These are just a few of the SEO-rich headlines that Nieman Lab mentioned a few months ago in an article about Gawker’s strategy to drive more traffic to its site. The ploy isn’t bad; Nieman’s data suggests that these three posts alone generated more than 100,000 page views.
But while penguins and pizza violence might drive a lot of traffic across the web to Gawker, two recent studies suggest that, when it just comes down to Twitter, users prefer plain news from trusted sources.
An article by Megan Garber for The Atlantic reports on a study produced by UCLA and Hewlett-Packard's HP Labs, which suggests that “steadiness -- compelling news expressed in straightforward, not hyperbolic, language -- is actually a component of maximally shareable content.”
Garber writes that the research paper has produced an algorithm, which measures Tweets in four ways:
1) Which news source produced the Tweet?
2) What kind of news does the Tweet contain? (world news, business, sports)
3) What kind of language is the Tweet written in?
4) What famous names (brands, celebrities) does the Tweet mention?
According to Garber, the study found that the perceived trustworthiness of the news source was the factor that “led most overwhelmingly, and most predictably" to a Tweet being shared.
The subject matter of a Tweet was also important: Tweets about "technology" were the most likely to be passed on, followed by those about "health" and "fun stuff." Tweets about recognisable names provoked more sharing too.
But Garber notes that the study found that “even within the tumult that is the Internet, when it comes to framing the news, objective language does just as well as emotional.” By these criteria, “I Can’t Stop Looking at This Weird Chinese Goat” might be a great headline, but it does not constitute an ideal news Tweet (unless it is shared by The New York Times, which seems somewhat unlikely).
A study of 10 British news outlets carried out by Rippla.com supported these findings. Journalism.co.uk reports on the research, which surveyed how 150,000 stories produced by 10 British media outlets were shared on Twitter and Facebook during a six-month period. On Facebook, the Daily Mail – which produces headlines such as “Will it ever end? South East battered by THIRTY-SIX hours of continuous rain... sparking flood alerts in FORTY-SIX areas” and “Good Samaritans shield injured pensioner with umbrellas as he lay waiting FOUR HOURS for ambulance on wet street with fractured kneecap” – was the most engaging news source, accounting for 38.5% of interactions among the outlets that were surveyed.
By contrast, on Twitter, the more objectively-toned BBC News account produced a 55.9% share of all the news stories that were retweeted from among the surveyed news organisations. Journalism.co.uk noted that the Daily Mail was in forth place when it came to producing re-tweeted stories, behind the BBC, the Guardian and the Telegraph –all of which tend to use comparatively less emotive headlines.
Why this big difference? Megan Garber’s piece suggests that, when it comes to Twitter, “trust is actually much more important than emotion. Shareability is largely a function of reliability.” Garber continues that, as a Twitter user, “I understand, implicitly, that something sent from the Times -- something vetted by an organization that has a lot to lose in getting something wrong -- is more trustworthy than something sent from another person. Even if that person is a friend.”
On Facebook, by contrast, perhaps users are happier to discuss sensationalist headlines or stories from a variety of news sources with their friends. The difference between the types of stories shared on the two social media platforms may come down to what Reuters’ Financial Communities Editor Mark Jones has described as the “fundamental dilemma for journalists -- the news is on Twitter, the audience is on Facebook.”
Users may be happy to discuss penguins and pizza with their friends, but on Twitter they want to know that they’re sharing news they can trust.
Image by Chiot's Run via Flickr (Creative Commons)