Battle For Supremacy: How S’pore media outlets performed on social media in 2018

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A CrowdTangle chart showing overall levels of interactions on FB for

It’s been a crazy year in news. And we know that Singaporeans still turn to social media in droves for news (more accurately, content published by news and self-professed news outlets) despite the growing misgivings about the ethical standards of these tech-giants.

Here’s a look at what the top individual social media posts and the aggregate data tell us about what readers have engaged with. Data in this post are drawn from the top 1,000 posts on FB and InstaGram by Channel NewsAsia, The Straits Times, TODAY, CNA Insider, Stomp, Yahoo Singapore, The New Paper, and Mothership.sg from Jan 1 2018 to Dec 20 2018. I used a smaller subset of data for Twitter.

1.1 FACEBOOK - Top Performing Posts

The top 3 FB posts have nothing to do with breaking news, surprisingly enough, and are entirely dominated by CNA Insider (see chart below). I know some of the social media tracking services apply a formula to calculate how well an FB post is doing overall, but in this case I think the raw numbers speak for themselves.

This is 2018's No 1 FB post from Singapore’s media outlets, by CNA Insider. It has garnered 90,343 shares and 85,698 “Likes”. Nothing else comes close:

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The second-best performing FB post also comes from CNA Insider, and is coincidentally the most-commented FB post this year, by far — with 17,635 comments:

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I’m skipping the content analysis. Here are the rest of the top 10 best performing FB posts:

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1.2 FACEBOOK — Aggregate Data Shows A Different Picture

It’s been apparent for a few years now that CNA Insider has a real knack for producing one-shot viral hits on FB with their feature pieces. But that doesn’t necessary translate to overall dominance on the platform, as it is impossible to replicate that virality on a daily basis. Consistently high performance is the key to dominance on FB, as CNA demonstrates:

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CNA has more than half, or 568, of the top 1,000 best-performing FB posts from Singapore media outlets.

As the piechart clearly shows, CNA dominates the competition with the highest proportion of top-performing posts on FB. Of the 1,000 posts analysed, CNA had 568, while ST, Mothership, CNA Insider and TODAY had 214, 114, 68, and 26 respectively. Stomp(6), Yahoo Singapore(2), and The New Paper(2) — labelled under “Others” in the chart — accounted for just 1 per cent of the top posts.

Another way to look at CNA’s dominance on FB:

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CNA’s FB page dominates the competition in terms of number of “Likes”, shares and comments garnered among the top 1,000 best-performing posts since Jan 01 2018 published by Singapore media outlets.

CNA’s lead is near-insurmountable for “Likes” and number of shares. Its readers don’t seem that interested in leaving comments, though that’s a general trend observed for all the publishers studied here. A more detailed breakdown:

Likes garnered by top 1,000 best performing posts sine Jan 01, 2018:

Channel NewsAsia     1935024
CNA Insider 561307
The Straits Times 553191
Mothership.sg 213850
TODAY 66740
Stomp 2522
Yahoo Singapore 1657
The New Paper 1242

Shares:

Channel NewsAsia     1569416
CNA Insider 621155
The Straits Times 547661
Mothership.sg 418943
TODAY 108973
Stomp 22850
Yahoo Singapore 7170
The New Paper 4733

Comments:

Channel NewsAsia     248881
The Straits Times 71503
Mothership.sg 70545
CNA Insider 55794
TODAY 10054
Stomp 2820
Yahoo Singapore 2473
The New Paper 159

Story links continue to account for the lion’s share of the top 1,000 posts, with videos accounting for about a-third:

Link                   557
Native Video 337
Photo 87
Live Video Complete 19

1. 3 QUICK TAKE

FB is not a level-playing field. Paying to boost your FB posts make a huge difference in overall performance. But it’s unclear which outlet is “doping” and by how much. This is not something newsrooms are about to come clean about.

Still, Mediacorp’s dominance on FB, via CNA and CNA Insider, raises interesting questions for Singapore’s media landscape and Singapore Press Holdings(SPH). ST is arguably SPH’s best performing player on the digital front. Yet it is being beaten by huge margins on FB — still the default social media platform for most Singaporeans looking for news — with no signs that it can close the gap.

Important thing to note here, however, is that social views/virality don’t always translate to readership on a publisher’s site. For instance, CNA Insider’s popular FB videos may not do anything much to bring users to https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/international

But it boils down to what the industry and advertisers would accept as “readership” and “views”. I suspect there would be a big push to include these social metrics and interaction as part of “readership/user surveys” going ahead.

Another noteworthy development: Mothership.sg is picking up rapidly on FB in terms of overall engagement, even though its overall “fan base” has not even cracked 300,000. This speaks to its growing grip on young readers (I hesitate to say millennials), a demographic that neither SPH nor Mediacorp has had any success in reaching.

2 INSTAGRAM

For news outlets, there’s a lot more buzz about IG this year due to Stories and the general mess at FB (which can’t decide how it wants to deal with news content/publishers). But IG remains a tough platform for a breakthrough performance if you are a traditional, strait-laced news outfit. We’ll see in a bit how non-traditional “news” outlets like Mothership are catching up fast.

