The ups and downs of using Facebook like a home page

Publishers are using Facebook like a home page and getting impressive results. But the data shows what you get from Facebook depends very much on what you put into it.

Cory Haik, Chief Strategy Officer at Mic predicted a year ago that “distributed platforms and native environments will be more valuable than the traditional homepage.” *

The Guardian optimizes Facebook posts for organic sharing uplift. Source: Kaleida, 2017

Publishers are using Facebook like a homepage, and the value of doing that is becoming undeniable. At Kaleida we’ve been tracking publishers’ activities across the market, and we can see clearly that Haik was on to something.

Of course, all the big platforms are doing what they can to enable this transition and anything else that helps them control the attention economy. Emily Bell wrote about the implications of this shift in her now famous post ‘Facebook is eating the world’.

“Posting journalism directly to Facebook or other platforms will become the rule rather than the exception. Even maintaining a website could be abandoned in favor of hyperdistribution.”

Most publishers have let pragmatism drive their strategy for dealing with Facebook, and, in some cases, they’ve found real success when they’ve focused on Facebook as a distribution channel.

Without going too deep into the implications of handing more control over to powerful platforms, let’s look more closely at what publishers are actually doing there and to what benefit.

Some of the publishers we track are getting the benefit of all the work they did early on to acquire ‘likes’ to their Facebook page. BBC (39M), CNN (27M), and Fox News (15M) can trigger viral responses to their Facebook posts just by the sheer size of their reach on the platform.

But that doesn’t stop much smaller organisations from competing head-to-head with the bigger publishers.

NPR, for example, gets a lot of traction organically averaging over 4 shares per minute for their articles. They then use the strength of their 6M page likes to get spikes of 16 shares per minute by posting the URL to their brand page. The Washington Post has similar reach and achieves a lift of about 18 shares per minute after posting to their brand page.

The Washington Post increases organic sharing after posting a link to their Facebook brand page. Source: Kaleida, 2017

Fox News is even more efficient. Despite low organic activity of only 1 share per minute on average they get an astounding uplift to 28 shares per minute immediately following a post to their brand page.

That uplift figure is particularly interesting, as it shows how some publishers are making the most of their Facebook presence while others seem to have no strategy at all.

Achieving that lift is often more art than science. Sometimes it’s a matter of timing and waiting for that moment when the volume and speed of sharing are both swinging upwards. Other times it’s about not doing wasteful things like promoting a story when your audience is asleep.

One of the most fascinating discoveries for us is how much the brand page matters.

The publishers we track average about 1,500 shares per article. About 10% of the articles in our system have earned 4,000 or more shares on Facebook. 85% of those successful articles were pushed on the publisher’s brand page.

In other words, articles don’t succeed on their own. Facebook distribution only really works if the publisher makes it work.

Most articles with higher organic sharing figures have been posted to a publisher’s Facebook brand page. Source: Kaleida, Articles tracked from 20 Feb to 05 Mar, 2017

Not everyone gets this, but the ones that do have benefitted a lot from it.

Let’s look at Breitbart, an organization that is designed for speed both on social and their own channels.

Publishers we track keep the lead story on their home page in the top slot for an average of 8 hours. Breitbart rotates the lead story every 3 hours.

Breitbart has become very influential despite questionable methods. See what the data tells us about Breitbart’s publishing operation.

It’s unclear from sharing behavior whether their web site is very busy, but they do often get a strong organic push on Facebook averaging about 3 shares per minute per article.

Where Breitbart excels is their uplift after posting. They achieve a tremendous 28 shares per minute on average immediately after posting an article URL to their Facebook brand page.

Their strategy clearly gets results even though their methods have been questionable. We wrote more about this in a recent Kaleida research report studying what data says about how they operate.

Publishers are very aware that there are many downsides to relinquishing so much control of a key function of the business. And there’s a lot of upside to be gained from managing a strong web site home page. CEO Sachin Kamdar’s research reminds us that publishers’ home pages carry a lot of weight.

“The top online news sites receive around 2,000 views per minute (around 10 to 20 percent of total traffic) on their homepages during peak times, according to data from Sites with particularly loyal audiences see as high as 50 percent of traffic coming straight to their homepage.”

Owned and operated products are always going to be important even if the reason they exist changes as distribution changes. And there are plenty of other sources of traffic besides Facebook. Don’t forget Google! But data shows that Haik was right — many publishers have found better distribution results from partners than they have through their own channels.

Facebook will never be everything to everyone. As long as publishers watch the data and focus their Facebook initiatives on what Facebook does best then they will benefit. The same principle will apply to any partner a publisher either wants to work with or has to work with.

The real challenge is how to use the things that they do control to get as much value as possible from the things that they don’t.


Notes on methodology

This analysis was done using data we collected, data we connected, and analysis performed on the data.

We collected all the URLs published to a publisher’s home page and data about where headlines get promoted and for how long. The editors’ promotional decisions are useful data that suggests what editors think is important. So far, we’re tracking about 20 of the world’s leading news orgs.

From there we collect more data to build a sort of map of the media landscape, including organic sharing behavior from Facebook, information about the subjects mentioned in article from Wikipedia, etc. There’s a lot of publicly available data, and by linking things together and running all that data through tools like Elasticsearch we can see who is interested in what, when and how much.

To be clear, we’re tracking link posts on Facebook, but we don’t track videos. Also, we don’t know what changes Facebook makes to its algorithm from day-to-day, but by tracking activity we can identify patterns and benchmarks.

About Kaleida

Kaleida measures the flow of information around the world. By analysing the output of news publishers and the sharing habits of consumers, we form insights into what matters most, and to whom. Contact us at

Graham Tackley, CTO of Kaleida, contributed to this report.

Harold Evans—Former Sunday Times editor

“Facebook has taken the revenues, making tons and tons of money, at the same time depriving the press of its traditional source of revenue from advertising. My suggestion is that Mr Zuckerberg should make a bequest of exactly half of his fortune and it should go to various organisations so we can disseminate news without having to rely on Facebook and fake news, because there’s no monitoring system there.” (The Irish Times, 4 March 2017)

Veit V. Dengler—NZZ Mediengruppe

“The way we see Facebook and other platforms is basically the same as at The Washington Post. They give us leads for the funnel, and they help us build the brand. But we’re also very much in saying that the main part of our activities: the regional papers and the NZZ, are paid-content models. So it’s all about converting.” (Wan-Ifra, 20 July 2016)

Mark Zuckerberg—Facebook

“Facebook is a new kind of platform. It’s not a traditional technology company. It’s not a traditional media company. You know, we build technology and we feel responsible for how it’s used. We don’t write the news that people read on the platform. But at the same time we also know that we do a lot more than just distribute news, and we’re an important part of the public discourse.” (Facebook, 21 December 2016)

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