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The Effect That Connectivity To Networks Has On Media Websites

The explosive growth of social networking websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, over the past decade has made them valuable sources of advertising for many online businesses.  One industry that has particularly benefitted from the development of social networking has been the online news media.  It has become a trend on social networks for users to share links to news articles amongst their friends.  As a result, news websites are now receiving large percentages of their daily user traffic through referrals on social networking websites.  However, not all online news sources are benefitting equally from such referrals.

A recent study published by Professor Rich Gordon of Northwestern University and Zachary Johnson, CEO of Syndio Social (a company specializing in the analysis of social networks), shows that social networking referrals are helping small news websites significantly more than larger sites.  This study, which examined the links between 301 news websites in the Chicago market over a two week period, found that small news sources are now receiving about 51% of their user referrals through social networking.  This is significantly larger than the 18.7% of referrals that large websites are receiving.


The study also looked at the importance of interconnectivity within the ecosystem of news websites in the Chicago sample group.  Examination of the network of online news media sources showed that most of the sites were heavily connected to other sites in the ecosystem.  Many sites offered users access to outbound links to other news sources.  Especially important in the network were sites which the study labeled “hubs”.  These sites tended to provide most of the outbound links for the network, connecting many different news sources together.  Through interconnectivity, most websites saw an increase in their referral rates.  However, the gains from this interconnectivity were again skewed in favor of smaller news sites.  Small sites received over 25% of their referrals from connections within the local media ecosystem, while larger, more established sites only received 2.2% of referrals from this source.

The study clearly shows that smaller news websites benefit significantly more from connection to networks, both social and within the news ecosystem, than larger websites, but it does not speculate on why this is the case.  One reason for why this disparity in benefits might exist is because large websites are already well connected within the local network of people.  The more prominent sites already have an established user-base and they are well known to everyone in the communities that they serve.  Since everyone is aware of these sources, there is little motivation for people to refer larger news sites to their peers or access them through other sites.  If a person wants to access one of the more prominent sites, they will go directly to the website for information. As an example from class, a large news website in the ecosystem is analogous to a well connected node at the center of a network.  It is already connected to most of the other nodes in the network (in this case, people).  Due to this, there is little pressure from the triadic closure property for people to connect the website to other nodes (refer the site).  Therefore, for large sites, referrals from local and online social networks do not create a significant difference in users.

On the other hand, small sites are not particularly well connected to local networks of people.  These sites are not nearly as well known to members of the community as larger sites are.  As a result, loyal users of smaller sites feel compelled to refer the sites to other members of their social groups.  Also, the referrals are more likely to be effective because there is a higher probability that the people receiving the referrals will not have been aware of the site before and will be compelled to check it out.  A smaller news website is comparable to a node in a social network that is only connected to a few other nodes (again, nodes represent people).  Since the website’s node is not well connected in the network, there will be significant pressure through triadic closure for it to become more connected.  This means that for small sites, referrals from networks have a very large effect on the size of user-bases.

It is clear from the study that being connected to networks is very important to online news media sources.  In particular, smaller websites rely heavily on networks in order to increase and sustain their user-bases.  In an ever more socially connected world, small news websites (and sites for other businesses as well) would be wise to do everything they can in order to become more connected in the networks around them.





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