Facebook went down last Friday for 19 minutes, and the internet went a bit mad.
Along with the standard flurry of Twitter activity and semi-predictable 911 phone calls to police, traffic to news websites fell by three percent according to Josh Schwartz, a data scientist at website analytics company Chartbeat.
The outage presented a perfect opportunity for Chartbeat to take a look at what the news sites looked like in a world without Zuckerberg for a fleeting moment.
Here are four takeaways from the outage for publishers.
Overall web traffic to news sites dropped about 3% during the FB outage pic.twitter.com/5A7uHW5Eo3
— Josh Schwartz (@joshuadschwartz) August 1, 2014
1. Facebook is important for traffic, but it’s not everything
Plenty of publishers rely on Facebook for traffic a lot more than they’d like, and they see the payoffs when they focus on their Facebook strategy – The Telegraph’s Jason Seiken told the Guardian last week Telegraph.co.uk’s 20 percent traffic boost during June was down to a greater focus on Facebook over Twitter.
But for news websites as a whole – and yes it’s worth noting we don’t know how many sites that whole encompasses – traffic dropped by three percent during the outage.
It’s impressive to see how much a single website can affect the digital media en masse, but that obviously means 97 percent of traffic – the vast majority – wasn’t affected within 19 minutes. That could have been a factor of time – perhaps traffic would have dropped another three percent in another 19 minutes – but it’s evidence the news site ecosystem as a whole isn’t (yet) perhaps as reliant on the platform as the growing obsession with social can lead us to think.
2. Dark social is made up of mostly non-Facebook traffic
Dark social is a mystery to analytics chaps as it represents the sharing of content via links they can’t track. As Schwartz’ Chartbeat blogpost points out:
“What portion of it comes from emailed links? From links sent via instant messaging? From standard social sources like Facebook and Twitter but with the referrer obscured? From search sites that use HTTPS? By virtue of the fact that no explicit referrer is sent, it’s impossible to tell for sure.”
Chartbeat discovered traffic from dark social was only 11 percent higher than its low point when Facebook went down, which suggests referrals from Facebook don’t make up that much of dark social – Chartbeat calculated at most 16 percent of traffic could have been directly attributable to Facebook
On the flip side, the fact there was apparently some impact on dark social due to Facebook’s outage suggests the lines between which sites are considered dark and light social are a little blurred.
3. Facebook refers more traffic as a proportion of mobile
Entrances to sites on mobile devices fell 8.5 percent during the outage according to Schwartz’ post (comparing the minute before the outage to the lowest point while the site was down).
That’s not a huge surprise – most publishers are aware of the importance of mobile, and specifically the importance of Facebook on mobile.
And as mobile is only likely to become more of a focus for both Facebook and publishers, it’s worth checking now more than ever if your site – particularly content designed to do well on social – needs to be mobile-responsive. If it’s not, get ringing those developers…
4. When Facebook’s down, audiences go direct
Desktop traffic jumped 3.5 percent during the outage as audiences traveled directly to homepages (which saw a nine percent increase in direct traffic).
Chartbeat says it saw “no increases in traffic via other referrers, including Twitter and Google News, during the outage”. That’s a little bit troubling for Twitter, but with the outage only lasting 19 minutes we can’t really read much into it.
It does suggest that when Facebook isn’t there to distract audiences, they’re prepared to go direct to news brands for their fix, rather than having their choices mediated through social media…
Image via Marco Paköeningrat used under a Creative Commons license.