Hitwise last month opened some eyes by highlighting the growing role Facebook plays in how people get news, providing data showing the social network had surpassed services like Google Reader and Google News in driving traffic to news and media sites.
The Web measurement firm in early February found that Facebook accounted for 3.5% of visits to news sites -- fourth behind Google.com (17%), Yahoo (7.9%), and MSN (4.4%). As of mid-March, Facebook has since moved past MSN to become the No. 3 traffic driver to news sites, at 3.6%. Twitter ranked No. 39 at 0.14%, with traffic from the microblogging service to news outlets up 54% over the last year.
The trend toward social networks as the place to get news is expected to continue as people increasingly share links via sites like Twitter and Facebook and media companies expand their presence on these properties.
But are the people coming to news sites from Facebook loyal readers or one-click wonders? That's a question Hitwise analyst Heather Hopkins looked at in a follow-up post, given that advertisers want to know if visitors from social sites will keep coming back again and again. It turns out that readers coming from the social network were more loyal than those from Google News -- 78% of Facebook users were return visitors compared to 64% from the Google site among the top five media sites.
The figures were nearly identical for broadcast media sites, with 77% returning from Facebook and 64% from Google News. Facebook's rate of return visitors was also higher than the average for the print and broadcast sites, while that of Google News was below the average. For example, CNN.com averaged 81% return visitors for the week ending March 6, compared to 84% of the traffic to CNN.com from Facebook and 72% from Google News.
And while Google.com is the top source of traffic to these sites, visitors from the search site tend to be less loyal than either Google News or Facebook. "This reinforces the long-term value to News and Media organizations of working with the likes of Google News and Facebook," concluded Hopkins. She also cited recent Pew Research showing that newspapers have seen ad revenue fall 26% during the year and 43% over the past three years, increasing the urgency to find devoted readers -- wherever they're coming from.