3 things we learned about social media traffic in 2022

This is part 1 of a 2 part series. For a more detailed look at recent search patterns, please read our companion piece on the Echobox blog.

In the past few years the Search and Social landscape for news publishers has been decidedly mixed. 

After the boom of traffic in 2020, Chartbeat data shows that readership has trended back towards pre-pandemic levels. This has likely informed the decision of many publishers to prioritize developing social media strategies for platforms like Instagram, where newer and younger audiences can be found — audiences who aren’t as burned out by a historically enervating news cycle.

At the same time, we’ve seen unprecedented upheaval within social media companies, as Facebook and Instagram scramble to adapt to the popularity of insurgents like TikTok, and Twitter has been through months of prolonged turbulence since its acquisition by Elon Musk at the end of 2022.

Even Facebook, despite remaining the largest source of social media referral traffic, can at times make life difficult for publishers as when it recently threatened to remove Canadian news content from its platform in retaliation for proposed legislation to force it to pay for that content. 

With commentators pronouncing the end of the Age of Social Media, we’ve once again partnered with Chartbeat to gain a true picture of the news publishing industry’s performance on social media and search.

To lend our expertise on the social media side of things, we looked at engagement stats for more than 4,000 publishers from countries around the world to understand:

  • What happened to social media traffic in 2022?
  • How has engagement with organic posts changed in the last few years?
  • How engaging are video posts compared to link posts?
  • What social engagement trends can we take away from 2022 in particular?

Here’s what we found.

The share of pageviews from social media rebounded in 2022

In 2022, Echobox’s Publishing Trends Report showed increasing traffic to be a top priority for nearly three-quarters of publishers. By the end of the year, this priority played out in the data, with traffic from social media rebounding significantly compared to 2021. This trend was mainly attributable to an increase in pageviews from Facebook. From January 2021 to January 2022, the average percentage of traffic publishers gained from the platform was 11.96%, more than a percentage point lower than the year previous. In 2022, however, traffic share from Facebook increased to 12.69%.

For other platforms, the data revealed the opposite: the share of traffic generated from Instagram, for instance, declined in 2022, from 0.24% in 2021 to 0.19%. These findings are notable given that Instagram has been a platform on which publishers see significant room for expansion, although its posting structure makes it less effective at driving referral traffic compared to other social platforms. 

The same trend is true of Twitter, which has seen a steady decline in pageviews since a high point during the COVID pandemic. In 2020, the platform produced an average of 1.22% of all referral traffic for publishers. By 2021, this number had dropped to 1.04%, while 2022 saw this number decline even further to just 0.89% — a 27% decrease in the past two years.

These results demonstrate that, if anything, publishers are becoming more reliant on Facebook as a source of referral traffic, with the platform generating close to the same average levels of pageviews for publishers in 2022 as in 2020, the year of the “coronavirus traffic bump.” 

Given that Facebook is the dominant source of referral traffic from social media for news publishers, we’ll focus exclusively on the platform in the insights that follow. 

CTR on Facebook has increased in 2023 while video view rates outstrip clicks  

Since 2021, the average click-through rate of organic content on Facebook has risen from 2.5% to 3%. This will be music to the ears of news publishers for whom clicks from social media are still a fundamental means of traffic generation. 

Moreover, the growing interest in platforms such as TikTok and Instagram has positioned publishers in good stead when it comes to producing video content. In our Publishing Trends Report 2022, we noted that 63% of respondents said creating video content would be more important in 2022 — 20 percentage points more than activities like newsletters and exploring new social media platforms.

Our data indicates that investing in video content is a worthwhile strategy for news publishers, with the average Facebook video view rate (the percentage of users who saw a video appear in their feed and watched it for more than 10 seconds) standing at 12.5%. With Facebook and Instagram both adapting their algorithms to promote the Reels short-form video format, video will be an increasingly prominent format in the years to come for those seeking off-platform engagement.

Facebook engagement increased in 2022 compared to the year before

While Facebook traffic and engagement picked up in 2022 as compared to the year before, if we look in more detail, we see that engagement metrics on the platform declined throughout the second half of 2022 before rallying around December. For more perspective on this decline, we looked at three engagement metrics: clicks, likes and comments, and impressions.

The decline in impressions after July is notable as impressions tend to drive other metrics. For example, the level of exposure a shared post receives makes it more or less likely that someone will choose to engage with it. That said, the relationship between impressions and engagement metrics is less definitive as the form of engagement becomes more complex. This can be seen in the following graphs.

When we compare impressions against Facebook click data, we see that as impressions trended downward in the second half of 2022, so, too, did engagement in the form of clicks. This correlation may reflect the fact that clicks are the simplest form of engagement for an audience to carry out. When we look at the relationship between impressions and a more complex form of interaction like comments, however, the correlation is less clear.

Comparing clicks, comments and likes to impressions, we see a fairly uniform decline in the latter part of the year across all engagement metrics, with the decline in comments appearing particularly steep. It remains to be seen whether December’s uptick in impressions and engagement remains, or whether it is an anomaly.

Though we cannot make a definitive conclusion, Facebook’s decision to prioritize video content such as Reels may be at least partially responsible for the downward trend in impressions and engagement across all post formats that we saw in 2022. But with publishers continuing to invest in short video, we may begin to see increased engagement on Facebook in the long term. 

Our takeaways

  1. Publishers saw a higher proportion of pageviews from social media in 2022, but this was mainly due to increased traffic from Facebook compensating for declining traffic from other social platforms.
  2. Video posts outperform link posts on Facebook if we compare CTR to video view rate. We would expect this trend to continue and even perhaps increase with the company’s focus on Reels.
  3. Impressions and engagement declined throughout the second half of 2022, before picking up in December. This was true of all metrics measured, demonstrating their interconnected nature.

Social traffic remains a robust referrer for publishers, despite the declines in traffic from Twitter and Instagram. Publishers must, however, hope that Facebook’s staying power endures until another platform proves to be as powerful a referrer. In parallel, publishers should focus on growing their owned audiences using channels like email to reduce their dependence on social platforms.

But how is search faring? Find out here.

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