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Search is Up, Social is Down

​Search is up, social is down. A new report from BuzzSumo breaks down the shareability of articles across various platforms in 2017 and found that people are sharing articles less. As Neiman Lab highlighted in their analysis of the report, “In 2015, articles saw an average of 8 shares; today that number has dropped to 4. Only 5 percent of content gets more than 343 shares.”

The result is that a number of media companies built on audience growth that arose from sharable content are now feeling the effects. Late last year, Buzzfeed announced they’d be laying off approximately 100 employees after missing 2017 revenue targets by 15-20%.

Nieman Lab also highlighted some other points and factors that contributed to the decline. One was the increase in peer to peer direct sharing of links – apps like Slack, etc., but also the crowding of buzzworthy and trending topics. It’s tabloid journalism digitized and at its best (or worst), and the result is increased competition for shares and likes - which then get spread out between articles.

In addition, new changes to Facebook’s news feeds and a reliance on sharing compound the issue of audiences sharing less content, for tabloid style producers. The shift to promote pieces that real people share is disrupting the business models for those that have arguably benefited the most from it.

For newspapers, the story may be less grim. While they watched digital audiences tune into their Facebook news feed and view trending content through the platform, Nieman lab reports that trends in search are moving in the opposite direction of social sharing on sites like Facebook. Couple this with the fact that Google has changed their requirements around free AMP articles and there are some positives that news publishers can take away from this.

But on the social media front, the implications of Facebook’s new algorithm along with the effects of less sharing remain unclear. BuzzSumo suggests that as people share less, they become more discerning in what they share and what it says about them. Nieman Lab reports this encouraging news with the fact that New York Times, The Economist and Harvard Business Review articles are seeing success in sharing of their most recent articles.

Given the impact of social media on high-end news consumption in a model that can actually help generate revenue on the news side of things vs creating ad dollars for Facebook remains to be seen. But unless the acquisition models of organizations like the New York Times legitimately rely on traffic from Facebook article to convert leads in subscribers, chances are that the impact may be small.