If you’re tired of hearing about how Fox News dominates cable news ratings, you might want to stop reading. As it turns out, the conservative-leaning network owned by Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox is not just a hit with cable audiences. It’s also one of the most engaged news organizations on Facebook, beating out not only its TV competitors -- CNN and MSNBC -- but also digital natives such as BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post. In fact, Fox News has been on top in monthly interactions for 15 consecutive months, according to data from Socialbakers, a social media analytics firm.
For the first three weeks in October, Fox News attracted 31.1 million Facebook interactions (likes, comments and shares), compared to 10.9 million for the Huffington Post, 7.1 million for BuzzFeed and 3.7 million for CNN. MSNBC, whose TV ratings have struggled since President Obama’s re-election in 2012, had only 1.5 million interactions.
Fox News Channel’s coverage of the midterm elections on Tuesday delivered more Facebook interactions than every other news outlet combined: 666,478 interactions, compared to 96,926 for CNN and 66,274 for MSNBC, according to Socialbakers.
The soaring engagement is somewhat perplexing given that Fox News trails its archrival in terms of raw Facebook fans. As of Wednesday afternoon, the Fox News Facebook page had 9.5 million total page “likes,” while the page for CNN had more than 15.6 million.
But raw fans don’t tell the whole story, according to Ryan Hatoum, a spokesman for Socialbakers. “Engagement depends on much more than just fan count,” he told International Business Times. “Two huge factors that contribute to engagement levels are relevancy of content and relevancy of audience. High engagement comes when your content matches what your audience is interested in, and when you’ve fostered an audience that cares strongly about your message.”
In other words, Fox News has been able to grow a large audience on social media in much the same way it has on cable television: by giving its audience what it wants. The network has been the No. 1 cable news network for more than a decade because it has a lock on a conservative viewership that had previously been untapped, and it has cultivated that audience through like-minded commentators and personalities who feed the echo chamber.
According to one 2012 study from Pew Research, 60 percent of Fox News viewers describe themselves as conservative. Another 23 percent say they are moderate, and only 10 percent say they are liberal. (The study doesn’t say how many of those liberals are “hate-watching,” but let’s assume it’s most of them.) Conversely, the ideological breakdown of CNN’s audience is decidedly more mixed -- 32 percent conservative, 30 percent moderate and 30 percent liberal, according to the study.
The audience fragmentation is apparent in the networks’ breakdown of Facebook fans. The most “engaged” city for both CNN and MSNBC is New York. For Fox News it’s Houston, Texas.
At the same time, Fox News’ TV demographics appear to differ significantly when it comes to age groups on Facebook. Only 19 percent of Fox News’ television audience is under 30, according to Pew Research. But on Facebook, the network’s most engaged audience is 18 to 34 years old, and 77 percent of its Facebook fans fall in the 18 to 54 demographic prized by television advertisers.
Hatoum pointed out that some news organizations achieve greater engagement by paying Facebook to promote their posts. However, Fox News said it does not pay Facebook to promote posts.
Over the last few years, as social media has supplanted search engines as the main driver of online news traffic, Facebook with its 1.3 billion users has become an increasingly pivotal survival tool for digital news outlets. As the New York Times pointed out last week, Facebook alone now drives up to 20 percent of traffic to news websites.
So whoever masters Facebook, masters media. At least for now.
This post has been updated to reflect input from Fox News.