Social media effect: people laughing and pointing at laptop screen

Let it be known that, yes, I do read BuzzFeed. And before you mock, let it also be known that hordes of much more highly respected people than me read it, too. People like Heidi Moore, finance and economics editor at The Guardian, for instance. Or Craig Newman, managing editor at the Chicago Sun-Times. Or Brian Carlson, editor in chief at Why – you might be asking yourself – would such seemingly intelligent people read a site perhaps best known for its exhaustive “listicles” of cats, bacon, movies and celebrities? My hunch is that because, in between all of these things, they realize what most BuzzFeed readers do: there is actually a lot of truly decent, thought-provoking stuff there. For this recent report on Facebook’s impact on the publishing industry in particular, though, journalists were bound to pay even closer attention.

The “death of journalism and publishing” has been foretold for years. This quote, from freelance journalist Christina Patterson writing at The Huffington Post, shows that even those at the top of the industry read the writing on the wall long ago: “We all know that the clock is ticking. Even Rupert Murdoch knows that the clock is ticking. During the Leveson report, he gave newspapers five to 10 years.”

Patterson is talking about the UK publishing industry, which is in an even worse state than the US publishing industry, but it’s not like the big properties in the US are rolling in it either. Hence, why The Washington Post needed Jeff Bezos, and why The New York Times sold The Boston Globe this year to Red Sox owner John Henry…for a 95 percent loss.

The traditional print newspaper is one thing, though. The Internet, and journalism itself, are something else. Print publishing may be dying a slow death, and the ranks of strong, investigative journalists may be dwindling, but journalism itself is not dying. The Internet is merely changing it. For PR firms this means a refocus in terms of how media relations should happen and it certainly makes a number of market research activities easier or at least cheaper.

As the report at BuzzFeed details, social media is a big part of that change. As audiences shift from print to online, they are also shifting consumption habits. Instead of subscribing to two or three newspapers and magazines, waiting for them to arrive each day, week or month, and then sifting through them as more or less captive readers, the Internet makes people go out in search of quality content. Social media bridges that divide by allowing users to once again be directly fed content they want, as well as more easily explore everything out there. At least in theory.

Twitter has been the favorite of journalists everywhere because of its short, sweet and direct nature. Back in August, though, Facebook made some changes to how news sources and articles appear in peoples’ feeds, and the effects those changes seem to have had on driving traffic to publishers’ networks have been dramatic. According to Facebook, referral traffic from the social network to publishing sites has increased 170 percent, on average, from September 2012 to September 2013. And it’s not just B2C, entertainment and lifestyle publishers either. TIME’s referral traffic rose 208 percent over the same period.

But here’s the real kicker: Facebook also announced that updated numbers from SimpleReach show that Facebook drives more traffic to publishers than any other social platform. When it comes to B2B tech PR, we have historically seen more social engagement driven through Twitter and LinkedIn, and have recommended those be the priorities of our clients. But as SimpleReach notes, “If this trend continues, Facebook will be driving nearly three-quarters (72.6%) of social traffic by the end of Q1 2014.” Facebook’s numbers also suggest that more frequent posting to pages on its site will help further increase these referral rates.

As publishing and journalism evolve for the Internet age, from a PR standpoint, it is clear that social, and it seems particularly Facebook, will be critical for brands to drive strong engagement with their messages in earned media. Reaching the right audience is key, of course. So if indeed a brand’s audience is simply on Twitter or LinkedIn and not on Facebook, then that will have to dictate where the brand goes to drive customer engagement. But it’s hard to deny these numbers.


This post was first published by Nate Hubbell on March Communications’ blog PR Nonsense.