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This piece was originally published in the July 19, 2022 edition of CAP Action’s weekly newsletter, What’s Trending?

Hi, welcome back to “What’s Trending”!

There’s been a lot going on this summer—the idea of sleepy July news cycles feels like an artifact of the distant past. Nevertheless, I hope you’ve been taking breaks where you can and finding opportunities to unplug and stop refreshing social media. That can be especially hard when digital is your line of work, but that makes it all the more necessary.

With that said, let’s dig into the news.

What’s trending this week

A wide range of stories broke through in the past two weeks on Facebook. The largest spike we saw was, refreshingly, a positive news story: President Joe Biden unveiled the first image from the James Webb telescope on July 11. The successor to the Hubble telescope awakened a sense of awe for many and quickly became one of the main stories on Facebook, averaging more than 2,000 interactions per post and earning more than 7.5 million interactions total for the week.

 

President Biden also led the news on July 8, when the White House unveiled executive orders aimed at protecting abortion rights and the right to travel between states to access health care services. Abortion has remained at the forefront of the conversation on Facebook, with nearly 30,000 posts on the subject tracked by NewsWhip over the past two weeks—a stunning number.

Guns are not far behind, with more than 23,000 posts, fueled by a fresh wave of outrage and grief after the July 4 Highland Park shooting. In fact, since the start of June, there have been more Facebook posts that mentioned abortion (114,000) or guns (108,000) than posts that mentioned President Biden (97,000), former President Donald Trump (59,000), or inflation (48,000). These two issues are the center of attention this summer, and that doesn’t look like it will be changing anytime soon.

With that said, it’s worth discussing the January 6 hearings, which will be concluding their initial slate with a prime-time slot tomorrow. The hearings have earned record ratings on television and saw significant traction on social media, but the July 12 hearing saw a smaller engagement bump than might be expected. That was largely due to a lower volume of posts—average engagement per post remained high. Anecdotally, we’ve seen progressive voices flock to discuss these hearings on Twitter, while comparatively few make sure to also share their insights and damning findings on Facebook and Instagram. More cross-platform posting, please.

Who’s leading the conversation

Progressive pages continued to author many of the most-engaged political posts over the past two weeks, with 14 of the top 20. Unlike many weeks in which these rankings are led by anonymous meme pages, this was a particularly strong showing for public figures, especially past and present residents of the White House.

Former President Barack Obama had 1.5 million combined interactions on three of the top four posts, reflecting on Malia Obama’s birthday, the death of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and the James Webb telescope. Michelle Obama and President Biden joined him, with posts echoing similar themes averaging 300,000 engagements apiece.

The one outlier among these top posts was a post from The Frontline, which highlighted the rising costs of rent and was shared 156,000 times—twice as many shares as any other top post. As we’ve highlighted in this space before, shares are by far the most valuable form of engagement on social media and the most strongly correlated with reach. By rough estimate, I would project that 156,000 shares would reflect a reach of slightly more than 10 million users.

But there’s some extra nuance to the value of shares as an engagement metric for Facebook in particular. Facebook reports engagement on shared posts differently for internal (your own page) vs. external (social listening data, like we use here) metrics. Internally, all of the reactions and comments and other actions taken on shared versions of your post get added to your total. Externally, you can only see actions taken on the original post.

So for posts that have been shared many times, like this one, the metrics are almost certainly an undercount of the “true” engagement total. For pages with huge followings such as Barack Obama or President Biden, this is less material, as those pages don’t rely as much on shares to achieve strong reach. But for smaller pages that hope to go viral, you should pay more attention to the shares than to just the top-line engagement number—even if engagement is a useful shorthand.

Interestingly, conservative pages have seen a dropoff in their share counts over the course of 2022 so far. At the start of the year, top progressive and conservative pages were both seeing their posts shared about 3 million times per week. As of this week, that’s down to 2.25 million for top conservative pages and up to 3.9 million for progressive pages—a significant separation in performance, and potentially very impactful in terms of the size of audiences these messengers are able to reach. Kudos to many of the readers of this newsletter who manage large progressive pages for cross-amplifying each other’s content and fueling part of that increase in shares!

This trend is also a reflection of the way the issues of abortion rights and gun control have fired up progressives online over the past few months, and the huge opportunity that presents for leaders to be authentic and engage with their audience online.

That’s all we have for you this week. As always, please feel free to reach out, either here or on Twitter, if you have questions about organic social media or things you would like to see covered in this newsletter.

– Eric

P.S. Please forward this along to interested friends or encourage them to sign up here.

This newsletter is written by Eric Coffin-Gould (@coffingould on Twitter), with production, research, and insight from CAP Action’s fantastic digital team.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.

Authors

Eric Coffin-Gould

Director, Analytics

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Welcome to “What's Trending?”, a weekly newsletter to help progressives answer the age-old questions: What works, and what doesn't? “What's Trending?” cuts through the noise to bring you the best (and worst) of what's happening on social media in the policy space, and explains why it's important.

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