BuzzSumo’s best of July rankings show which digital newspapers got the most attention on social media, which stories performed best, and which top stories performed better on less traditional sites.

The nytimes.com leads the way among digital newspapers in total shares and average shares, followed by washingtonpost.com, usatoday.com and latimes.com.

Slide1My list of the top 10 digital papers was drawn from the US papers listed in a recent Pew Research Report, “Top 25 Newspapers by Digital Traffic,” a compilation based on the number of unique visitors in January 2015.

Of the top five papers, the nytimes.com also had the most shares for their top 10 most shared stories.

Slide1Based on this month’s social share data, nydailynews.com and latimes.com could soon overtake usatoday.com in the top 3 most popular digital newspapers.

Overall shares for the newspapers’ 10 most popular articles were dominated by the number of times readers liked, commented, or shared content on Facebook. Sharing activity on all other networks combined was dwarfed by the engagement on Facebook.

To illustrate the significance of Facebook sharing, I compared the most tweeted story for each newspaper on Twitter with the most shared story on Facebook for each newspaper.

In every case, the number of shares for the most popular article on Facebook was at least 94 percent higher than the most tweeted article on Twitter.

network comparison
Characteristics of news coverage at top three papers: 

Readers at each of the top three papers preferred to share content of different lengths and different types.

Of the big three digital papers, readers at nytimes.com liked longer content, 3,000-10,000 words, while readers at usatoday.com opted to share shorter pieces, 1,000-2,000 words. But, this word length is a bit of an anomaly for usatoday.com. For the year as a whole, readers there opted to share longer form content more often.

The preferred type of content for social sharing also varied. “What” posts (articles with headlines beginning with “What”) were shared more overall by Washington Post readers. At the New York Times, “Why” posts were shared more frequently.

Finally the most popular weekday for social sharing on Facebook was Thursday for both nytimes.com and washingtonpost.com. Readers of usatoday.com were more like to share on Wednesday.

At the nytimes.com, four of the top 10 pieces of content were blog posts, another was published in the New York Times Magazine, and another was an interactive game.

The same trend held true for washingtonpost.com. Seven of their top 10 most shared articles were blog posts.

Two of the top five most shared stories from the leading papers had a clear link to other news articles.

Specifically, the issue of protecting endangered animals, which was also highlighted in a speech by President Barack Obama in Kenya about new restrictions on the sale of elephant ivory, and the death of Cecil the Lion at the hands of an American hunter.

top fiveWhile these traditional papers didn’t get the most shares for breaking these stories, their analysis was well-shared.

As someone who spends a lot of time on social media, I was surprised that three stories I remember vividly from July didn’t get their viral coverage from the big three traditional papers. Instead, stories about the killing of Cecil the Lion, Planned Parenthood’s alleged sale of fetal tissue, and Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency gained entrance to a substantial number of social conversations via other news outlets.

Content published about Donald Trump during July was shared an average of 2,426 times, more than the average for all content at any of the three top digital papers.

Most of those shares came from conservativetribune.com, huffintonpost.com, and breitbart.com.

Domains with the most social shares for content about Donald Trump

chartContent about the American hunter who killed Cecil the Lion were slightly less popular, averaging 2,229 shares. Many of those shares came from domains outside of the US, notably from dailymail.co.uk and theguardian.com.

Domains with the most social shares for content about Cecil the Lion

chart (1)

Articles about Planned Parenthood’s alleged sale of fetal tissue were shared less often on average than stories about Cecil or Donald, but with 1,261 average shares the topic still generated more social interest, as measured by average shares, than content at washingtonpost.com or usatoday.com

There was some overlap in the domains from which Planned Parenthood content and Donald Trump content got the most shares, both gained a significant number of shares from breitbart.com

Domains with the most social shares for content about Planned Parenthood

chart (2)Getting the attention of a power user on Twitter can help to drive social shares of content. (Duh!)

For example, the nytimes.com story “Illuminating the plight of endangered species,” was boosted by 55 backlinks, but it also got big push from Leonardo DiCaprio, who tweeted the link on July 30. DiCaprio, whose 13,263,000+ Twitter followers @leodicaprio place him firmly in the top 100 of all Twitter accounts, is an influencer extraordinaire. People retweet anything from @leodicaprio an average of 1,113 times, and his Klout score is 88.  

leonardo dicaprio bioLeonardo DiCaprio retweet

The endangered species article also got a twitter boost from Rashida Jones, who has more than 960,000 followers, an average retweet percentage of 388.7, and a Klout score of 84. 

Together, they can drive an audience to your content!

All told, the endangered species article was tweeted more than 13,000 times, and it was the second most tweeted article published at the leading digital newspapers in July.

Based on this look at social sharing activity, it’s clear that nytimes.com was much more popular in July with social sharers than the other leading digital newspapers, and hard news stories were less shared than opinion pieces at the leading papers. For at least two viral news stories–Donald Trump’s run for the presidency and the hunting of Cecil the Lion–non traditional news sites led the way in terms of social shares. Getting readers engaged with content on Facebook is critical to the overall success of content, and a tweet from a celebrity goes a long way in bumping social sharing data.

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