Brand and Search Seen Most Important Online News Drivers

March 20, 2012

pej-digital-news-drivers-march2012.jpgNews outlets are the most popular path to news for online consumers, although search follows closely, finds the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ), in a March 2012 report. 38% of tablet news consumers said they go to a news website or application very often for news, while one-third of smartphone news consumers and laptop or desktop consumers said the same. Not far behind was keyword search, used very often by 30% of tablet and desktop or laptop news consumers, and one-quarter of smartphone news consumers. The report notes that the influence of search may be overestimated, as previous PEJ research indicates that many news site visitors who arrived there via search typed in the name of the news organization instead of a particular topic or story.

Meanwhile, roughly one-quarter of news consumers on each device said they very often get their news through websites and apps that aggregate and curate content.

SocNets Not Key Drivers

Despite the impressive reach of social networking sites, they are not being used as news sources. Indeed, the proportion of digital device users who turned to Facebook recommendations very often for news ranged from just 6-8%, and that was still far ahead of those who used Twitter recommendations (2-3%). This same trend was reported by the Pew Research Center in a February study that examined digital news sources for political campaign information: data from that report indicated that only 20% of voters regularly (6%) or sometimes (14%) get campaign information from Facebook, while only 5% say the same about Twitter.

Although social networks are not a primary driver of news, the PEJ study indicates that they may yet turn into one. When totaling the proportion of users who say they follow recommendations from either Facebook or Twitter at least somewhat often, the report finds that this figure rises to 27% among smartphone and tablets news consumers, and 22% among desktop or laptop consumers.

Mobile Users More Apt to Turn to SocNets

The influence of social networks is somewhat larger among mobile users, and indeed, those who use multiple devices to access news. In fact, those who use both a smartphone and a tablet for news are 63.4% more likely than those who use only a desktop or laptop for digital news to ever follow news recommendations on Facebook (67% vs. 41%), while those who use either a smartphone or a tablet for news are 43.9% more likely (59% vs. 41%).

This extends to those following recommendations on Twitter, also. Multi-device users are about 4.3 times more likely than desktop or laptop users to ever follow news recommendations on Twitter (39% vs. 9%), while those using a single device are almost three times as likely (24% vs. 9%).

A Newspaper Association of America (NAA) study from February 2012 also indicated greater popularity of social networks among mobile users. Results from that survey show that although social networks were far less trusted than other media sources and websites by voters, among those planning to use a mobile device to access political campaign or elections news this year, 41% said they would visit social media websites, beating out local TV sources (33%) and radio sources (20%).

Other Findings:

  • Among the PEJ survey respondents, 52% of laptop owners also own a smartphone, while 23% of laptop owners also own a tablet. 31% of smatphone owners also own a tablet, and 13% own all three devices.
  • 7 in 10 desktop or laptop owners say they get news from their device, a figure that drops to 56% among tablet owners, and 51% among smartphone owners. March 2012 data from Nielsen indicates that

About the Data: The PEJ report is based on aggregated data from three telephone surveys conducted in January 2012 (Jan. 12-15, Jan. 19-22 and Jan. 26-29) with national samples of adults 18 years of age or older living in the continental US. Interviews were conducted with a total of 3,016 adults (1,809 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 1,207 were interviewed on a cellphone, including 605 who had no landline telephone). The survey was conducted by interviewers at Princeton Data Source under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International.

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