“The big, scary, existential question is, will social media continue to be a traffic source for a news organization? Or will it become just a storytelling platform or just a marketing platform?”
That’s the question that one publisher asked in a Digiday piece today about how Twitter is declining as a traffic source for publishers.
The question was recently echoed — and answered — by Semafor editor-in-chief Ben Smith. “When you get beyond the drama of Twitter and the flickers of life on your Facebook feed, what we’re seeing is the end of the whole social media age in news,” he wrote on Christmas Eve 2022.
Twitter never drove much traffic to news publishers. Back in 2016, social analytics firm Parse.ly (which was acquired by Automattic in 2021) found that “Twitter generates 1.5 percent of traffic for typical news organizations.”
So for most publishers, we’re talking about going from a base of “tiny” to “tinier” — as many rushed to point out after Twitter CEO Elon Musk falsely claimed, in a now-deleted tweet response to Bloomberg’s Ashlee Vance, that “Twitter drives a massive number of clicks to other websites/apps. Biggest click driver on the Internet by far.” (Vance had commented, “It is really weird how Twitter drives so few clicks.”) While plenty of people, at least as of last fall, say they come to Twitter to get news, they don’t necessarily click past headlines.
But what was already small seems to have gotten smaller. A few stats from the piece:
Web publishing tech provider Automattic analyzed a random set of 21 large and small publishers and found that the sites’ traffic from Twitter in the fourth quarter fell, on average by, 13%. Of that data set, 71% of publishers saw their traffic decline.
For the whole of 2022, referral traffic from Twitter dipped by 20% year over year, according to data from publisher analytics firm Chartbeat which includes 1,200 sites that are Chartbeat customers in the News and Media category.
Twitter referral traffic to a dozen major publishers’ websites declined, on average, by 12% in December 2022 compared to November 2022, according to an analysis by Similarweb, a data analytics company that monitors web traffic. Some publishers — such as The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, The New York Times, USA Today, the BBC and Yahoo — each saw referral traffic from Twitter fall between 10% and 18% month over month.
Some publishers are hurting from the loss of Twitter Moments, the curated tweet collections that Twitter got rid of in December. And only current Twitter Blue subscribers have access to Twitter Top Articles (née Nuzzel), which might have been providing publishers with a little more traffic around the edges.