Social media roundup: Gawker, USA Today, LA Times open up with tips and insights

Automated tweets get less engagement than handcrafted ones, WhatsApp is making inroads at a USA Today sports site, and sometimes all you can do when a years-old piece takes off on Facebook is shrug.

It’s been a good week for gleaning insights from media outlets, which seem increasingly willing to share which social strategies are working for them. Here’s a rundown of recent social media news you might have missed:

Human tweets > RSS tweets

Los Angeles Times social media editor Stacey Leasca shared some tips on Twitter’s media blog this week.

Among her insights was the fact that moving from RSS tweets improved engagement. It’s no surprise that a human touch makes a difference, but it’s interesting to see how much the change seems to have increased the rate at which the newspaper’s accounts are gaining new followers:

A perfect example of this is, again, @LANow. We moved @LANow off of an automated feed in the summer of 2013. The account was then staffed by editors and reporters working in the section. They are our real local experts and the Twitter account quickly became richer with information and much more personal for Angelenos. @LANow quickly went from averaging about 1,500 fans a week to more than 2,500 fans a week.

Few big news outlets use automated tweets

Late last week, Nieman Lab’s Joseph Lichterman gathered a few paragraphs from seven major news outlets about how they manage their Twitter and Facebook accounts. Only one, The New York Times, indicated much reliance on automation. Here’s Daniel Victor, social media staff editor:

By most measures — including clicks, retweets, favorites, and responses — handwritten tweets outperform autotweets. But there are some not-insignificant areas where autotweets win: speed, reliability, and lesser time invested by staff. We aim to have a balance of the two that gives us the benefits of both; it allows us to be both timely and engaging, while still being able to spend time on additional newsroom priorities.

I’ve noticed Times tweets generally seem very by-the-book, to the extent that the occasional tweet with a human flair seems jarring (the tell is that they’re written down-style instead of up-style, as Times headlines are). The Wall Street Journal, perhaps its chief competitor, has embraced pictures and charts on Twitter, and is much more conversational at times. The Journal also liberally retweets its reporters. It’s fascinating to see how much the two newspapers — still somewhat staid in print and on their websites — diverge when it comes to social media.

Ryan Osborn, NBCUniversal News Group vice president of innovation and strategic integration, echoed most of the other outlets’ reasons for choosing not to automate social media posts: “While scaling a strategy 24/7 has taken time, we’ve found that engagement is greater when the accounts are manually curated.”

What’s up with WhatsApp?

After Facebook’s acquisition of the messenger platform in February, I wrote that WhatsApp could become a useful tool for “dark social” content sharing — in other words, an alternative to email for sharing links privately rather than publicly. BuzzFeed had already started experimenting with a WhatsApp button in stories on the mobile Web.

Now, Digiday’s Ricardo Bilton reports that USA Today’s viral, mobile-friendly sports site, FTW, saw 18 percent of its mobile sharing activity come from WhatsApp in its first week of using the WhatsApp share button. That’s more than Twitter:

Sites with sizable youth audiences and content built to be shared should take heed.

The mystery of evergreen Facebook stories

Finally, Gawker editor-in-chief Max Read explored a question today about his site’s traffic: “Why Is Gawker’s Top Story a Four-Year-Old Post About Vajazzling?” Of the post’s near-million page views this week, 96 percent came from Facebook, Read shows in charts and tables. And the traffic pattern for this type of second-life virality differs from what Gawker sees for its daily posts:

Regular, diversified traffic on a decent hit is a quick burst immediately after publication, tapering off throughout the day, a smaller peak for the next day, another valley and on until it flatlines. It hits its peaks around midday and early afternoon, when office workers are at the computers.

Facebook traffic, on the other hand, is a steady rise that doesn’t peak until around 10 p.m. eastern time (and drops off immediately). Weirder still, it gets bigger: Wednesday night, the post was receiving around 7,000 hits an hour at its peak; Thursday, it was hitting 8,000.

Tweets are ephemeral, disappearing from timelines almost as quickly as they appear. But Facebook posts often hang around, and some brands, like Mental Floss, have observed longer shelf lives for posts since the latest News Feed shakeup.

As far as determining what “patient zero” launched Gawker’s four-year-old viral sensation goes, Read wrote that all he could was shrug: ¯\(°_o)/¯


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