Jumping on the social media bandwagon might not be such a bad move as statistics revealed by Huffington Post CEO, Eric Hippeau, show that Facebook referrals to the aggregation website were up 48% since its launch, and has accounted for 3.5 million visits.
The news comes shortly after the suprising announcement that the Huffington Post had topped the Washington Post with the number of unique visitors to its website last week.
HuffPost was up 26% year-over-year to 9.4 million unique visitors in September, overtaking Washingtonpost.com for the first time, which dropped almost 30% to 9.2 million, according to the figures released by Nielsen Online.
In an interview with Staci D Kramer from paidContent, Hippeau talked about the ways HuffPo has utilized Facebook in particular to boost traffic to the website.
In mid-August HuffPo launched a Social News site with Facebook Connect: "We tell stories about current events in real time, so we're very fast, we create--we help create instant opinion, so instant news and instant opinion," he said, citing "a very active, very engaged audience that reacts very quickly to what's going on in the world".
Facebook Connect allows users to 'sign in' to the HuffPo website using their Facebook login. They can then link directly to Huffington Post articles, comment and 'show friends' which article they are currently reading.
The effects were obvious. By September, HuffPost had already received some 6,825,000 unique visitors, according to comScore, thanks to Facebook Connect. Now fifteen per cent of all comments on the website come directly from Facebook.
Kara Swisher suggests that the positive numbers come from a greater general trend toward the socialization of news consumption. Mercedes Bunz writes that: "This shrinks the overloaded news world down to the news that are important to the user and their friends. They are the people who decide what is important to know - perhaps this was meant by the much-quoted saying that that journalists' reign as "gatekeepers of information" is over. What friends are reading is at least as important as the news displayed on the homepage of a news site."
The BBC, whose number of unique visitors came in at 7.2 million in the same Neilsen study, is one of many news organisations beginning to recognise this trend, and adapt accordingly. Taking note of the success of publications such as the Huffington Post, it announced last month that it would 'change the face of the BBC' and shift to become more 'social-media friendly'. The largest broadcaster in the world also recently confirmed that it would appoint a 'social media editor' and redesign some of its websites as part of this new consciousness.
The statistics speak for themselves and they are shouting loud and clear of the value social media can have for news organisations, if managed well. Despite the release of social media guidelines by various publications amidst fears over the 'the integrity of the publication', the nature and consumption of news is changing. A New York Times article looking into the ways young people consume news, quoted Lauren Wolfe, 25: "There are lots of times where I'll read an interesting story online and send the U.R.L. to 10 friends," she said, "I'd rather read an e-mail from a friend with an attached story than search through a newspaper to find the story."
The task of news organisations has shifted- instead of simply presenting the news, publications now need to seek out their readers. Utilizing tools such as Facebook, as the Huffington Post has done, doesn't look to be a bad way to go about it.
As another student, part of a focus group said: "If the news is that important, it will find me."