Here at SimpleReach, we’ve long been fascinated by the nuances of each social network and their effects on the greater content ecosystem. How does each network differ in the way they drive traffic? Do certain types of content perform differently in different places? What does the best, where? We decided to take a deeper look, so we crunched the data across 5,000 sites, ranging from personal blogs to some of the most popular sites on the web, including Forbes.com, People.com and FoxSports.com. Here are a few things we learned.

Takeaway #1: Facebook Drives the Most Social Traffic

Across the entire SimpleReach network, 23% of external traffic comes from social networks. Within that, Facebook drives 58% of the total social referrals. That’s 2.25x larger than the 26% Twitter accounts for, while StumbleUpon comes in third, driving 6.6%.

Breakdown of Total Social Referrals by Network

*data includes articles initially published December 2012 to April 2013.

Takeaway #2: Most Social Traffic Comes from a Small Percentage of Content

We noticed another thing about that 23% of social traffic: the majority of it comes from a small percentage of content. Get this:

  • The top 1% of articles, ranked by social referrals, drove 67% of total social referrals across the SimpleReach network.
  • The top 5% of articles drove 84% of social referrals.
  • The top 10% of articles drove 90% of social referrals.
  • The bottom 75% of articles drove just .6% of social referrals.

*rankings based on total number of social referrals per article, for articles originally published December 2012 through March 2013.

To help illustrate how this happens, here’s an article from Upworthy.com, “Watch These Straight People Answer a Question Gay People Have Been Asked for Years,” which has received more than 2.5 million social referrals (and the author alone has more than 16,000 likes on Facebook) and is, obviously, ranked in the top 1%.

With outsized articles like this, it’s easy to see how such a large portion of social traffic can be attributed to such a small percentage of content.

Takeaway #3: Lifestyle Content is the Most Social

Next, we wanted to see if certain content genres are more social than others. To do this, we pulled the top 10,000 articles, ranked by social referrals, from within our network. We tagged them by category and examined their referral sources to see what plays well, where. Lifestyle content, which includes home, fashion, and food-related content, gets the largest percent of their external traffic from social media — 51.84% to be exact. As you’ll see from the charts below, Facebook is the top driver of of social referrals across every category except Sports, where Twitter has a slight edge.

Percentage of External Traffic from Social Media by Category
Network Breakdown of Social Referrals by Category

*both charts include data from articles initially published December 2012 through February 2013.

Takeaway #4: Articles Trend Longer on Facebook

Once we identified Twitter and Facebook as the two largest drivers of social traffic, we wanted to take a look at how content “lasts” across each network. One thing we’ve noticed in our Social Trending Dashboard is that articles tend to trend longer on Facebook. This makes sense, considering Facebook‘s News Feed algorithm promotes the most social content whereas Twitter relies solely on their users to keep content alive. But we still wanted proof. To investigate, we looked at the half-lives of every piece of content in our system — how long it takes an article to reach half its total social referrals — across each network. On Facebook, the average half-life for an article is 7.8 hours. On Twitter, it’s 4.5 hours. That means a piece of content has 73% more peak-visibility on Facebook.

Average Half-Life of an Article on Facebook vs Twitter

*data includes articles initially published December 2012 to February 2013.

Takeaway #5: Social Intelligence is Key

Understanding that just 10% of content drives 90% of social traffic and that the window of opportunity is less than eight hours illustrates just how much an effective social strategy depends on the ability to identify the outliers as early as possible. These are the types of insights we’ve designed SimpleReach to provide.

It’s our mission to arm content-creators with a clear way to understand how their content is performing in real-time. We track every social action around every piece of content and correlate that to site engagement. Our predictive algorithms identify the most viral content as it begins to trend, replacing guess-work with actionable data.

If you’re interested in learning more or want to get your hands on a free trial, drop us a line at takeaways@simplereach.com. We look forward to your comments below — or talk to us at @simplereach (and be sure to follow for more insights and updates).

About the author:

Adam Orshan is a mild-mannered Product Marketing Manager at SimpleReach that tends to make somewhat obscure references.

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