Does the newspaper drive web traffic?

Go Triad, the News & Record’s weekly entertainment magazine, has a cover story today titled “Top Tweets: Four Triad tweeters you should follow.” I wondered whether the four got a bump in followers as a result of the story.

They did, but it was nothing to write home about. The report from the four:

Jermaine Exum, manager of Acme Comics and who tweets mostly about comics, had seven new followers by noon. Eight is usual in a week. He said retweets drive new followers. One of his tweets today was RT’d by the Henson Company. He then got 10 new followers in 10 minutes.

Danielle Hatfield, a PR and social media expert, got 17 new followers by dinnertime. She averages five to eight new followers per day. “I think as more people read online & share – awareness could last weeks.”

Nikki Miller-Ka, who tweets about food, had 15 new followers, when she normally has just 2 or 3 a week.

Kit Rodenbough, owner of a shop downtown, only had 3, but at about 1 p.m., she noted that “the day is young.”

Here are possible interpretations those results:

1. The readers of the newspaper who are on Twitter already subscribe to those four. Unlikely.

2. Newspaper readers aren’t big Twitterers. Probably.

3. Their issues — comics, food, social media — aren’t so broad that “everyone” wants to sign up. Oprah and Ashton Kucher they aren’t, and I mean that as a positive.

4. People don’t follow the bread crumbs that newspaper stories leave leading to online sites. Most likely.

When I was at the paper, we never saw conclusive evidence that newspaper readers followed online promos from the paper. At least, directly. We often saw conclusive evidence that they did NOT. Don’t be surprised. Think about the number of online denizens who pick up a newspaper to read an article that they can’t get online.

In no way does that suggest that the story was a waste. If papers made editorial decisions based on how many people would act on it, they would hardly cover primary elections. I advocate journalism that exposes readers to something new. Readers don’t need to follow the link to learn about what 100 million people are members of.

Danielle says the viral nature of the web will come into play over the next several days. “Most who use twitter will read the article online and share web article over the next few days or so vs. purchasing paper.”

I think she’s right, but even if she’s not, the story introduced readers to four interesting people doing interesting things. Not bad.

*** Full disclosure: I know Danielle and Nikki personally. Nikki reported to me at the paper for a time. I also follow the article’s writer, Jennifer Bringle,on Twitter.

Friday update: It appears that scientific research bears Danielle out. The bottom line is simple: articles that many people tweeted about were 11 times more likely to be highly cited than those who few people tweeted about. Its implications are even more interesting. It generally takes months and years for papers to be cited by other scientific publications. Thus, on the day an article comes out, it would seem to be difficult to tell whether it will have a real impact on a given field.