As the death of Osama bin Laden demonstrated last week, Twitter can be an extremely influential tool for breaking and spreading news online. But in the United States, it is still not as influential as that other social media juggernaut on the web, Facebook.
Facebook is the "second or third most important driver of traffic" for five of the most-visited American news sites, while Twitter "barely registers as a referring source," according to a new study by the PEW Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. The Huffington Post, for instance, got 8 percent of its traffic from content linked on Facebook; CNN 7 percent; and the New York Times 6 percent.
"These percentages represent only a fraction of the traffic coming from Google. But they make Facebook an influential and probably growing force," according to PEJ. "With roughly 500 million users worldwide, Facebook's audience is vastly larger than any single news organization ... If searching for news was the most important development of the last decade, sharing news may be among the most important of the next."
Twitter, on the other hand, sent a mere 1 percent of total traffic to just eight of the top 25 news websites analyzed in the study. The exception was the Los Angeles Times, whose site derived 3.5 percent of its traffic from tweets.
"Despite its growth and the amount of attention it receives, the micro-blogging service ... appears at this point to play a relatively small role in sharing of links to news sources," the study concluded.
In other findings, Google remains the dominant pageview driver for news websites, accounting for 40 percent of all referral clicks. The Drudge Report is also still a key player, ranking even higher than Facebook as the second or third most influential referral source for more than half of the top 25 news websites. (At the high end of the spectrum, Drudge sent the similarly scandal-friendly New York Post--no. 21--about 20 percent of its traffic last year.)
As for the ranking itself, Yahoo! News placed no. 1, followed in the top five by the CNN Digital Network, MSNBC Digital Network, AOL News (Yahoo's direct competitor, which is now merged with HuffPo, no. 8), and nytimes.com.
You can view the full list here.