bird in a cage

There is no secret sauce for digital publishers looking to improve their performance on Twitter.

But it’s important for them to try, according to new research from, provider of an analytics platform for publishers. 

Twitter drives a median 8.5 percent of the 46 percent of all traffic social networks contribute to media sites across’s network of digital publishers.

Make Twitter Work

"Though Twitter may not be a huge overall source of traffic to news websites relative to Facebook and Google, it serves a unique place in the link economy. News really does ‘start' on Twitter,” a newly released report from concludes. So how can publishers influence the volume of traffic from Twitter — and how can they tweet effectively to engage their readers?

“Referral sources show a snapshot of the traffic to our network in time and reflect both industry trends and shifts in our publishing clients,” Allie VanNest, head of communications at, told CMSWire. 

In addition to social traffic, 40 percent of traffic to publishing sites come from search and another 11 percent is from other sources. 

Publishers, Know Your Audience

Today's publishers have to understand what newspapers mastered in the last century: Know your audience if you want the work to succeed.

  • Understand the people you write for and what information they care about
  • Ask why the person consuming your content would care about it right now
  • And ask how that content provides service beyond publicly available information for your audience

“​Anyone who creates content — from publishers to brands — needs to spend time ​learning more about their audience,” VanNest said.

“U​se data to understand what ​your audience find​s​ interesting, and make sure that you are creating content that reflects this. Not only will this help you to improve the shareability of your content across social channels, but it may provide you with the insight you need to generate more traffic or encourage loyalty.”

Make It Shareable

The numbers appear to back up that logic. The most active publishers on Twitter don’t always see highest engagement. Publishing interesting and shareable content actually receives higher engagement and generates more traffic, the report found.

According to the report, publishers see a median value of 1.5 percent traffic from Twitter to their sites, eight tweets per post, three clicks per tweet and .7 retweets per original tweet.

On the other hand, the top 5 percent of publishers average 11 percent traffic from Twitter, write 180 tweets per post and receive 18 clicks per tweet and four retweets per original tweet.

“The sexier the topic, the more socially active it will likely be, meaning it will see high engagement and shares. Conversational tweets about computers fall relatively flat, while tweets about a wardrobe malfunction, for example, seem to be exponentially more shareable,” VanNest said.

Tracking the Data

Collaborating with Twitter’s data team, tracked all tweets linking to its customers’ sites from January to March. This amounted to tracking data from 200 sites for two weeks.

While Twitter still lags Facebook, Google and Yahoo in traffic referrals, argues news “starts” on Twitter, pointing to news outlets and journalists tweeting breaking news and ongoing coverage before stories run.

“Regular people, and not journalists, have historically been first to ‘report’ on major breaking news events. From the 2008 earthquake in China to the plane crash on the Hudson River in 2009, and more,” VanNest said.

Start Conversations’s report looked at differences between conversational news and breaking news. Conversations tend to take place over a longer period of time with thousands of people participating. Breaking news causes big traffic spikes over shorter periods of time.

In the report, conversational news on the US presidential election totaled 1.9 million tweets to news stories about the political candidates. Of the total tweets in March, 1.3 million were about Donald Trump, 307,000 about Hilary Clinton, 275,000 about Ted Cruz and 217,000 about Bernie Sanders.

Compared to conversations, tweets on breaking news see high volume in short bursts. More than 92,000 tweets referencing the Brussels attack and linking to news stories surfaced within 24 hours of the attack, and 34,000 of those tweets were posted in the first six hours.

As a publisher on Twitter, decide what topics warrant conversations and which might work better as shorter exchanges as bigger news takes place. Tailor your tweets and make sure your content is as relevant as possible. Join in on larger conversations if there’s a good fit, and take charge your organization can offer something as an authority.

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