Data: Parse.ly; Table: Axios Visuals

When it comes to traffic referrals for media companies, certain topics and behaviors take off on some platforms but fall flat on others. Politics, for example, is the No. 1 show in town on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, while it gets smothered on visual-heavy platforms like Instagram and Pinterest.

Why it matters: The majority of traffic referrals to online media companies isn't from direct sources, making it critical for publishers to understand which platforms are most likely to elevate specific topics.

"It's all about aligning with algorithms that you like," says Neil Vogel, CEO of DotDash, an IAC-backed media company that was created through the rebranding of version of About.com.

  • DotDash is home to several niche websites, like TripSavvy, The Spruce, Byrdie, MyDomain, Investopedia and others.
  • Vogel says that Google is a strong traffic distributor and publishing partner for some of DotDash's evergreen content on websites like TheSpruce, a home improvement site, and Investopedia. But Instagram is much better for others like Byrdie, a beauty brand, and MyDomain, a lifestyle brand.
  • Similarly, online publishers that focus on politics and hyper-partisan news tend to perform best on Facebook, according to analytics company Newswhip.

Yes, but: Just because a topic isn't well-aligned on a certain platform, doesn't mean it can't or won't perform well.

  • Overheard, for example, has millions of followers across multiple accounts on Instagram, but all of its content is words.
  • This means it could be beneficial for publishers to experiment with a variety of platforms.

Between the lines: The data suggests that the core function of each platform elevates certain topics because of the native format and the reasons users visit the platform.

  • On Instagram, the camera is the central format, allowing users to view and showcase desirable lifestyles.
  • On Snapchat, the platform similarly revolves around the camera, but because it doesn't showcase "likes," and involves 1-to-1 communication rather than 1-to-many, it doesn't incentivize users to play to an algorithm.
  • On Twitter, a string of text is the central format, allowing users to receive quick bursts of information in real time on evolving storylines.
  • On Google, a list of results is the central format, allowing users to sift through sources to find the specific information they seek.

Our thought bubble: Media companies are shifting from relying solely on Google and Facebook for news distribution to relying on other, more niche channels, including private networks.

  • This shift incentivizes media companies to produce higher-quality content to be effective regardless of the platform, rather than create content to game algorithms.
Data: Axios research: Chart: Axios Visuals

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