The Battle for Eyeballs

There is an interesting aspect of the web that happens behind the scene and that doesn’t get a lot of press: the tracking and maximizing of web views on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Large content providers like the Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, and the New York Times very closely monitor how many shares they get on the various sites. The reason that shares matter is that the more eyeballs they get to look at their pages, the more they make from advertising. It’s easy to forget that advertising drives the web, but to these companies advertising is the major, and in some cases the only source of revenue.

Following is a list from NewsWhip showing the 10 largest content providers, based on Facebook shares, for August, 2015. Some of these are familiar names, but some post content under various names that a Facebook reader would more likely recognize.

NewsWhipContent providers are currently in a bit of a panic because the largest social media sites are working very hard to keep eyeballs on their own pages. When somebody clicks on a web article on Facebook they are sent away from Facebook and they often don’t return. Social media sites know that keeping eyeballs on their site increases their own ad revenues.

Twitter recently launched Moments, a space for content that stays inside the Twitter platform. Twitter directly creates content for Moments and has also invited partners to write and create content inside the Twitter platform. Facebook has been doing similar things through its Trending Topics pages that lead you to content within Facebook. They are also looking at a more aggressive platform they are calling Notify. LinkedIn probably started the trend and has enlisted heavy hitters from various industries to write content directly inside their site.

It’s a tough time to be a content creator. They are already seeing a downward trend in revenue due to ad blockers. It will be that much harder to make money as a content provider if they have to also compete the social media sites directly for content. After all, the social media sites know a lot more about what each of us is interested in, and companies like Facebook can use that knowledge to entice us to view content that they think is of interest to us.

The content creators have a real concern. For example, the Huffington Post has lost about 2 million Facebook shares per month over the course of this year. The issue matters to web users, because it is the content creators that make the web worth visiting. I personally use Twitter as a way to find articles about various tech industries and I am not that much interested in personal tweets by the people I follow. I am sure that many other people use these platforms the same way – as a way to follow topics they are interested in. But whenever large sums of money are involved somebody is always going to be scheming to capture market share, and the tug of war for advertising eyeballs is in full force.

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