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, 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 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.

One person’s brave is another person’s stupid

If you’re not in the habit of reading a lot of marketing websites and happen you stumble into one you could be forgiven for not really understanding what’s going on.

Sure there’s the occasional nice thing said, but often times there’s furious debate, heated words, vapid and droll comments smirking, biting and poking at each other all deftly used to smite thy enemy and done oh-so-bravely behind a protective wall of anonymity. You could be forgiven for thinking those commenting on the articles are debating climate change science, or ways to cure aggressive cancer.

But no, more than likely it’s because a company changed their agency and tried a new campaign and direction – or because a company didn’t change agency and didn’t change their current campaign and direction. That’s not to suggest these things are less important than efforts to cure cancer or the prevention of climate change (in the minds of the readers), but that’s what’s being talked about nonetheless.

There is one word in particular that marketers and agency people alike enjoy using when it suits to defend work, or as a source of acclaim that is that the work in question is ‘brave‘.

Much like the over used defense ‘God works in mysterious ways‘, ‘brave‘ is whipped out to stave off any argument that what’s been produced is ‘reckless’ or ‘stupid’.

And furious debate and whether something is brave or stupid is fine because the only thing that really matters is ‘did it work with the target market?’

And this really is the point. Forget everyone wanting to have their say, what should be focused on is did the campaign hit the spot with the market? Did the consumer change their perception of the product in the way the company wanted them to? Did the consumer buy more? Did they switch from a competitor? Did the message work because it shocked them, made them laugh, educated them or made them simply feel something?

In short, did the company accomplish its goal with the campaign?

This isn’t to say that industry websites should be ignored, far from it, there is valuable feedback to be garnered and discussion is great but the primary focus should be on results.

An issue with social media: entitlement

Recently something happened through my personal twitter account involving a work issue that I’d like to share because it raises an issue with social media and the usage of it: entitlement.

As I’ve mentioned before I work for a few media companies – one of which is – on the website like many media co’s we have blogs, Chris Joye’s property one in particular can get a bit contentious – as you’d expect in Australia.

One participant, I’ll call ‘Sally’, on Chris’s blog thread recently believed that at least one individual was signing in under two names and arguing the same side – effectively throwing the fairness out of the thread by creating a persona to agree with themselves.twitter-entitlement

Sally then did some digging through the About us section and found my twitter feed. Fine and dandy, no problems there.

Sally then alerted me to look into the situation. I did. But what happened next was completely new to me and unexpected. For the next few days Sally then asked me what happened as a result. I explained that I’d looked into the situation an the results of such efforts and any actions taken would remain within the company.

But Sally persisted – wanting to know if in fact she’d been right or wrong, and if Sally had been right, what specific actions had or would be taken.

It was a confronting situation. I didn’t want to dissuade Sally from being passionate about the website or the information, but at the same time this situation is no different to dozens of other work situations and as a general rule you simply don’t go around explaining in detail what happened, when, how etc to people outside the business – Commbank’s recent failings and subsequent explanations to media come to mind.

It’s not that I didn’t want to thank sally for raising the issue and feeling that she could bring it to me, (I did thank her directly) but I didn’t exactly know how to respond without looking like I was fobbing her off and being rude.

In the end though I had to be reasonably direct as being circuitous wasn’t getting the required result, it was only really then that Sally understood that I couldn’t discuss it. I guess I felt it could have been handled better, but I don’t know how.

But after ruminating on it for a while now it seems as though it does come down to an issue of entitlement – I felt it was a straight down the line work issue, but Sally felt she was coming along for the ride with me to find out the answer. Sally felt entitled to know the outcome. And in a way she was entitled to know part of it, but – and perhaps this is the tipping point – I don’t know whether Sally is entitled to know the whole thing, or whether she should be.

As social media and social networking is so new, and is still developing, sometimes some interactions feel like going on a first date – it can be a bit awkward, conversation can falter, you can be under or over polite in certain situations because you don’t know how the person will react, and by the end of it you hope at the very least you’ll be able to look that person in the eye next time you meet them.

Should outside people, like Sally, who alert you to situations like this one be entitled to know the whole thing including the exact details of any action taken? Further to this when you know that individual has they’re own blog and they’re active in an on-line discussion on your company blog – does the risk of them using the information to prove their point in an on-line forum and potentially embarrass you (and the company) outweigh the benefits of being open and transparent with them in the first place?

Could social media in effect engineer it’s own undoing by being too open? Where is there a happy medium? is getting traffic from what??

Update to this post: As per a request from various sources referred to within this post, the information has been removed.

You may still be able to find this post in Google cache, I’m not sure.