Say you found a great article on the Internet. Say it's this slideshow of a kitten befriending a baby otter. You want to share it online--you know your friends and followers in the various social network you're a part of will love it. But which network should you share it on?
This week, URL shortening site Bit.ly crunched the numbers from their database, offering insight into how long a link stays relevant when shared through various media. For their analysis, they coined a metric called "half life," borrowing a term from physics. It's the amount of time a link will receive half of the clicks it will ever receive after its peak. For example, the half life for that baby animal article, which was originally shared by Stylist magazine on Facebook, was 70 minutes, meaning that the link received about half the click it will ever get within the first hour of its posting.
Bit.ly analysis click data for a thousand popular links shortened through their website and found remarkable consistency in how long bitly stay relevant on various sites. The company's blog summarizes the results in the chart below. The half life of a Twitter link is the shortest, at two hours and 48 minutes, yet Twitter links tend to garner the most traffic. Links shared on Facebook have on average a half life 24 minutes longer. Similarly, "direct links--those shared through email or instant messaging--have an only slightly longer half life of three hours and 24 minutes. The three types of links share the same basic distribution, reaching their peak number of clicks shortly after being posted and gradually tapering off in clicks from there.
Links shared on YouTube, though, are an exception. They set relevant for significantly longer than links on other sites, with a half life of nearly seven and a half hours. The aggregate average half life of a Bit.ly link is 3 hours.
So which social network gets the most proverbial bang for the buck? As bitly's Hilary Mason told Mashable, it's Twitter.
“You could say that Twitter is the best way to post something if you want people to see it quickly,” Mason says. “But one platform isn’t necessarily better than another. We’re just showing that the platforms have different dynamics.”
Bit.ly concluded the content behind the link is much stronger determinant of how many clicks it will receive and for how long it will be clicked. The Washington Post's breaking news story that a 5.8 magnitude earthquake hit the East Coast, for example, had an order of magnitude more clicks per minute than that baby animal post, but also, given how quickly the story was developing, had a significantly shorter half life of five minutes.