More and more news organisations have been developing their 'social media strategies' as studies show the growing impact of social networks on news traffic. The New York Times has the most Facebook fans of any newspaper in the US, having recently topped 1 million, as well as more than 2.8 million Twitter followers, but interestingly, it still gets the majority of its traffic direct from its own homepage, reported MediaShift.
Jim Roberts, assistant managing editor at the New York Times, told Mark Glaser that on most days, 50-60% of the site's traffic comes from people starting at the home page. Social media traffic has shown a steady increase, Roberts said, and Google search continues to be important, as does referral traffic from sites like the Huffington Post or Drudge Report.
Social media is still extremely important to the paper, however. "To me the benefit of social media is not just increasing page views but as a way of developing a more personal connection with your audience. You can talk to them, and they can talk to you," Roberts told Glaser. He said that many reporters, such as Brian Stelter, had found "individualized ways to use it to develop sources of information and bring people into the reporting process."
The paper's former social media editor Jennifer Preston was recently re-assigned to reporting. Roberts said that responsibility for social media will be dispersed to various people, and the main NYT Facebook page will be in the hands of the basic news desk, in an attempt to make it "a bit more a part of our overall publishing strategy," specific subject areas will be assigned to the editors in charge of those areas.
Preston said shortly before leaving the post that part of her role when she started the position was as an evangelist, but that this was now over: people were convinced of its value and what she was focused on was making sure that journalists had the tools and resources to make effective use of what social media has to offer.
As the New York Times prepares to implement a metered online payment system in upcoming weeks, it will be interesting to see if this has an effect on the paper's social media strategy.
The New York Times is not an average paper and may well be the exception to the rule in terms of traffic direct to its homepage. Facebook developer Justin Osofsky said in December 2010 that "the average media organization has seen a greater than 100% increase in referral traffic from Facebook," noting that the Washington Post had seen a more than 280% increase year-over-year having integrated Facebook Platform in April. In the UK, the Independent saw Facebook referrals grow 680% between January and December 2010. Even if social media is not yet the top traffic driver, it may well be one day.