In terms of fan base among the Singapore English news publishers, IG is basically a two-horse race between ST and CNA, with 152,600+ and 150,600+ followers. TODAY is third with 53,500+ followers, with Mothership at 36,800+ and TNP at 13,900+. Stomp and Yahoo Singapore have less than 10,000 followers on IG.

Given the obvious gap, I’ve pared the top 1,000 IG posts down to those from ST, CNA and TODAY.

2.1 INSTAGRAM — Top Performing Posts

The most “liked”, most commented, and most viewed (video) IG posts since Jan 01 2018 all came from ST:

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L-R: Most “liked”, most commented, and most viewed IG post for 2018 by a Singapore news publisher.

ST also has eight of the top 10 IG posts:

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2.2 INSTAGRAM — Mothership’s sharp interaction spike

On social media, the size of the “fan base” is not the last word in terms of winning the competition. The level of interaction matters a whole lot. And just because you have more followers, it doesn’t necessarily mean your IG posts are more engaging. Case in point: Mothership.

Since April 2018 or so, the level of interaction on its IG posts (pink line) has seen a very sharp spike:

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This CrowdTangle chart shows the sharp spike in interactions for Mothership’s IG posts since April 2018.

Mothership is on course to close out the year with the second highest level of interaction on IG among news publishers, despite having just a fraction of the fan base of the big players:

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Mothership’s having a great 2018 on IG, according to this chart, also from CrowdTangle.

2.3 QUICK TAKE

ST’s dominance on IG is not surprising, given the strength and size of its photo-desk. But Mothership’s surge in interaction shows that you don’t have to go “NatGeo” to succeed on IG. Low-fi posts, humour, illustrations etc all work as well, if you can pull it off and your readers can accept the tone. SGag is undoubtedly the local master on this front.

Can or should the other local MSM outlets mimic SGag or Mothership in order to boost their IG numbers? Probably not, but I think there’s an argument here for loosening up and thinking of a different approach if your interaction levels are flatlining.

The other interesting thing about the IG numbers is the conspicuous underperformance of CNA Insider, which has been churning out viral hits on FB. So why can’t Insider replicate its success on IG, arguably an even more visual-driven platform? Maybe Insider is focusing on YouTube next. Or it could be a one-platform wonder (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

3. TWITTER

Twitter is basically “dead” for the big legacy newsrooms in Singapore. They know most Singaporeans don’t “get” Twitter, and find it too complicated for daily news consumption. The referral traffic from Twitter is also dismal, a small fraction of what FB delivers even on a bad day.

Still, these newsrooms dutifully tweet out their stories, and use the platform for breaking news coverage when necessary. But no one is under any illusion that it’s a major battlefield for readership.

These conditions make it ideal for a small player to take a different approach and score a breakthrough on Twitter — which is what Mothership did in 2018.

3.1 TWITTER — Top Performing Posts

Mothership has about 76,000 followers on Twitter, not even 10% of ST and CNA’s follower-base of 1 million and 902,000 respectively. Yet Mothership has been able to overtake all the legacy newsrooms in terms of interaction (more later), and dominate the top 400 best-performing tweets of 2018 by news publishers.

The most “liked” and retweeted tweet of the year by news publishers came from Mothership:

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In fact, Mothership has 8 of the top 10 best performing tweets:

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3.2 TWITTER — Judge Me By My Size, Do You?

Mothership’s performance on Twitter is a reminder that the network effect is exponential in nature, not linear. Here’s a look at Mothership’s incredible performance on Twitter, based on the top 400 tweets from news publishers:

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Of those 400 overperforming tweets, Mothership accounted for 295 of them, or about 74%. It had a combined total of 1,637,280 “likes” and retweets from these 295 tweets. CNA had 438,742 “likes” and retweets from 45 overperforming tweets, while ST had 129,718 likes” and retweets from 51 overperforming tweets.

Well, maybe the 400 tweets are not representative. Let’s see what the overall yearly data looks like:

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CrowdTangle chart showing interaction levels on Twitter for Mothership, CNA, ST, and TODAY in 2018.

Mothership notched the highest peak for interaction so far in 2018, and is now on a higher trajectory compared to the legacy newsrooms. The raw numbers put the issue beyond doubt:

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Interaction data for 2018 for these four publishers, via CrowdTangle.

3.3 TWITTER — Quick Take

So what happened here? I don’t know anyone at Mothership so I don’t have any inside information. Maybe 2018’s other top tweets will offer some clues:

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Notice a trend? The posts have got nothing to do with news, for one. So maybe newsrooms here have been doing Twitter all wrong. Singaporeans, especially the younger ones, could be turning to Twitter for “fun” rather than breaking news.

It is not possible, nor desirable, for the legacy newsrooms to drastically switch their tone and start posting memes and funny videos all week. But I think there’s a case here for a more varied diet. If all you are posting week in and week out are deadly serious stuff, you’ll only be driving more of your Twitter followers towards Mothership.

4. YOUTUBE, LINKEDIN

No local news publisher has successfully cracked YouTube or LinkedIn, so nothing to discuss here. But therein lies new opportunities as well, for digital managers who can see and chart a new way ahead, even on old social platforms.

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Data Science | Media | Politics

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