Your company’s social media guru may craft the most enviably hilarious tweets imaginable, but even they know the sobering truth: When it comes to the social web, most people prefer the stuff that comes from actual human beings over whatever some brand has to say. It seems like pretty intuitive, self-evident thing, but now there’s data to back it up.
In a recent study [PDF], the folks at Chartbeat demonstrated that content tweeted by third parties grabbed people’s attention for longer than content tweeted out by the original publishers themselves. On average, pages tweeted from third-party users (aka regular people) reeled people in for 42 to 45 seconds. By comparison, pages tweeted by the brands averaged between 37 and 39 seconds of engagement.
The difference might not seem dramatic, but as the authors of Chartbeat’s white paper point out, a mini-gulf like this “can lead to practical differences in engagement from a few seconds to nearly a 40% difference in Engaged Time.”
It only makes sense that people would become more immersed in a blog post or news article shared by somebody they know (or otherwise respect) than by a brand for whom the act of sharing is a necessary and reflexive part of doing business. Fast Company will share this article because we have to. If you share it, it’s probably because you find it informative, counterintuitive, or just plain outrageous (Thanks, BTW!).
What’s interesting is that the human factor didn’t just lead to more clicks (at least, that’s not what’s being measured here) as you might expect, but rather to more time spent consuming the content itself. That says something not just about connection between non-brand humanoids on Twitter, but about the perceived quality of what’s being shared.
While they were at it, the data team at Chartbeat looked at the long-term loyalty of social traffic, again broken down by third-party and first-party tweets. The conclusions there were a little less predictable. While third-party tweets led to more engagement per visit, the percentage of people who actually returned to the site was higher for first-party tweets. That makes sense: Of course you’re likely to return a site if you follow the publisher on Twitter. Interestingly, once social visitors returned to a site, the number of times they returned was slightly higher for those who arrived via tweets from third parties.
Chartbeat is in a unique position to measure this kind of thing, given how many editors are glued to its real-time analytics dashboard every day of the week. The company is sitting on a gold mine of valuable data about how people interact with web content, samples of which are used to conduct studies like this one.
Why does engagement matter? In the very same white paper, Chartbeat’s data is used to illustrate a correlation between engaged time and how viewable advertisements are. As it turns out, the more time people spend reading a page, the more likely they are to see all of the ads on that page. Whether or not they take any sort of action is another story, but the connection between engagement and ad impressions is bound to be of interest to publishers who rely on advertising to stay afloat. It also further bolsters the notion that publishing highly sharable content can lead to directly to real-world financial payoff.
Okay, maybe you’re onto something, Upworthy.