Facebook users more politically engaged; are political news websites where their audience is?

"Be where your audience is." It's a common edict these days, as people who consume news find it through social networks and outside of newspaper pages and network newscasts. A Pew study released today offers a specific opportunity for political news sites that want to be where their audience is.

Pew found that even when controlling for factors like gender and education, active Facebook users are more politically active than similar Americans. Facebook users are:

  • two and a half times more likely to attend a political event.
  • 57 percent more likely to try persuading others to vote for a particular candidate.
  • 43 percent more likely to have reported voting (or intent to vote).

So, if Facebook users are more political active, how well are political news sites meeting their potential audiences there?

There are a few indicators that some sites are doing quite well and others are lagging. The first indicator is how shareable their content is. Is there a "like" button on articles appearing on the publication's website and mobile apps?

And, how well are these political news operations leveraging Facebook to cultivate and join communities active there?

The table below shows unique visitors (based on the most recent Quantcast data) and the number of fans for a political news website's main Facebook page.

Political news website Monthly Uniques Facebook fans
Politico 5.4 million 33,193
The Atlantic 3.7 million 42,200
Real Clear Politics 2.1 million* 8,370
The Hill 2 million 4,193
National Journal 1.1 million 3,917
Mother Jones 710,000* 52,255
Roll Call 158,000* 3,918
*These sites are only indirectly measured by Quantcast so the monthly uniques are estimated and may be less accurate than the directly measured sites.

A quick look at the Facebook pages of these publications show they use them differently. Like most of these sites, Politico posts links; unlike most of the sites, there are multiple active comment threads on its Facebook page. In order to see Atlantic content or Mother Jones content you must first "like" the page. A quick review of all their Facebook pages showed little use of questions (a polling feature), discussions or even photos that can spread quickly and engage people. (The same can be said of Poynter's Facebook page.)

This does not take into consideration the Facebook activity of individual political writers or their blogs, which may be more important, given the personal connections that drive use of that social network.

Others have written about how Facebook can drive traffic to a website. The table shows a pretty clear correlation between unique website visitors and Facebook fans. The Pew study reminds political journalists there is a benefit beyond page views, though, which is influencing the political activity undertaken by the millions of active citizens using Facebook.

Newsrooms that have focused heavily on Twitter may want to encourage journalists to remember their Facebook friends and consider developing a specific strategy for understanding and integrating that audience into its activities.

There are politically active readers there ready to use the expertise you can provide.


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