SOCIALFLOW Audience Analysis Case Study

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Audience Analysis of Major
News Accounts on Twitter
Executive summary
Engaging nEws-Hungry audiEncEs
accounts we studied:
an audience analysis of prominent mainstream media news ac-
Al-Jazeera English @aJEnglish
counts on Twitter
BBC News
Twitter has evolved from a novel way for people to publish brief updates
about themselves to the primary way many around the world discover news,
The Economist
information and content. It has become a unique platform that allows pub-
Fox News
lishers to both build an audience and distribute content to their followers. It
New York Times @nyTimes
provides engagement opportunities that simply don't exist in either tradition-
al media or other types of online media.
study scope:
With Twitter, it is possible to reach many at once, communicate 1:1 or 1:sev-
The study is based on bitly and Twitter
eral. It supports dialogue. It moves very quickly and can be highly unpredict-
data from over 20 million Tweets
able. However, it can quickly and credibly spread messages to many people
posted by some seven million users
and build movements.
who follow these accounts on Twitter.
In the following research study of the Twitter audiences of Al-Jazeera English,
BBC News, CNN, The Economist, Fox News and New York Times, we set out
More Online:
to understand the makeup, behavior, interests, similarities and differences
For our latest studies and analysis, visit:
between networked audiences.
Our research allowed us to look at interactions at a granular, as well as global,
level. It revealed:
socialFlow research
*Engagement can be read in clicks
and development team:
The Economist has a highly active and engaged audience in terms of both
Gilad Lotan, @gilgul
Devin Gaffney, @dgaff
clicks/Tweet and Retweets/Tweet, suggesting a high level of alignment
Cherie Meyer, @cherplunk
between content posted and attention users are willing to provide.
*audiences differ in their willingness to use and share infor-
mation on Twitter
Al-Jazeera's audience is the most active in terms of publishing and
Retweeting content on Twitter, while the Fox News audience generates
substantially more clicks from its audience (even when normalized).
*a large number of Followers doesn't necessarily translate
into action
Despite being the largest account, the New York Times garners the fewest
clicks per Tweet when audience size is normalized and earns many fewer
Retweets when compared to accounts that are much smaller.

Executive Summary: Audience Analysis of Major News Accounts on Twitter
*Timing and topical interest matter when earning attention
and engagement
By identifying conversations taking place and how certain keywords drive
clicks or Retweets, we were able to visualize, through topical network
graphs, the link between content, topicality and actions on Twitter.
by the numbers
THE TakEaway FOr publisHErs:
TOpic + nETwOrk + TiMing
The elements of successful engagement and audience development on Twit-
ter have become clear: topic + network + timing = maximum potential
of those who follow The Economist
engagement. As in real life, context matters immensely on Twitter and inter-
also follow the New York Times.
This is the highest intersection in
ruptions are ignored. Audiences are very transient on Twitter. Knowing when
terms of percentage.
an addressable audience is available, what topics they'd like to engage in, and
when, is the key earning attention and engagement.
Further, businesses need to unlock the benefits of real-time insight. Unlike
of those who follow Al-Jazeera
TV, radio, or even most channels on the web, the actions audiences take on
English also follow the New York
Twitter have a measurable impact that can be tracked in real time. This data is
extremely powerful and should be used to inform content development strat-
egies, and marketing planning.
of the people who follow either
CNN or New York Times, follow
abOuT sOcialFlOw
SocialFlow is the world's first and only social messaging optimization platform
that uses data science and analysis to deliver greater engagement on Twitter.
663 users SocialFlow AttentionScoreTM optimization technology ensures that the Tweets
follow all six news accounts.
it sends match the topics that an audience is most interested in at any given
moment. The result is greater engagement in the form of clicks, Retweets,
conversations, shares and likes, and a better audience. To learn more, go to
Take the data on a spin
Explore audience intersections yourself
through an interactive widget on our
To try it out, visit:

