Sports coverage earns higher Facebook reactions than other subjects

Articles that go viral on Facebook show increases in Reactions in greater numbers than either Comments or Shares. Football stories are the category leader. But do those engagements convert to traffic to the publishers’ web sites? Our new study tackles this and other related questions.

While digging through all the news articles published last month to produce the October rankings report we found an interesting insight about football coverage.

The engagement number we get from Facebook for each article is the sum of the comments, the number of shares of the URL, and the reactions associated with the link. Reactions include likes, angry faces, laughing faces, etc. CTO Graham Tackley wrote up an explainer about all this here.

The median number of engagements for news articles in October was 26. That’s half of all news articles get fewer than 26 engagements. But there are many articles that do much better than that, and it turns out that the split of comments, shares and reactions looks different for articles that perform below average vs those that perform better than average.

What we found was that the number of reactions increases disproportionately to comments and link shares. Articles that succeed on Facebook and have particularly high engagement counts are mostly driven by reactions.

This chart shows the increase in Reactions, Shares and Comments as a percent of the total Engagement figure for each article. The long tail for this analysis is indeed very long, so we are only showing the pattern for articles reporting between 25,000 and 250,000 engagements to illustrate the trend. Source:

We looked more closely to find out what kinds of articles demonstrated this behavior most clearly. That turned up the second interesting data point.

Football was the answer. “Real” football, as my British friends remind me every time we talk about the sport also known as soccer.

Sports, in general, performed well by this measure, but football demonstrated it more than any other type of coverage.

If you download the spreadsheet of October news articles and calculate which stories have the highest reaction counts as a percentage of total engagements you’ll find rows and rows of stories about football — everything from comments from coaches and stories about top players to trades and rumors to scores and previews covering all the European leagues, the Champions League and the World Cup.

The list is dominated by the Daily Mail, The Telegraph, Mirror Online, and HuffPost.

The key question is how well this activity converts to referral traffic back to the publishers’ web sites. More specifically, publishers need to understand whether reactions for their stories have a higher or lower correlation with referral traffic. That result will indicate whether this pattern is worth encouraging or if it only helps Facebook.

We did some analysis recently showing that the referral traffic from Facebook to one publisher indicated the value of one engagement was about $0.04.

If reactions on Facebook are easier to achieve off the back of football coverage than other stories, and if those reactions covert to clicks to the publishers’ web sites then it would make sense to beef up the editorial resources in this area.

It’s clear from some referral analysis we’ve done that coverage of sports is an important part of any news publisher’s portfolio. It accounts for over 10% of referral traffic for some publishers.

Not all publishers will show the same patterns, but now that we know what is working for some news orgs we can help identify which publishing strategies work best for others.

About the study

If you would like Kaleida to look at your data and see how we can help please do get in touch. By joining our upcoming referral research study you can see how you compare with the market.

The Referral Impact Study will look at traffic patterns driving readers to news. It will size the market and put numbers behind key questions news publishers need to understand.

Participating publishers will get a custom referral report highlighting their performance and benchmarking with the wider news ecosystem.

It will be produced independently with support from our partners at Google.