The Impact of Social vs. Non-Social Referral Sources on Online News Consumption

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Bar-Gill, Sagit; Inbar, Yael; Reichman, Shachar
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As news consumption shifts online, referring channels assume a growing role in the market for online news, creating new challenges and opportunities for news organizations. This research combines field and lab experiments, and analysis of large-scale clickstream data, to study the effects of social versus non-social referral sources on news consumption on a news outlet’s website. We propose that referring channels create a new type of priming effect, denoted the referral effect, as unique features of the referring channel affect user behavior in a subsequent news visit. We find that social referral effects manifest as more focused reading - visits with fewer articles, shorter durations, yet higher reading completion rates, compared to non-social referrals. We further find lower sharing rates following social media referrals, likely due to a lower perceived novelty to peers of content discovered via social channels. The results provide insights applicable to news outlets’ social media strategies.