Do you ever get the feeling your social media contacts are burying you in an avalanche of links that no one could possibly have time to read, including them? Well, your suspicions are well-founded, judging by a new study by researchers at Columbia University and the French National Institute, which found that the majority of links shared on social media are passed along by people who haven’t read the content themselves.
The study, titled “Social Clicks: What and Who Gets Read On Twitter?,” paints a picture of a complex landscape combining broadcasting, small-scale social sharing, and social media curation at different levels. The upshot is that while big news orgs are cranking out tweets by the millions to millions of followers, these generate a lower level of engagement, on average, than tweets from ordinary users reaching smaller audiences.
According to the study, which analyzed ten million clicks for a random selection of news stories on Twitter, including tweets with URLs shortened by Bit.ly, just over 60% of tweets containing URLs distributed across the network contain “primary URLs,” meaning posts from news organizations that have been re-tweeted. However, tweets containing secondary URLs, meaning those originally posted by other players (including ordinary Twitter users), get a higher proportion of clicks, making up 60% of actual interactions.
In other words, reader referrals with secondary URLs are driving more traffic to news organizations than their own tweets containing primary URLs. By the same token, most tweets containing secondary URLs are never clicked on either (60%), meaning a relatively small proportion of secondary URLs are generating an outsized share of clicks, and this only in aggregate across many users. Thus 7% of the secondary URLs shared by Twitter users produced around 50% of the traffic for this group.
In another interesting finding, the researchers discovered that many Twitter users are happy to share content that they never even read themselves in the first place: 59% of all URLs shared across Twitter never received any links, despite the fact that they may propagate rapidly through retweets. In short, lots of people are sharing a lot of stuff on social media that no one else looks at. Surprise!