USAToday's Social Network Experiment May Not Be Paying Off

When USAToday relaunched its site in March as a social network around news, I and others thought it was big news.

They integrated Pluck’s new Social Media Suite, a group of social networking products that a number of high profile news sites have adopted. Overnight, USAToday went from being an old school news site to something much different. Readers could now create profiles, comment on articles, vote to recommend articles to others (very Digg-like), etc.

On Pluck’s Social Media Suite product page, the number one selling point to publishers is “Drive site traffic and increase page views.” Given the insane ability of social networks to drive traffic, this seems like a fairly safe promise to make. But so far, the data we have says it hasn’t paid off in terms of unique visitors or page views for USAToday.

Here’s the data, showing monthly visitors down from 14 million in March to about 10 million today, a 29% drop in unique visitors. I added in the New York Times and Washington Post for comparison purposes – both are at about even levels with March.

Comscore also shows a decline, although a smaller one. March unique visitors were 7.3 million; June was 6.3 million – a 14% drop. Total pageviews were 70 million in March v. 59 million in June – a 16% drop.

Neither Comscore or Compete are perfect, but the trend seems to suggest the relaunch isn’t performing well. At the very least unique visitors and page views aren’t spiking upwards, perhaps as USA Today and Pluck anticipated. There is no doubt that the Pluck products are very solid products, but perhaps news and social networking just don’t mix.

Update: USAToday issues a press release saying traffic is, actually, way up.