eMarketer estimates that more than 46% of the US population will use Facebook this year. And half of those users get their news there, too, according to a September 2013 study from the Pew Research Center.
Though the most common way for adults to get news is by watching local TV news or national evening network TV news, Facebook users absorb current events practically through osmosis. Since a large part of browsing the site consists of passively taking in information while scrolling down Facebook’s news feed on the home screen, users engage with news stories by accident.
However, users engaging with news stories on the site do not go to Facebook seeking news. Rather, nearly 80% interact with news stories while performing other actions, according to the study. Facebook users reported going to the site to see what family and friends were up to or seeing photos and videos they posted.
Just what kinds of news stories are Facebook users incidentally consuming? Surprisingly, uptake on consuming breaking news from Facebook remains low, unlike with sites like Twitter. Only about one-third of Facebook users turned to the site for breaking news. Respondents were most often reading entertainment news (73%), local or community news (65%), sports news (57%) or national political or government news (55%).
As it stands, Facebook users primarily interact with news by clicking on links to the news stories—and clicking through to the host site—or just viewing the headlines passively. Nearly half of all Facebook users in Pew’s study said they also “liked” or commented on news stories, increasing the potential that others in their networks will see the story on their customized feeds, too.
Yet content remains king. Users reported that the main reason they clicked on news links via Facebook was because they found a story entertaining or surprising, not necessarily because a friend or a lot of “likes”. Still, it is important for advertisers to note that “liking” or following a news organization or journalist is a higher barrier to entry than getting them to engage with the content once that is achieved.