Don’t Pay To Boost That Post Quite Yet

Long time readers will know that I frequently counsel not jumping on the newest technological gizmo bandwagon too quickly lest you dilute your efforts fruitlessly across too many efforts.

While Facebook isn’t the newest kid on the block, some recent research by the Pew Research Center reveals the value of visitors brought to your page by Facebook and search engine results is pretty low. You may want to rethink any plans to buy ads.

The research was conducted on news sites so the validity may vary depending on how much more engaging you feel your website is versus the top 26 news sites like CNN, Fox News, BBC, NPR and BuzzFeed.

Pew Research found that people visiting a site directly stayed longer (4:36), looked around more (24.8 pages) and returned more often (10.9 visits) than those arriving via Facebook (1:41, 4.2 pages and 2.9 visits)

Even sites such as digital native and National Public Radio’s, which have an unusually high level of Facebook traffic, saw much greater engagement from those who came in directly.

The data also suggest that converting social media or search eyeballs to dedicated readers is difficult to do

Reading the report, you may notice that the results are all based on desktop and laptop user data because the mobile data collected by the major analytics firms are not as detailed and thus are unable to support as granular an analysis.


While the main analysis does not include mobile traffic to these sites due to comScore’s smaller mobile panel size, the overall findings translate to the mobile realm as well. As Patrick Cooper, NPR’s Director of Web and Engagement told Pew Research, “The big thing publishers should take
away from the desktop data, even if desktop is going away, is that: 1) method of entry matters to the experience and 2) they can’t control method of entry.”

Remember, these numbers reflect the behavior of people who are visiting a webpage based on something they see elsewhere on the web. This research doesn’t address whether Facebook is a good tool for developing relationships with people.

The act of typing in the direct address of a website (or clicking on a bookmark) implies a certain level of engagement with the website already. The fact is, The New York Times may have tens of thousands of people who choose visit the NYT Facebook page faithfully everyday by typing in their Facebook address, but who don’t linger long or look around much when they choose to click through to the website to read a story.

There may be thousands of people who feel loyal and engaged with the New York Times via their Facebook page that the research is viewing as lightly engaged due to their habits upon visiting the webpage.

Arts organizations can just as quickly describe a show and provide supporting video on a Facebook page as their webpage and don’t need to depend on the same attention span as a news site would to read an article. (Which may mean some visitors may have too short an attention span to watch a performance, regardless of where they see it listed.)

So, lacking evidence to the contrary, Facebook may still be a good tool for providing information to people who are already following your organization. My take away from the research though is that buying ads, having people like your posts or reposting your information may bring you a surge in traffic, but not necessarily increase the number of people engaged in your work.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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