The Shelf-Life of a Tweet

This chart comes from the Bitly Blog, in a post on the half-life of a link posted to Twitter or Facebook. Half-life, in this case, means the point at which a shared link has received half of the clicks it will ever receive. The half-life of a link on Twitter is 2.8 hours, and for one shared on Facebook it’s 3.2 hours.

These numbers make sense, right? If you’re following a few hundred accounts, by the time you look at Twitter, Tweetdeck or HootSuite, Tweets published more than a few hours ago (or a few minutes ago, if you follow especially chatty types) have been pushed to that cobwebby, unvisited place on the Internet called Page 2. As Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan puts it:

On our @sengineland Twitter account, we tweet a story as soon as it’s posted. However, many of our Twitter followers might easily miss this, if they’re not online, busy and so on. That’s why we schedule a “second chance” tweet for most major stories to go out a few hours after they originally get tweeted.

An interesting data point from Bitly’s report, though, is that the half-life isn’t a whole lot longer when you share a link with a friend directly, via email or instant message. In that case it’s 3.4 hours. That’s 21% longer than the half-life of a Tweet, but in real numbers it says we’ve lost interest in a link sent directly from a friend only 36 minutes more slowly than a linked pushed out to everyone in Twitter. So maybe the shortness of link half-lives isn’t caused by social-media dynamics — we follow too many accounts, our friends blab too much, and thus we approach social newsfeeds in skim mode. Maybe it’s a broader internet thing: Whether you see a link in Facebook, or your mom sends you one by email, if it arrived to you before lunch, it’s old news by mid afternoon and not worth your time.

That’s good news for Twitter’s evolving ad strategy, which will make it easier for brands to achieve reach and (more importantly) frequency with their Promoted Tweets, but bad news for thoughtful publishers who expect you to wait until tomorrow morning for the analysis.

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