If I asked you which of the major social sites you thought sent us the most traffic, you might think it was Twitter. After all, the TechCrunch Twitter account has over 1.7 million followers. When you compare this to the (just under) 250,000 fans our Facebook TechCrunch page has, it should be no contest, right? Wrong.
The truth is that if this were October of last year, you would have been right in thinking that Twitter was our top referrer in terms of social websites. But since that time, Facebook has far surpassed Twitter in terms of traffic coming our way each month. In fact, Facebook.com is now sends nearly double the traffic that Twitter.com does. This is probably due to the fact that last November, we added Elin, our excellent community manager, who curates and engages with people from our feed on Facebook. I also suspect it has to do with the rise of the Like button. Ever since it was released last year, Facebook has been steadily referring more readers our way.
But this info, while interesting, isn’t all that surprising. After all, Facebook is by far the largest social network in the world. With over 750 million active users, it still dwarfs Twitter. The really surprising thing is that Twitter isn’t even our number two social referrer in terms of websites anymore. As of this month, that distinction goes to LinkedIn. And it’s not even close.
Yes, LinkedIn, the professional social network which just went public is now by far our second biggest referrer of social traffic. That’s crazy when you consider that just last month, it was around half the size of Twitter (in terms of referrals), and trailed sites like Hacker News. And two months ago, it was roughly 1/8th the size of Twitter, trailing Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit, and others in terms of referral traffic to TechCrunch. But the biggest stat of all is that a year ago, traffic coming from LinkedIn was 1/50th what it is today on a monthly basis.
So what changed? As far as we can tell, this is all about LinkedIn Today, the social news product the service launched back in March. It was around that time that was saw the first big bump in terms of traffic coming from LinkedIn. In March, it roughly doubled from February. Then April was pretty flat — it was still much higher than previously, but not growing. Then in May, traffic went up 5x. And in June, it more than doubled from that. The growth has been astounding.
Of course what’s perhaps most interesting about that is that LinkedIn Today is powered by Twitter. Twitter shared links determine what shows up on LinkedIn Today, but the traffic does not go back through Twitter.
Again, this is just traffic from LinkedIn to TechCrunch. And the truth is that with its cross between technology and business, LinkedIn may be the most perfect social network for regular TechCrunch readers. But talking with some other bloggers, they’ve been noticing the exact same thing. All of this is undoubtedly buoyed by the LinkedIn social buttons that have been appearing all over the web as well. recently (and on TechCrunch recently).
The bigger question in my mind is what this means for the future of Twitter’s website as a disseminator of news? While Twitter has attempted to help journalists and bloggers a bit with things like the recently-launched Twitter for Newsrooms tutorials, they haven’t had much in the way of new features to better surface information. Referral traffic from Twitter had been steadily rising over the years, but it was only as we gained more Twitter followers incrementally. And in the last year, that traffic has flattened completely. And now in just a couple of months, LinkedIn has shot by it when a hot new product.
Part of the explanations on Twitter’s side may be the increased use of HTTPS, which likely scrubs referrer information in traffic sent. But Facebook and LinkedIn both have HTTPS options as well, and again, those numbers are rising fast, Twitter is not. Also a part of this is the use of Twitter mobile clients. But again, Facebook has hugely popular mobile clients too (though, admittedly, LinkedIn’s mobile clients don’t appear to be as popular, so most of their traffic will likely be from linkedin.com).
If that trend is true on a larger scale, that’s not good news for Twitter. It’s substantial traffic that can’t be ignored, obviously, but the numbers point to it stalling out as others come along. In the same year timespan that Twitter referral traffic has flattened, Facebook referral traffic has gone up six-fold. Again, that doesn’t look good for Twitter. Digg was once the undisputed king of referrals as well. Last month, they were in 17th place in terms of referrals to TechCrunch.
Update: Twitter says the lack of growth on twitter.com is due to the soaring of Twitter mobile usage and says they will share some stats soon which I’ll post here. Though that would also suggest that people are turning away from the website in order to use mobile, which would be interesting. Either way, I altered the title to better reflect that Twitter.com is mainly what’s being discussed here.