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