Engaging News-Hungry
Audiences Tweet by Tweet
an audience analysis of prominent Mainstream Media news accounts on Twitter
characteristics of
engaged audiences:
Everyone wants an engaged
audience, yet there are numerous
types of engagement, and
each comes with a potential
consequence. Would you rather
your audience always pay attention
to your content, but never repost
or share it? Or is it better to have
followers that rarely click on your
links, but constantly share your
content with their networks? One
drives traffic to your website,
but the latter builds trust within
your network. Retweets extend
sEEing MilliOns OF cOnvErsaTiOns aT OncE
published content to new circles,
building trust and brand awareness
The image above is a network graph of topics discussed by the Twitter follow-
over time.
ers of Al-Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) over a period of an hour. Topics appear
Our data shows that the larger
as larger nodes the more prominently they are being discussed, and are orga-
an audience, the harder it
nized such that related topics appear closer together.
is to maintain high levels of
engagement, as seen in metrics
We see a highly sectional network with the top right largely dedicated to Eu-
such as clicks and retweets. Finally,
we see clear content-based and
ropean topics, the top left African, the bottom left Mideast and North African,
behavioral differences between
and the bottom right American. There is no one dominant topic but rather
audiences: users choose to follow
there are multiple conversations happening at the same time.
news accounts based on the type
of content being posted by the
By zooming into the graph, we can see the specific regional topics of discus-
account. Thus news media sites that
surface similar type of content see a
sion. Here's a segment - from the bottom left - mentioning Tahrir square
larger overlap within their audience.
along with other terms related to the Egyptian revolution of January 2011.
Read on for more on what the
data reveals about audience
If we move to a different section of the
engagement, topicality and timing.
graph, we identify a Japanese contingent,
focusing on the Fukushima nuclear melt-
down in Japan, using Japanese words
such as jishin (earthquake) and genpatsu
(nuclear power plant).
And another part of the graph -- top left
-- is also very different, focusing on Africa
Day and the separation of Sudan.
Interestingly, the dominant topics that
bubble up have to do with newsworthy
events, both global and regional. However,

Audience Analysis of Major News Accounts on Twitter
if we dig in deeper, we quickly find topics
ranging from the latest Oprah update on
the Schwarzenegger scandal to people's
obsessions with poetry.
An audience is made up of many people
having multiple discussions at any given
point in time. The ability to see these dis-
understanding and
cussions ebb and flow in real-time gives an
reacting to the
individual the ability to better interact with
said audience. We all build mental models
topics that move
in our heads, imagining the people who
news audiences can
make up our audience, trying to gauge
have a great impact
their interests and how to interact without
spamming or boring them. However, as our
on their level of
audience grows in size and diversity, the
engagement with
sheer complexity is just too much to keep
in one's head. Visualizations like the one
the news.
above show a clearer picture of the conver-
sation space as a whole, and let us zoom
into specific sections.
cOMparing audiEncE grapHs
One of the most interesting characteristics of these graphs are the appar-
ent differences between Fox News and Al-Jazeera's audiences. Al-Jazeera's
network is indicative of a geographically broader conversation of news top-
ics, prominently featuring terms like Jan25, Pakistan, Africa, while Fox News'
graph is much more domestic in scope, featuring terms like tcot, ObamaCare,
get these graphics
All topical network graphs are available
for download at
Feel free to explore and use as visuals.
But please remember to give SocialFlow
attribution. Network graphs made with

Audience Analysis of Major News Accounts on Twitter
and fox25. While one may assume that the audiences following these accounts
are of a particular political frame of mind, it is important to establish this as a
data-backed assertion.
Of particular interest is the lower-middle
section of the Fox News graph - the change
in edge colors and shading from orange to
brown is indicative of a conversation that
shifts away from topics and toward specific
actors on the network. The accounts in this
area, such as JoeNBC, VotingAmerican, slk-
, and PL1776 are all established con-
servative accounts and command a fair amount of attention from Fox News'
followers. By analyzing the relational hashtags surrounding each term, we can
a tag cloud
get a sense for the topics that influence and are influenced by the accounts.
In this case, #p2, or Progressives 2.0, seems to be an ideal hashtag to use for
depicting the
targeting highly connected conservative accounts on Twitter. Adding the right
topics most
hashtag at a given time increases the visibility of a Tweet to additional audi-
clicked on reveals
ences who are searching on that tag. #p2 is relatively underused, yet closely
connected to major hashtags such as #tcot along with a number of influential
Twitter accounts.
differences in
audiEncE EngagEMEnT:
the interests
clicks, rETwEETs and acTiviTy METrics
of each media
People are enticed to click on content through many means, invited to explore
a recent development relating to one's interest, a recommendation from a
friend, or even a manipulation of language and words. By mapping out the
top articles that users from each audience clicked on we see clear differences
between the user groups. Below is a `tag cloud' representation for four of the
accounts featuring top keywords that drove the highest levels of traffic from
Twitter to their website.
New York Times
asylum policy
Business Day
baby products
central & south asia
opinion europe
sexual assault
middle east
News Pakistan
yale fraternity
UK speech
college degree
IMF chief
job market
IMF chief Obama
science & technology
Maid assaulted
Casey Anthony
high-speed train
3d printing
oil prices blogs
Boy Found Dead
South Korea World retweeting
crime kidnapper
Peter Fonda
global terror
growth Politics
Navy Seals
Transgender Clownfish
Electric Vehicle
Elizabeth Smart
Arizona shooting
The Economist
Fox News

