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Swedish link love: linking to bloggers breeds loyalty rather than traffic increase for MSM

What, if any, is the added value news sites can get from linking to bloggers?

If you're well versed in the dynamics of social media you might think this a silly question, but for news companies with a deeply ingrained 'silo-mentality' the answers are far from obvious. In fact, even if you run your own blog, it's not obvious that the benefits you get from linking up the conversations spurred by what you post on a very narrow niche topic will scale when you transfer the experiment to the country's biggest mass media outlets.

And since I work at the intersection of social media and mainstream media (MSM) – actually, I believe this is where all journalists work these days, whether they're conscious, or approve of it or not – I was curious about how news sites who link to bloggers felt this worked, so I asked a few newspapers in my 'neighbourhood' early this month (for this article, in Norwegian).

In Sweden, big nationals such as Dagens Nyheter (DN) and Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) have used Twingly, a blog search engine that can be used by newspapers to show blog links to articles, since early this year. In Norway, the country's second biggest tabloid, Dagbladet, has been experimenting with it since October.

In essence, they all said they had no evidence to suggest it created more traffic to their respective news sites, but it created more loyal users and was a way of connecting with the blogosphere which gave added value to their websites (Sweden), and it was valuable to hear what people thought about their journalism (Norway).

On the negative side, the biggest drawback was how many bloggers tried to 'game' the system and linked to the news sites' articles just to get traffic, though their content was completely unrelated to the articles they linked to and often nonsensical.

However, even though DN removed bloglinks concerning the caricature controversy earlier this year, controversial links represented only a minor problem for the newspapers, and Bo Hedin, head of digital media at SvD, told me it was extremely rare that they did block or remove Twingly links. He said he felt newspapers had to make a fundamental choice in this respect, and pointed me to an argument he'd made on his blog (my translation):

"As a media company we have to make a choice. We can either open up and accept that the odd link takes readers to opinions we don't share, or we can close the connection to the readers, op-ed writers and bloggers out there, and let the journalists publish their articles unbothered by the rest of the world."

Over at DN, Charlotta Friborg, the paper's managing editor online, told me that, like SvD, they had not experienced any significant traffic increase from linking to bloggers, rather it was the other way around: sent a lot of traffic to blogs.

As Media Culpa's Hans Kullin, I found it a bit puzzling to hear that MSM links send lots of traffic to bloggers. It may of course be the topic, both Kullin and I write about media stuff rather than highly controversial or political issues. Friborg did point out to me that Sweden has a lot high-profile political blogs, and those were often the blogs that spurred massive traffic.

Still, this blog has been linked up by a wide range of mainstream media, including Dagens Nyheter, Financial Times, Business Week, Washington Post, The Guardian etc. Of those, only the latter two have led to any significant traffic increase, and even then, the traffic has been miniscule compared to what happens when you get a link from A-list bloggers such as Dave Winer or Doc Searls.

The difference, I think, is community, and perhaps a different kind of readers. When I've been linked up by Washington Post and The Guardian, it has been via writers like Howard Kurtz and Roy Greenslade who both have a very strong following, or community, of readers who are passionate about the topics they write about, perhaps so passionate that they will follow the links to learn more?

But I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, and I'd also be very interested if you know of other, more formal or exhaustive, surveys on this topic (e.g. what are the experiences of really big papers like Washington Post and New York Times?)....


We certainly see bigger inbound traffic from blogs than from any linkage from MSM sites. Boing Boing (to The Dew Line) and Autoblog (to Big Lorry Blog) were the big ones.

Links from most big media sites tend to create very small traffic surges, if any.

Mind you, I was linked by Scoble during Le Web 3, and got only a handful of visitors as a result.

It's not an exact science, and the nature of the vistors to the site is probably a bigger factor here. Are they just looking for information? Or are they visiting that site in particular?

Hmm... if I try to analyse my own experiences, perhaps it is that 'how to'/insight and debate/controversy posts get most traffic from links, whether from blogs or MSM, while news tidbits are more often linked up by MSM but result in little, if any, traffic. MSM prefers the newsy posts which stick to the inverted pyramid, blogs the more conversational... I'm just thinking out loud here though, I've done more than enough of writing for traffic during my daytime jobs to bother much with that in my 'free space', which this place is...

It's still a pretty interesting difference, though.

It suggests that perhaps MSM could grow its traffic by broadening its idea of what news is...

I've had quite a few links to my personal blog from big mainstream media sites. Washington Post links brought me no traffic at all whilst those from the Guardian blogs usually bring a dozen or so users. BBC blogs have a similar affect.

And, like you say, a link from Jeff Jarvis or Daily Kos or Guido brings two, three, even a dozen times the traffic.

That said, when I get a link from a blogger I rarely write a handwaving post back but if my blog appears in the print edition of a paper or magazine - even if it gets far less readers than a blog - I nearly always screenshot it and link back.

I guess something about it actually being on paper still makes it a bit more special, at least to me, than a link in a blog post. Less traffic, but more special.

Interesting findings Kristine. Thanks for sharing!

Thanks for your input, Robin. I'm putting together a post on libel right now you might find interesting. Was meaning to write it yesterday, but work has kept preventing me from it:-)

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