The Washington Post

Why do journalists prefer Twitter to Facebook?

I spent the weekend at O'Reilly Media's "News Foo" conference, which brings together journalists, publishers, tech types, and Werewolf players. A lot of the attendees worked for major social networks like Facebook and Twitter, had built products to help publishers manage their social-media presence, or worked for outlets that create content designed for social media. And over and again, I got the same question: Why are journalists so obsessed with Twitter?

You can see the source of their confusion in this Shareaholic report, which tracks 13 months of data from 200,000 publishers who reach more than 250 million unique visitors each month.

The Y axis is the percentage of total media referrals the publishers report from the different social media sites. Facebook is clearly dominant -- and getting more so. Pinterest -- which no journalist I know spends even a second considering -- is in second place, and it, too, is growing.

Twitter is driving less than a tenth of Facebook's traffic -- and it's flattening out.

Yet journalists -- and, quite often, the organizations that employ them -- clearly prefer Twitter. They put enormous effort into building Twitter brands and coming up with Twitter strategies. That's the impression the social-media vendors get and the social-network employees get. It's true for every journalist I know, and it's true for me, too.

The reason, I think, is that Twitter is simply more useful for our jobs. For better or worse, it's where news breaks today. It's also where a lot of real-time reporting happens. The bulk of Robert Costa's shutdown reporting happened on Twitter. For weeks on end, he managed to dominate the top political story in the country in 140-character bursts. As a journalist, if you wanted to stay on top of much of the best reporting you simply have to be on Twitter.

The fact that so many journalists are on Twitter has made Twitter incredibly professionally valuable to journalists. Tweeting your articles ensures they're seen -- and discussed, and retweeted -- within a community that includes not just your friends and peers, but the people who might hire you someday. (Costa, for instance, will be coming to The Washington Post in January!) That's much less true on Facebook. It's readers, not colleagues, who dominate Facebook.

That's created something of a collective-action problem in the media sphere. It makes sense for each individual journalist's career to put the bulk of their social media effort into Twitter rather than Facebook. But it makes sense for journalism outlets to have their writers putting the bulk of their social media effort into Facebook rather than Twitter.



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Sarah Kliff · November 11, 2013

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