Audience Analysis of Major News Accounts on Twitter
While there are overlaps between some of the accounts, the identity of each
media outlet is evident through the data. The New York Times' audience
enjoyed stories on sports and education this particular day, while followers of
Fox News consumed content surrounding the Casey Anthony trial coverage.
Some topical overlap includes the Joplin tornado, the IMF chief scandal and
President Obama's UK speech. The Economist's audience clicks on content that
is quite different from the others, including topics that tend towards the niche
that the account serves.
What do the numbers look like?
Even though
the size of The
audience is less
New York
than a third of the
new york Times',
it is generating
hundreds more
clicks per shared
FigurE 1: avEragE and MEdian clicks pEr TwEET
pOsTEd FOr FOur OF THE accOunTs.
For every URL shared by The Economist on Twitter, we see more clicks on aver-
age, and a substantially higher median compared to the rest. Even though the
size of The Economist's audience is less than a third of the New York Times',
it is generating hundreds more clicks per shared link. This high proportion
of clicks per Tweet is suggestive of a high level of attention paid to the con-
tent shared by The Economist from its audience. The lack of a major disparity
between the median and average indicates that this high level of attention is
relatively consistent throughout the data, rather than exposing a few highly-
clicked, outlying Tweets driving up an average for a majority of underperform-
ing Tweets.
Next we look at both clicks per Tweet and total Retweets normalized by audi-
ence size.

Audience Analysis of Major News Accounts on Twitter
New York
Trust and
engagement are
comparative to
New York
future investment
in a brand; people
who think highly
of you will actively
recommend you to
FigurEs 2+3: avEragE clicks pEr TwEET and TOTal
their friends and
rETwEETs (nOrMalizEd by audiEncE sizE)
The Economist still has the most engaged audience in terms of content clicks
and, relative to its size, Fox News is a close second. While Fox News does not
have the highest nominal click rates, it is generating a substantial volume of
clicks given its number of followers. One would expect an active Twitter audi-
ence such at Al-Jazeera's to click on content at a higher volume, yet in this
case, Fox news performs much better.
This raises some interesting questions. Why do we see fewer clicks coming
from an audience that is supposedly more advanced and passionate on Twit-
ter? Perhaps Fox News has a better recipe for generating provocative titles
and attracting the attention of their followers, while Al-Jazeera has a trusting
audience that generally Retweets its content, but doesn't necessarily click links
to the shared articles.
One is not necessarily better than the other. Trust and engagement are com-
parative to future investment in a brand; people who think highly of you will
actively recommend you to their friends and colleagues. This is obviously pro-
ductive over time. Yet, click-through metrics are clearly extremely important
for most online publishers.

Audience Analysis of Major News Accounts on Twitter
Historically we've used intuition to interact with our imagined audience, keep-
ing mental models in our heads of what we think will be most entertaining
and interesting. With the advent of social network spaces, we can leverage
available data to power thoughtful decisions on ways to interact with an ever-
growing networked audience. Rather than using simplistic measures such as
audience size or randomly choosing topics, there's great potential in parsing
real-time signals, identifying prominent discussion topics and getting to know
an audience based on past actions - what they click on, Retweet and post.
Using real-time signals, publishers can make wiser decisions on what to post
and when. We showed how topical network graphs can be used to identify
different conversations taking place and how certain hashtags can be used
to reach a certain audience. We also showed how click maps provide a reflec-
using real-time
tion of oneself: what one's audience finds compelling out of the total content
signals, publishers
posted. Using these two approaches, one can identify existing opportunities to
match content with an audience.
can make wiser
decisions on what
Finally, it is important to think deeply about the significance of engagement
metrics. While clicks bring immediate returns, Retweets and other forms of
to post and when.
audience participation raise trust and brand awareness, both imperative for
maintaining sustained growth. A high number of followers is not indicative of
an engaged audience; a high click-through rate doesn't necessarily yield other
engagement metrics such as Retweets and new followers. By paying attention
to long established demographics, collective audience behavior and the mer-
curial and fickle moment-to-moment signals, we step away from conjectures,
generalizations, and assumptions, and leverage the audience itself in deter-
mining how best to interact.
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