Counterparties: The social network that’s three times larger than Facebook

By Felix Salmon
October 12, 2012

Welcome to the Counterparties email. The sign-up page is here, it’s just a matter of checking a box if you’re already registered on the Reuters website. Send suggestions, story tips and complaints to Counterparties.Reuters@gmail.com

If you’re reading the Web version of today’s Counterparties email, there’s a good chance you got it from somebody else. That is to say, someone likely put this post on the “social web” of platforms like Facebook, Twitter or, if you’re cooler, younger and snarkier than us, Reddit.

For Web media companies, the social web has become the fastest-growing, most-obsessed-over method of distribution at a time when the online ad market is shifting away from display ads to “native advertising” and sponsored posts from advertisers. BuzzFeed put the rise of social media in chart form: For BuzzFeed and its 200 or so partners, more traffic is now coming from Facebook than Google.

But Alexis Madrigal has a fascinating new piece on why we’ve gotten the social web wrong. Madrigal argues that today’s web analytics programs miss the most common way we share stories. The largest social network, Madrigal writes, isn’t Facebook – it’s people sending things to each other directly (likely by email or IM). This is what he calls “dark social”: the articles and links you’re navigating to directly and not getting from a social networking site, or finding on some other web page.

Looking at data from the clients of the analytics firm Chartbeat, Madrigal found almost 69% of social web referrals were so-called dark referrals. Facebook accounted for 20% of social referrals from Chartbeat’s clients; Twitter referrals made up just 6%.

What does this mean for media companies? For one, it suggests that Facebook, which has been fighting to convince big corporations and small businesses that it’s the center of all social activity on the Web, isn’t our main way of sharing content. And, as Madrigal suggests, it means that there’s no real way to trick the world into sharing your stories, no matter how many rules you come up with or tweets you send in capital letters. “The only real way to optimize for social spread is in the nature of the content itself,” Madrigal writes. Quality matters. How refreshing. — Ryan McCarthy

On to today’s links:

The Fed
Why QE3 is a “masterstroke of market manipulation” by Bernanke – Quartz

New Normal
Economists to nation: Get used to 7% unemployment – WSJ

Wow. Just Wow.
Unmasking Reddit’s Violentacrez, the biggest troll on the web – Adrian Chen

EU Mess
The European Union wins the Nobel Peace Prize, despite record unemployment – NYT
How Switzerland is manipulating its currency and hurting the euro zone – Vox EU

Wonks
The final word on Mitt Romney’s tax plan: It was “plucked out of thin air for political reasons without regard to whether it was feasible” – Josh Barro

Taxmageddon
How going over the fiscal cliff will discourage people from working – WaPo

JPMorgan
JPMorgan reports record profits – JPMorgan

Ouch
Why are Indians getting poorer? – WSJ

Oxpeckers
Advice to publishers: “Atomize everything” – Matt McAlister

Quotable
Twitter’s CEO: Our company is “gritty like the city” – All Things D

 

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