Social media is a time based stream of content. These time-based structures effectively deliver the latest information, but in doing so redefine how we think about the life span of content, and highlight the importance of content engagement in broadening audience reach.
The previous generation of content on the web was static and had a relatively long life span. I will use the working term “Archive Content” for this generation. Internet Marketers used Content Marketing as a strategy to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience. The content they create can be used as part of an information archive. The goal was to get that content to rank high in search results for specific search terms. It was, and still is, a very effective Internet Marketing technique.
This type of content could easily be found as soon as it was indexed by the major search engines, and could continue to be found 6 months after it was published, or even years later provided the information was still useful.
Contrast that with social media environments, where stream algorithms determine the order of content appearing in the subscriber streams. In these social media environments user engagement drives content success. As a post generates engagement (likes/retweets/shares) it gets added to additional subscriber’s streams broadening its reach, and generating additional engagement.
Sharing Velocity measures the speed of engagement, and the Half Life Of Social Content measures the length of time that a unit of social media content has reached half of its total number of engagements.
A increasing amount of research is being performed on the half-life of engagement on Social Media. Precise numbers are not possible yet, but estimates are.
Twitter: half of retweets happen within the first 18 minutes.
Facebook: half of reach happen within the first 30 minutes.
Instagram: half of comments happen within the first 2.23 hours.
YouTube: half of views happen within the first 7.4 hours.*
* My experience with YouTube is different, but the content I produce is designed to be useful for a longer period of time. I currently run 5 YouTube channels, and find that I get an initial surge of video views from my existing subscribers, but that over time as the videos continue to get discovered by users that are not subscribers total views substantially exceed the number of views I received in the first 8 hours. I view YouTube as a hybrid of “stream” and “archive”, so the half life of video content will depend on the shelf life of its usefulness.
Comparing earlier data with current data and it is very clear that the total lifespan of social media content along with its half life is getting shorter.