What’s the effective lifespan of a link shared via social media?

When you share a link on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or other social media channels, how long will it continue to receive attention?

I’ve just been told about a study that Bit.ly (a leading URL shortening service) did on this topic a year ago. The study, You just shared a link. How long will people pay attention? used a selection of 1,000 popular links shared via bit.ly in social media channels to research how long they would receive attention (clicks) from other social media users.

Firstly bit.ly looked at the ‘half-life’ of links shared through popular social media services, how long it took for them to receive 50% of the clicks they would receive.

Graph of the ‘half-life’ (time taken to reach 50% of clicks)
of links through various social media services.

They found that links distributed through Twitter, on average, had a half-life of 2.8 hours, while Facebook distributed links ad one of 3.2 hours. Direct emails (such as email newsletters) had a half-life of 3.4 hours, so all quite short and similar.

However links distributed via YouTube had a half-life of 7.4 hours, reflecting that it is not an ‘always-on’ service like the other channels, and meaning that when tracking responses it is important to recognise that it can take longer for YouTube to reach an audience – which doesn’t necessarily mean it is less effective.

On average the half-life (except for YouTube) was 3 hours and in general links lost attention almost completely within 16 hours.

I’ve also been told that within 24 hours most links have received 99% of the clicks they will ever receive, and within 48 hours this reaches 99.9%.

So how is this useful information for government?

Firstly if you’re sharing information through these social media channels, be prepared for a load on your servers. If there’s an emergency or a sudden announcement of broad public interest, your website will receive most of its traffic from social media sharing of the link in the first three hours – starting seconds after you send out the message.

if your servers and bandwidth are restricted and slow to respond to increasing loads, you might need to reconsider your hosting and architecture – or provide emergency information through a more resilient and scalable platform (such as a Google Blogspot blog or other cloud-hosted service).

Secondly, if information is being shared about your organisation via links on social media, you don’t have long to identify the trend and respond before it escalates.

If, for example, someone tweeted a link to a picture from an asylum seeker mobile phone which appeared to show an Australian navy vessel firing on them, it wouldn’t be long before this was accessed by thousands, tens of thousands, even millions of people.

If the photo was a known fake and your agency needed to respond, you’d have to approve and distribute the message within that first few hours window to have an impact on the trend.

The era of multi-day approval processes has gone. Whatever the scenario, your agency needs to be ready to react and respond within a few hours at most.

How do you get there with an agency who still spends weeks approving a media release?

My post on Coping with the challenges of two-speed government agencies offers some ideas to start with – build systems that allow you to respond quickly by cutting repetition and ‘fat’ from approval processes and clear up the gray areas as to who can approve what types of content.

Original post

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Andrew Krzmarzick

It would be interesting to apply this study to GovLoop, but it feels like most links have a longer lifespan here based on our newsletter / promotion schedules. Thanks for sharing this data, Craig.

Julie Chase

Even though our agency uses (a lot) of bit.ly links on the FB page (referring to articles/information), they cannot be accessed on our gov network. Big WARNING banner pops up. And you are chastised on open forum if you question it and are referred to the FOUO regulations. So basically, our FB social media for our agency is useless.