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4 takeaways from The New York Times’ new digital strategy memo
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Feb. 20, 2014, 5:37 p.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   February 20, 2014

Liz Gannes at Recode had an interesting story Thursday about how newly acquired WhatsApp had already begun introducing “Share on WhatsApp” tools to a select group of publishers, including BuzzFeed. Gannes’ story included this remarkable statement:

In fact, BuzzFeed is already seeing more shares to WhatsApp than to Twitter on iOS, the company told Re/code.

Whaaaat? More shares to WhatsApp than to Twitter? That’s insane if true! Should we all be abandoning our Twitter strategies in favor of WhatsApp strategies? What the hell does a WhatsApp strategy look like, anyway?

But here’s the thing: It’s not true. Gannes spends the next few paragraphs noting that it isn’t really “more shares” as much as it’s “more taps on one button as opposed to another nearby button.”

“Every time we looked at WhatsApp’s numbers, it blew us away,” said BuzzFeed president Jon Steinberg. “We knew last April this was a huge social network and have become increasingly obsessed with it.”

BuzzFeed integrated WhatsApp’s share button on iOS in October, and has seen shares double in the last few months, said BuzzFeed VP of business development Ashley McCollum.

But the WhatsApp tool is still very basic. “We only have click data, not referral data,” McCollum said. “So we know if you clicked the share button in mobile Web, but we don’t know (yet) if you shared in on a group text with 15 people and 15 people clicked it or if you shared it with one person.” [Or if you shared it with anyone at all. —Josh]

BuzzFeed is now working on Android and mobile Web integration for WhatsApp, McCollum said.

Aha: So it’s not that WhatsApp is generating more traffic than Twitter for BuzzFeed. It’s not even that BuzzFeed stories are being shared more often on Twitter than on WhatsApp. BuzzFeed doesn’t know how many times it’s being shared on WhatsApp! What it knows is that the green button on the right gets more taps than the light blue button at left-center:


I was wondering about that, so we emailed BuzzFeed’s McCollum just to be sure. “The metric is that more people click the WhatsApp share button on iOS mobile web than the Twitter button,” she wrote back.

Which is in no way the same as saying BuzzFeed sees more shares to WhatsApp than to Twitter. (Even once you note that we’re only talking here about mobile web pageviews on iPhones and iPod touches — which I’d guess is at most 20 to 30 percent of BuzzFeed traffic.)

People have lots and lots of ways to share stories to Twitter. If they’re using iOS, Twitter sharing is built right into the operating system. If they’re Twitter users, there’s a very good chance they’re already viewing the BuzzFeed article inside a Twitter app on their phone, which features a separate “tweet this webpage” button. And we know from previous data that Tweet Buttons generate only a small share of the Twitter shares of news stories — only about 12 percent as of November — and I’d wager that’s even lower on mobile.

Anyway, I say all this not to denigrate WhatsApp sharing — it’s likely big and will only get bigger. It’s a real phenomenon worth talking about! But to say, as Quartz did, that “People are already sharing more BuzzFeed stories to WhatsApp than to Twitter” is just completely unsupported by the evidence at hand.

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