Just because a story gets a lot of tweets doesn’t mean people are reading it.
Chartbeat, a company that measures real-time traffic for websites, says its data indicate that many people only spend a few seconds on an article page before tweeting it out. (Disclosure: TIME is a client of Chartbeat.) Chartbeat measures things like how far people scroll down, amount of time spent on a page and where they click next in order to determine whether people are actually reading content.
“We’ve found effectively no correlation between social shares and people actually reading,” Chartbeat CEO Tony Hailie tweeted on Feb. 2. Chartbeat’s lead data scientists, Josh Schwartz, told the Verge Friday that Hailie was referring specifically to tweets, though the same can presumably be said of Facebook shares.
“There is obviously a correlation between number of tweets and total volume of traffic that goes to an article,” he says. “But just not a relationship between stories that are most heavily consumed and stories that are most heavily tweeted,” Schwartz said. In other words, people are skimming.
That will come as no surprise to writers who receive confusing tweets from people who have “read” their stories but clearly didn’t make it past the headline. But the fact that many people are tweeting before reading does make it hard for writers, editors and readers to determine a story’s popularity based on the number of shares it gets — a statistic often featured prominently at the top of each article.
It’s not all bad news though. UpWorthy and BuzzFeed have both enlisted their data-science teams to track the same info that Chartbeat does. Both sites have found that the majority of shares on social media occur after someone has spent over three and a half minutes on the page. That effectively means that if you see someone tweet an article, they either didn’t read a single word of it, or they read the whole thing.
So to you survivors who have made it to the end of this post, go ahead and tweet. Prove you read the whole darned thing.