This is probably not a great signal for Elon Musk’s evolving X project.
Back in April, both NPR and PBS announced that they would stop using Twitter/X as a means to connect with their respective audiences, due to X’s decision to add a “Government-funded media” tag to their accounts. Both publishers viewed this as an attempt to discredit their reporting, and sow distrust in traditional media, so rather than continue to participate under those conditions, they opted to abandon the platform, and give more priority to other outlets.
Which is a risky move, given that X plays a key role in news dissemination online. That’s particularly true among journalists, with many reporters using X to stay up to date on breaking news, which means that original reporting can often benefit from the referral traffic and amplification that X can bring.
Though, evidently, the impact is not that significant. According to a new report from Nieman Lab, NPR hasn’t seen any significant impacts as a result of dropping its X’s presence.
As per NL:
“A memo circulated to NPR staff says traffic has dropped by only a single percentage point as a result of leaving X, though traffic from the platform was small already and accounted for just under two percent of traffic before the posting stopped.”
Which is true for most publishers, that X/Twitter has never been a great source of referral traffic. But the fact that NPR, which had over 8.7 million followers in the app, was able to leave with such minor consequences in this respect will no doubt raise the eyebrows of many other publications.
Though there is likely more to it.
As noted, X/Twitter has never been a key driver of referral traffic for most websites, with Digiday reporting back in January that referrals from the app actually dipped by another 20% on average in 2022.
Yet, despite this, the platform’s influence is still significant, in terms of broader exposure, and connection to key trends.
For example, many news hounds stay up to date on X, then re-distribute that information out to other platforms, or use it in their own reporting. In this sense, X may be more influential than the raw numbers would suggest.
Though NPR did also make another interesting observation.
“NPR, meanwhile, has been experimenting with Threads, where NPR is among the most-followed news accounts. Threads delivers about 63,000 site visits a week — about 39% of what Twitter provided.”
Threads, which is only 3 months old, and has around 25% of X’s current active users, is already driving almost half the amount of referral traffic that X was for NPR.
That bodes well for Meta’s X rival, which is still largely in development, and missing many features that have kept users attached to X instead.
Again, these types of insights will get more publishers' eyes wandering, especially as Elon continues to attack “mainstream media” outlets in an attempt to discredit their reporting, and refer users to the sources that he prefers.
Which is seemingly the main impetus for Musk’s attacks, in taking on outlets that have reported negative things about him, or his companies, by criticizing all of their coverage, and tarring their name among his millions of fans.
Indeed, in recent months, Musk has criticized The New York Times, Reuters, The Guardian, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, BBC, and Rolling Stone, among others. And these are just the most recent examples, essentially, anyone who reports anything that Musk doesn’t like or agree with gets put into his “fake news” bucket, which he routinely then airs out via his X posts.
Which is pushing more publications and journalists away from X, though many are hesitant to actually leave the platform, lest they become more disconnected from the latest trending news stories and coverage.
X is embedded into the distribution process for most publications, and it would be a big shift for them to step away entirely. But more are indeed considering it.
The NPR example could be a key push that some need, and with X becoming a bigger source of misinformation, as it amplifies paying users over all others, it’s increasingly losing its value as the key trend source.
If Threads can provide even half the traffic, that’ll get publishers thinking, which could become a big problem for Elon Musk’s app.