Friday, October 12, 2012

What's the effective lifespan of a link shared via social media?

When you share a link on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or other social media channels, how long will it continue to receive attention?

I've just been told about a study that Bit.ly (a leading URL shortening service) did on this topic a year ago. The study, You just shared a link. How long will people pay attention? used a selection of 1,000 popular links shared via bit.ly in social media channels to research how long they would receive attention (clicks) from other social media users.

Firstly bit.ly looked at the 'half-life' of links shared through popular social media services, how long it took for them to receive 50% of the clicks they would receive.

Graph of the 'half-life' (time taken to reach 50% of clicks)
of links through various social media services.
They found that links distributed through Twitter, on average, had a half-life of 2.8 hours, while Facebook distributed links ad one of 3.2 hours. Direct emails (such as email newsletters) had a half-life of 3.4 hours, so all quite short and similar.

However links distributed via YouTube had a half-life of 7.4 hours, reflecting that it is not an 'always-on' service like the other channels, and meaning that when tracking responses it is important to recognise that it can take longer for YouTube to reach an audience - which doesn't necessarily mean it is less effective.

On average the half-life (except for YouTube) was 3 hours and in general links lost attention almost completely within 16 hours.

I've also been told that within 24 hours most links have received 99% of the clicks they will ever receive, and within 48 hours this reaches 99.9%.

So how is this useful information for government?

Firstly if you're sharing information through these social media channels, be prepared for a load on your servers. If there's an emergency or a sudden announcement of broad public interest, your website will receive most of its traffic from social media sharing of the link in the first three hours - starting seconds after you send out the message.

if your servers and bandwidth are restricted and slow to respond to increasing loads, you might need to reconsider your hosting and architecture - or provide emergency information through a more resilient and scalable platform (such as a Google Blogspot blog or other cloud-hosted service).

Secondly, if information is being shared about your organisation via links on social media, you don't have long to identify the trend and respond before it escalates.

If, for example, someone tweeted a link to a picture from an asylum seeker mobile phone which appeared to show an Australian navy vessel firing on them, it wouldn't be long before this was accessed by thousands, tens of thousands, even millions of people.

If the photo was a known fake and your agency needed to respond, you'd have to approve and distribute the message within that first few hours window to have an impact on the trend.

The era of multi-day approval processes has gone. Whatever the scenario, your agency needs to be ready to react and respond within a few hours at most.

How do you get there with an agency who still spends weeks approving a media release?

My post on Coping with the challenges of two-speed government agencies offers some ideas to start with - build systems that allow you to respond quickly by cutting repetition and 'fat' from approval processes and clear up the gray areas as to who can approve what types of content.

2 comments:

  1. A very interesting article. Do you think social media will work to the benefit of politicians, allowing them to get their message out to a wide audience faster, or do you think social media is detrimental to politicians, with the slightest political faux pas becoming instant (and irremovable) fodder to the social media community? Furthermore, do you think social media is helping to make politics clearer to the general public or is it adding to the confusion and disillusionment felt by much of the voting public?

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  2. That's a lot of questions - and some self-promotion... which I'll let go this time due to the good questions.

    In my view:

    Social media both benefits and is detrimental to politicians - depending on how they go about playing politics.

    For politicians who wish to directly interact (not broadcast to) their constituents, social media is a time saver. Politicians who only wish to broadcast need not apply - frankly politicians are there to represent their constituents, not to tell them what to think, so the idea of politicians broadcasting their message is often contrary to the way representative democracy is supposed to work.

    When politicians make mistakes, or tell different audiences different things, they will be caught out now - gone are the days when they could tell one town one thing, catch the train to the next and tell them something else. The words of politicians are now captured and shared globally almost as fast as they say them. This is a hard environment for politicians who are not consistent in their views, and we'll see the inconsistent ones weeded out over time.

    Finally social media both makes politics clearer to the public AND adds to confusion and disillusionment with politics. Firstly people are able to hear the words of politicians directly, without the spin of media outlets and commentators. They can see deeper into the political process, how decisions are made and how politicians interact with each other.

    However these insights are revealing the disfunction, as well as the positives, of politics. So the public, who had a particular perception of politicians (particularly those they voted for) are now seeing the reality - and it isn't meeting the perceptions.

    This is creating building disillusionment around the world as politicians' ivory towers turn to glass and people can see how the deals are done.

    This is a harder area to solve, since our electoral and political systems have been around for a long time - often hundreds of years. They have adapted to a particular environment but now, with the environment having changed, they are struggling to adapt fast enough.

    I expect to see further disillusionment and frustration - even violence - towards politicians before this situation is resolved.

    How will it be resolved? Through radically new ways of organising and carrying out the activities of government - from how politicians are pre-selected, through to how agencies operate. We're still right at the start of this process, held back by conservative older interests normalised into existing systems and relying on them for their power and income.

    Without a hard break (such as the dissolution of a state through some catastrophe or uprising), resolving this will take time. Much time. Generations. So we're in for a long and painful political process where the public gets increasingly upset at the apparent failure of politics to deliver the outcomes they want, until something gives - either a reformist leader or a civic uprising. I don't want to put money on which will happen first!

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