Update 20/01/2015: An examination of the NYT’s articles shows a large proportion of those that are less shared are wire content (AP and Reuters), which accounts for more than half the articles the NYT published during the period. Without it, the NYT performs signifcantly better, though still much worse than Buzzfeed in both median and average measures. We shall be following this post up with a look at the impact of wire content.

One area where most traditional media companies are still struggling to keep pace with their newer, more digital counterparts is in taking advantage of social sharing.

Our analysis of more than 20,000 articles published over the last week of November last year by eight major publishers, using data from social media tracking service BuzzSumo, shows quite how far they lag behind.

The below graph shows how both BuzzFeed and Huffington Post significantly outperform their established newspaper counterparts at getting their articles shared.

Buzzfeed in particular blows everyone else out of the water:


Buzzfeed is an example of a new media company that has a strong social strategy where most of its stories get noticed and quite a few go “viral”, racking up a huge number of shares.

On average, Buzzfeed articles were shared nine times more than those published during the week by the New York Times, which was the worst performing of the publishers we looked at.

If you look at the median figures, the disparity is even more stark. The median number of shares per article (which better reflects a typical article than the average figure) was 966 for Buzzfeed, almost 90 times the NYT’s 11. 

Sure the NYT will have some big viral hits, such as this article on the Ferguson case documents and a US map with Thanksgiving recipes, but many of its articles are making virtually no impact on social media. 

Buzzfeed is way out ahead of even its nearest competitor, the Huffington Post, which had a median share rate of 201, almost five times lower than Buzzfeed’s total

That median figure suggests that Buzzfeed is much, much better at making sure all its articles do pretty well on social media.

However, the trend is pretty clear across all the titles we looked at, with digital media properties consistently outperforming newspapers in terms of median shares, and with the exception of VICE, also doing better on averages. 

Content and technology

The figures show what we already know – Buzzfeed are experts at both creating content that people want to share, and in using technology to amplify the number of shares they rack up.

Luke Lewis , editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed UK, explains Buzzfeed’s approach:

“Partly it’s a function of the type of content we produce. In terms of our entertainment content in particular, we try to ensure it has an emotional or identity-based hook that will trigger sharing. 

“But it’s also about technology. Everything we publish is optimised for mobile – our CMS has a mobile preview function. Meanwhile writers have tools that tell them how their posts are performing, and how they might be tweaked to perform better: they can multivariant test different headlines and thumbnails, for example.”

Publishing in vain?

The NYT’s new audience development editor Alex MacCallum recently said the NYT isn’t as focussed on chasing shares, and Daily Mail online editor in chief and publisher Martin Clarke has described trying to work out what does well on Facebook as a “crapshoot”. 

Yet these figures show that even if they wanted to do as well, they’ve got a long way to go to, and many of the articles they produce are simply going unnoticed on social media.

As you can see from the graph below, only around 10 percent of Buzzfeed’s articles during the week were shared less than 100 times, while the Huffington Post, VICE, Guardian and the Telegraph (just) managed to get at least 50 percent of their articles shared more than 100 times. 


In contrast, well over half of the stories put out by the Daily Mail, Mirror and the NYT got fewer than 100 shares. The NYT is by far the worst performing on social media, with two-thirds of its stories never breaking the 100 share mark during the week we looked at.

It’s worth highlighting the Mirror’s surprisingly high proportion of articles that do very well on social media. While the tabloid is still pumping out a lot of articles that aren’t read, it’s creating significantly more articles that get more than 2,000 shares than any of the other publications we looked at except Huffington Post and BuzzFeed.

The focus on socially shareable stories from new projects such as Ampp3d and Mirror Row Z, which are doing well on social media but remain a small part of the organisation’s total output, will be having some impact on the organisation’s figures.

Another way of looking at this data shows underlines how BuzzFeed is at getting the majority of its stories shared on social media:


This is, of course, just a snapshot of one week. Yet the stats are still an indicator of what some publishers are getting right on social media, and what others are getting very wrong.

Buzzfeed’s focus the fundamentals and the mechanics of sharing ensure it’s able to get the biggest boost possible from social media for the bulk of its stories. 

In contrast, to greater or lesser degrees, other publications are still producing many, many stories that are barely having an impact on the social web.

In a world where social sharing is not only a huge contributor to building traffic, but where brands increasingly value an outlet’s ability to make waves on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, publishing so many stories that barely leave a ripple on the social web seems a waste.

TheMediaBriefing looked at all articles published by our sample set between 23 and 30 of November 2014 which received at least one share on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn or Pintrest.

Update: The first graph in this article was amended to add the date range we looked at.

Image via Flickr courtesy of mkhmarketing used under a Creative Commons licence.