How does newspaper circulation relate to Twitter following?

I was recently looking at circulation numbers from the Audit Bureau of Circulation for the top twenty-five newspapers in the U.S. and wondered: How does circulation relate to Twitter following? So for each newspaper I found the Twitter account and recorded the number of followers (link to data). The graph below shows the ratio of Twitter followers to total circulation; you could say it’s some kind of measure of how well the newspaper has converted its circulation into a social media following.

You can clearly see national papers like the NYT and Washington Post rise above the rest, but for others like USA Today it’s surprising that with a circulation of about 1.7M, they have comparatively few — only 514k — Twitter followers. This may say something about the audience of that paper and whether that audience is online and using social media. For instance, Pew has reported stats that suggest that people over the age of 50 use Twitter at a much lower than average rate. Another possible explanation is that a lot of the USA Today circulation is vapor; I can’t remember how many times I’ve stayed at a hotel where USA Today was left for me by default, only to be left behind unread. Finally, maybe USA Today is just not leading an effective social strategy and they need to get better about reaching, and appealing to, the social media audience.

There are some metro papers like NY Post and LA Times that also have decent ratios, indicating they’re addressing a fairly broad national or regional audience with respect to their circulation. But the real winners in the social world are NYT and WashPost, and maybe WSJ to some extent. And in this game of web scale audiences, the big will only get bigger as they figure out how to transcend their own limited geographies and expand into the social landscape.

newspaper graph