Yahoo labs discovers what a ‘like’ is worth

Likes and retweets have become big business, and front of mind for many of the world’s top publishers, marketers, commnunity managers and digital product managers. But what exactly is a ‘like’ worth? How many page views do you get? When does a like transfer to a revenue earning click? What does it mean to digital product managers/marketing managers, advertisers and publishers in real terms?

Yury Lifshits from Yahoo labs, has produced a fantastic Vimeo video (below) displaying his extraordinary, and perhaps even unprecedented, workand research into the life of a ‘like’.

Watch the video now, or return after reading some key bullet-pointed findings from the video, below.

The Like Log Study from Yury Lifshits on Vimeo.

  • Stories about Facebook, Apple, Verizon, Groupon, future and infographics are universally popular across technology blogs. Articles about Microsoft, Amazon, Samsung, cloud computing, TV and search see much less engagement.
  • There are around 10 likes per 1000 pageviews (across several websites with public PV numbers). Decay of engagement is extremely sharp, with less than 20% likes happening after the first 24 hours.
  • Lifespan of a story getting likes or retweets is very short. Yury discovered that even the website Engadget, where tech stories, which are more popular prevail – over 80% of likes occured within the first two days. See the image on the right for the average life cycle of a news article via social media likes and retweets.
  • Among the top stories only four are fact-based political news and three are about celebrities. The most common type of hit stories is opinion/analysis. Other common themes include: lifestyle, photo galleries, interactives, humor and odd news.
  • What’s popular depends on the publication, the audience, and naturally enough, what those readers deem to be shareable. Yury discovered that stories about Barach Obama or Wikileaks was particularly popular from NYTimes.com, but stories about Google and China are less popular.

Yury also revealed an absolutely amazing statistic, (emphasis mine):

“At this stage, the average reader of the New York Times (website) only shares one story per year“. Yep, you read that right, the average NYTimes.com reader only shares one story PER YEAR. Only one, every 365 days. That’s incredible.

That means that the NYTimes has a lot of readers, and more importantly, if they could improve that statistic by as little as 10 or 20 percent they would see an absolutely huge increase in traffic on their website, which would be a boon for their revenue.

Yury goes on to draw five conclusions, and the full five are available at the bottom of this page.

I’ve extracted the two that product managers, advertisers and editorial teams need to consider the most:

  • Improve promotion of your best content. According to our measurements, web stories are practically lost 24 hours after publications. Only 20% likes are coming after the first day. This engagement pattern discourages production of “big stories”. To get maximum return on your hits, change your frontpage policy. Best stories should be highly visible. Consider hits-only RSS and twitter feeds, month-in-review / year-in-review programs. TechCrunch Classics is another example of hit promotion. And internal efforts are not enough. Breakout success comes when other media (top TV networks, newspapers and magazines) are picking your story and link back to it.
  • Improve your median story. Sort all your stories by engagement and pick a story right in the middle of the list. This is called a “median”. A median story has less than 50 likes for majority of websites in our study. In other words, every second story takes more effort from a writer than it brings value to the readers. Recently leaked “The AOL Way” reports their median story to have only 1500 pageviews, and they aim to grow it four times. Publishers should ask themselves: Why do we write so many weak stories?

 

There is only one suggestion of Yury’s that I would offer a slightly different perspective on and this is his suggestion and question about producing content that doesn’t work as well, or isn’t as popular. If a publisher only produces content they they know works well, and they know their audience specifically tells them they like now, then only producing that content could box-in that publisher in the future. Further, that content will only serve to reinforce the current consumer behaviour, and will only attract like-minded individuals, thus potentially limiting growth and also risking becoming typecast as a specialist provider of a specific type and genre of content.

Publications need to have a broader range of content for a few reasons:

  • You need broader supporting information as a meta-SEO-framework for ongoing online growth
  • A bigger net catches more fish – and by saying that I mean that even if lesser stories don’t always do so well, the publication doesn’t become known only for doing a limited range of content, and may in-fact initially draw a new user in via the content that isn’t as ‘liked’ by their regular audience. This traffic, in volume, matters significantly over time to archive value and size and referencing potential
  • Dropping less ‘important’ content may be a viable thought-strategy for some businesses, but in the long run, and particularly in technology blogging and publishing we often see that trends quickly shift. If Facebook reporting suddenly became less popular and Tablet reporting rose in popularity does that mean you drop all of it? Not at all, you may pull back a little on the throttle for a while, but that content is still valuable because worldwide there will still be a thirst for that information from niche volumes of readers.
  • Just because it’s not being shared socially, doesn’t mean it isn’t getting read and isn’t useful.

Publishers, industry analysts and those interest in the inner workings of social media should absolutely take note of these findings. A great many questions unfold as a result of reading this research.

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