“Aha,” many of us thought to ourselves when Chartbeat–a web traffic analytics company that counts the New York Times, ESPN, CNN, and Fast Company among its clients–explained that it had found no correlation between people tweeting a story and actually having read it. “That explains all the garbage on my feeds.”
But now there is a slight glimmer of hope that people are actually engaging with content before they spew it to their friends and followers.
BuzzFeed’s data team recently analyzed the correlation between sharing on Facebook and reading on its website in August. What it found, which it will publish on a new team blog launching this week, showed that on average people who shared spent 68% more time on a page than people who did not. The longer a reader spent on a story, the more likely he or she was to share it on Facebook.
It turns out that people are actually taking more time to digest information they recommend. Perhaps we social media users are not quite as terrible as we thought.
But also, maybe we are (hey, I only promised hope). These results only apply to BuzzFeed and only to Facebook sharing. The rest of the Internet could, theoretically, still be filled with terrible mindless social media chatter. The results BuzzFeed shared with us only break down time spent reading in relative terms. So even though the data indicate people who share spend more time reading, that’s still a long way from saying that they read until the last sentence. It could be that people who don’t share spend on average one second on an article and the people who do share spend on average about two seconds on the article.
Ky Harlin, BuzzFeed’s director of data science and “secret weapon” said part of the motivation for looking into the relationship between reading and sharing was a weird usage pattern that had been nagging him. BuzzFeed includes sharing buttons throughout the copy and at the bottom of each article, but the sharing buttons at the top still have high usage. If they scroll down the page to read, why would that be the case?
Harlin’s conclusion: People are also scrolling back up the page to share. This knowledge no doubt came as a relief. Sharing is BuzzFeed’s most important metric.
“There are a lot of ways to trick people into clicking things where they may not enjoy the content,” Harlin explains. “Our hypothesis [at BuzzFeed] was that it’s harder to trick someone into sharing, and they have to make that action on their own. One thing that could be a concern is if, for some reason, people weren’t making that share based on looking at the content. That was a question we had, and we came to the conclusion that they were.”