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social media researchIs your business on Facebook and Twitter?

Have you considered sharing news with your audience?

Research indicates that people are using Facebook and Twitter for more than connecting with friends and brands. They’re now looking to these platforms for updates on current events.

In this article you’ll discover how the way people use Facebook and Twitter is shifting, and how brands can respond.

twitter and facebook user behavior research

Discover how changes in user behavior on Facebook and Twitter affect marketers.

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#1: More People Get Their News From Facebook and Twitter

A July 2015 study from Pew Research Center reveals that increasing numbers of Twitter and Facebook users visit the platforms to get news. Of the over 2,000 study participants, 63% now depend on both channels for updates on national events and political issues, big leaps from 2013 numbers.

Twitter, which was more news-oriented from the beginning, didn’t have as dramatic a leap: 52% to 63% during the two-year period. Those reporting they use Facebook for news, on the other hand, grew from 47% in 2013 to 63% in 2015, or 16%. While the opportunity to stay abreast of friends and family events gets users on Facebook initially, it’s news (sports, science, technology, business and entertainment) that keeps them there.

pew news stats

As recently as 2013, approximately half of Americans used Facebook and Twitter to get their news. In just two years, that figure grew to close to two-thirds.

As the chart below shows, Facebook’s user numbers didn’t budge from 2013 to 2014. Despite the inevitable slowdown, today 71% of Internet users have a Facebook account, and 70% of those go to the site daily. Forty-five percent go there several times a day. By following friends, brands, organizations and news outlets, Facebook (and Twitter) users have created their own customized newspapers. They seem to like their new handiwork.

pew social site growth stats

Facebook’s growth has leveled off. Twitter’s leap in audience doesn’t make up for its smaller size and disappointing ROI.

While Twitter’s audience numbers made an impressive 28% leap from 2013 to 2014, the platform’s failure to gain the ubiquity of Facebook has disappointed many. Twitter remains hard at work creating a niche for live-tweeting events, television shows and sports, but it hasn’t shown much promise for the retailers who pay for ads.

Key takeaway: As Facebook and Twitter mature, their audience growth rates are leveling off. Younger audiences abandoned Facebook for Instagram, but baby boomers, Gen Xers and mature holdouts finally claimed their profiles. Brands should align their marketing content with current events to engage users.

#2: Twitter Is the Go-to Platform for Breaking News

The Pew Research Center image at the beginning of this article reveals another interesting fact: Even though most Twitter users tweet just once or a few times a week (far less often than Facebook users engage), if there is a nationwide crisis, exciting sports game, gaffe by a politician or a celebrity scandal, they flock to Twitter.

Numbers for those who report they follow breaking news on Twitter (59%) are nearly double those who say they do so on Facebook (31%). Twitter is the go-to destination for up-to-the-minute news and comments on that news.

Twitter is also the channel where sports fans and news junkies engage by sharing their opinions.

pew news tweet stats

Not only do Twitter users read news on the channel, 54% also comment on it.

Users do more than just read the headlines, they engage. As the graphic above shows, more than half of users tweet at least once about news each week. Also, while the majority of accounts that Twitter users follow are friends and family, the majority of tweets in their news feeds come from news outlets and journalists.

In the image below, you can see that while just 14% of the accounts Twitter users follow are news outlets, 33% of the tweets in their Twitter feed are from these outlets. Breaking it down further, the most popular news outlets are sports (with 35% of Twitter news followers receiving sports tweets), business/science/technology (14% getting news on these topics) and civic and political (12%).

pew account use stats

Thirty-three percent of most Twitter users’ feeds are news updates.

Keep in mind that in this study, the final sample providing Twitter data was small. Pew drew from its original group of 3,212 respondents only those who self-identified as Twitter users, provided their Twitter handles for analysis and had valid publicly accessible Twitter accounts. Respondents meeting these criteria numbered just 176 people and the study authors make it clear they understand the sample is small.

Key takeaway: Smart marketers will have to determine whether the opportunity for promoting their products and services lies with the news junkies and sports fans on Twitter. The erratic nature of breaking news makes this tougher for sure, but constantly monitoring what’s trending on Twitter and even Google Trends helps.

In June 2015, tech writer Frank Manjoo weighed in on Twitter in The New York Times. He concluded, “Among the many uses that Twitter fulfills as a social network, there is one it is uniquely suited for: as a global gathering space for live events.” Big games and earthquakes aside, Twitter serves well for industry conferences, speeches and more. People sharing their feelings as things happen live may prove as addictive as the Facebook selfie.

