, Matt Deegan has pointed out that in contrast to UsVsTh3m, the new site is based on WordPress rather than Tumblr (offering more more control), carries Mirror branding on the website and withinin the URL, and also carries banner advertising for monetisation. Perhaps these changes are a result of lessons learned on UsVsTh3m?

Elsewhere in the traditional publishing world, Heat and Grazia publisher Bauer Media has unveiled plans for The Debrief, which will launch in Feb 2014 and target 20-something women with a “best in class social and community strategy”. The same approach is also being given to the digitally-neglected Sunday People. It will be interesting to see just how many more traditional publishers follow suit by launching digital-first social sharing sites, relying heavily on the way consumers use Twitter and Facebook rather than search engine traffic.

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