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Published June 2nd 2014

Social Networks: What Is The New Content Discovery Layer?

The leaked New York Times Innovation Report shows the publisher having to adapt in a changing digital world. It also highlights significant changes in the way people are discovering content. In essence the report acknowledges that social is the new content discovery layer.  In essence fewer people arrive at a news site directly and browse, they are increasingly likely to find a specific article from social sites where they discover content. We take a look at the findings and implications for content discovery.

The Decline of the Home Page

Traditionally many people would go direct to the New York Times home page and browse for content from there. However, only a third of readers ever visit the home page now. There has been a steady and slow decline in the number of people visiting the home page as shown below.

Screen shot 2014-06-01 at 14.07.48.png

A blog post commenting on the report by on Poynter stated that sites such as Quartz and The Atlantic have declared the homepage to be dead — “killed by social media platforms, the “side doors” that deliver readers directly to stories.”

The Rise of Social Referrals

This growing social power is shown in the following graphic from BuzzFeed, included in the New York Times Innovation Report.

Screen shot 2014-06-01 at 14.17.46.png

The readers that come via the social “side doors” visit less pages and stay on the site less time.

The report noted that “Readers are finding and engaging with our journalism in vastly different ways. More readers expect us to find them on Twitter and Facebook, and through email and phone alerts.”

The reports authors recognize that social media referrals are critical. “Less than 10 percent of our digital traffic coming to us through social media we are still figuring out how to best engage readers. The percentage of readers who visit BuzzFeed through social, for example, is more than six times greater.”

They also recognize the power of email and that “other competitors, like The Atlantic and Politico, are also using emails as direct channels to readers.”

As the New York Times report noted it is not enough to publish good content and to hope that content will be found. The content has to be promoted across social media and by influencers. The report recognizes that influencers are critical in getting the word out about content.

In a post on the report Guy Kawasaki talks about the need for content hustling these days namely “sharing an idea across multiple distribution channels ranging from a brand’s website to its social media spaces. Content hustling requires companies to empower employees to act as brand ambassadors, relying on their personal networks to share corporate thought leadership.”

Content Discovery via Search is Slowing

How people discover content is changing, most notably the growth in search has slowed. A recent Search Engine Land article reveals that whilst search query volume was growing steadily, US search volumes have actually fallen recently. In February 2011 there were 15.4 billion searches which grew to 17.6 billion in 2012 and 18.2 billion in February 2013. By contrast in February 2014 the total search query volume was down to 17.7 billion. Less than the same month last year and 10 per cent down on January 2014.  The figures are below.

Screen shot 2014-06-01 at 13.56.16.png

Social Networks Are The New Content Discovery Layer

The way people discover content is clearly changing. In the past we went directly to news sites or entered a topic into Google. This approach does not necessarily find the most interesting and current content.

There is strong evidence that social is increasingly important, as one person put it on Google Plus the other day “I definitely discover through social. If it’s not important enough to be in my stream, it’s not important.”

In the current world news breaks first on Twitter and people turn to Twitter or Twitter search tools like Topsy to find out about breaking news. Tweets about the raid that discovered Osama Bin Laden, or the plane on the Hudson River, were actually the starting point for news stories.

Google is fine for finding a restaurant, a company, published news or authoritative evergreen content but it doesn’t find the latest trending social content. If you search for SEO on Google you are likely to be shown sites like Wikipedia and larger SEO companies. However, if you are an SEO professional you are unlikely to be interested in these sites. You are likely to be more interested in the most recent articles and thinking. You may pick these up through email alerts, social streams and aggregators like FlipBoard.

A professional may be more interested in the most shared content yesterday, the last 7 days or the last month. Social streams are increasingly important in content discovery.

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