#3: Facebook Is the #1 News Source for Millennials

The eMarketer study Facebook Helps Millennials Keep Up with the Headlines found that 57% of U.S. Millennials check Facebook at least once each day for news and information, and 30% check it several times each day. Believe it or not, 14% of Millennials in the study self-identified as checking Facebook “almost constantly.”

Aside from instances of breaking news (where Twitter dominates), no other social channel has this many users visiting this often for news. Also, 60% liked, 34% commented on and 42% shared news items while on Facebook.

emarketer facebook activity stats

Millennials get their news on Facebook.

Key takeaway: Where once the sheer size of the baby boomer audience made it a target for marketers and brands, the children of that group have stolen this attention. Millennials (the 18 to 34 age group) outnumber their parents by about 20 million (90 million+ versus 72 million+).

Because this age group gets its news from Facebook, the platform will likely remain relevant for decades to come. Brands who build a Millennial audience on Facebook can capitalize on that relationship as they head into the house-buying, child-rearing, spending years.

#4: Reporters Rely on Facebook and Twitter for Visibility

Early on, journalists recognized the opportunity to reach local audiences through social media. Now, most have been on social channels for five years or more. A 2015 Cision poll of 200 journalists found that 75% used Facebook and 80% used Twitter for marketing and promotion.

Building relationships with potential sources, local businesses and political leaders also proved important. While news outlets post select stories, journalists often post everything they write or video on their own channels as well.

cision media report stats stats

Journalists use Facebook and Twitter for many reasons.

Key takeaway: Journalists most likely keep their Facebook and Twitter pages constantly updated with their stories as a career move. They have a strong intrinsic motivation to keep these channels full of news stories. With an army of journalists constantly posting news, lots of content lives there for people with all kinds of interests to consume. Facebook and Twitter will be robust content generators for years to come.

Businesses who use Twitter or Facebook to network with these journalists are better placed to offer insight on industry-related news stories.

#5: Facebook and Twitter Are Working on News-related Projects

While new features like Twitter’s Periscope and Facebook’s Instant Articles baffle some consumers, there’s a method to their madness. Most industry insiders see Periscope and Instant Articles as moves to pull the nightly news–watching audience’s attention away from television screens to smartphones, tablets and desktops, preferably via their channels. Both platforms are working hard to make news consumption both easier and more enriching.

Facebook’s Instant Articles (discussed in this podcast with Mari Smith) attract eyeballs with fast-loading audio and video updates. While Facebook had to convince big players like The New York Times and BuzzFeed to host some content on Facebook rather than their own platforms, the faster load times seem to please everyone. On Facebook, most articles load in under a second, while articles on the NYT website could take up to 8 seconds to load.

In late June 2015, Facebook also started rolling out the addition of icons to the Trending sidebar to allow users to filter topics. Clicking the appropriate icon allows users to see trending news about politics, science and technology, sports and entertainment. Facebook’s news-related moves reveal the platform’s goal of being indispensible.

facebook trending sidebar icons

Facebook is updating the trending sidebar with icons to filter news.

In February of this year, Twitter acquired startup Periscope before it even launched. The app, which lets you share and watch live video from your mobile phone, is a gift to citizen journalists, solopreneurs and many more. But Twitter’s news angle doesn’t stop there.

In the coming months, the platform will announce Project Lightning, a curated feed of images, tweets and videos organized around a live event as it happens. To make this work, Twitter will hire former newsroom employees like videographers, journalists and editors to create content on the spot.

If there is a crisis or breaking news event, Twitter will create a secondary experience around first-person journalism. If the next natural disaster occurs in a hard-to-reach area, Twitter will put it together from the best videos, tweets and photos landing on their server. Most likely this content will come from residents using their smartphones.

Key takeaway: With these new, as-it-happens tools, people all over the world will be able to document what’s happening and share it on Facebook and Twitter. Brands should familiarize themselves with these tools to remain a relevant source of information within their industries.

What do you think? Does the idea of Facebook and Twitter as news sources give you more confidence to advertise there? Do you think your customers use these platforms to get news? Leave your comments and questions below.

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Tips for how marketers should respond to the latest changes in Twitter and Facebook user behavior.

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