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How @CNBC, @WSJ, @nytimes, and @HuffingtonPost Use Twitter to Break Ebola News

unnamed-7For major news sources like CNBC, The Wall Street JournalThe New York Times, and the Huffington Post, Twitter is a nontraditional distribution channel, but an important distribution channel just the same — and perhaps the most relevant one for current events, which the social network’s in-real-time, constant activity lends itself to well.

On September 30, 2014, the media broke news that the first Ebola case had been diagnosed in the U.S.

From then through October, this has been a major news story on every outlet, with follow-up articles, statistics, and reports by the dozens. I studied the most engaged-with, Ebola-related Tweets from @CNBC, @WSJ, @nytimes, and @HuffingtonPost between September 30 and October 29 to find out how media companies are engaging readers on Twitter with news related to the epidemic.

Breaking the Story

Savvy news sources understand that most people aren’t refreshing their websites regularly to get information about the latest updates.

More and more, news consumers rely on their social feeds to alert them about what’s going on and tell them what they should know more about.

To stand out and stay top-of-mind, crafting quality Tweets is a necessity. Between CNBC, The Wall Street JournalThe New York Times, and The Huffington Post, this CNBC Tweet has driven the most reader response so far.

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 11.57.24 AMWith 4,599 Retweets, 755 favorites, and 11,157,209 potential impressions, this post had a big impact on Twitter. It drove 100 times more engagement than CNBC’s average Tweet during the time period reviewed.

The fact that this Tweet captured the most interest on Twitter clearly shows how being the first to break news on social media makes your story the most likely to be read and shared.


One of the most common questions Americans have had about Ebola is what the disease actually does to the human body. The Wall Street Journal chose to answer that question with an infographic – something their followers were quick to share, making it the second more engaged-with Tweet about Ebola among the networks.

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 12.41.16 PMIt earned 2,938 Retweets, 1,387 favorites, and more than 8 million potential impressions. Overall, the Tweet drew over 35 times more engagement than @WSJ’s average Tweet.

This response is a testament to @addressing its Twitter audience’s need: understanding what Ebola is and how it affects the human body quickly and visually.

Local News 

While The New York Times is arguably the most recognizable newspaper brand in the United States, it’s also a local newspaper.  As such, Ebola news specific to New York City caused a big stir on Twitter for the Times.

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 12.51.52 PMThis combination of breaking news followed by New York City-specific news meant this Tweet received 3,373 Retweets, 577 favorites, and almost 24 million potential impressions.

Overall, the Tweet drew over 18 times more engagement than @nytimes’s average Tweet — not to mention 43,326 click-throughs.

The Bigger Picture

The New York Times also caught readers’ attention on Twitter with this fourth most-engaged-with post about the epidemic. This one shed some light on how Ebola has played out across the globe.

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 12.58.57 PMThis Tweet received 2,849 Retweets, 935 favorites, and over 15 million potential impressions. Overall, the Tweet drew 16 times more engagement than @nytimes’s average Tweet.

The response to this Tweet teaches us two things: that asking a question and offering a visual hint of an answer is compelling, and that Twitter users count on well-known media sources to give them a broader context for current news items.


Media from @HuffingtonPost inspired the most Bitly click-throughs among the news outlets we reviewed, by a lot. All top ten most clicked Tweets came from this media brand which consistently writes titles that drives clicks.

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 2.07.24 PM
Click to zoom. Source: Simply Measured Report. Try it for free here.

At the top of the list was this dark, graphic post:

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 2.12.43 PMNote that this Tweet caused less audience sharing or favoriting than many, 182 Retweets and 65 favorites. But, it compelled people to read the story, gaining more than 200K clicks.

Why was it so powerful? This Tweet speaks to people’s fears and includes a gripping image.

What Do You Think of Media News Coverage on Twitter? 

In the face of a tragedy that has left people with questions and new fears for their own health, major news outlets chose Twitter as an essential place to communicate information. What do you think of how these media leaders handled the Ebola epidemic on Twitter and what can you learn from their efforts? Please share your thoughts below.

Lucy Hitz

I’m the Head of Marketing Communications here at Simply Measured, where I'm responsible for our content program, social media marketing, PR, and comarketing ventures. I love yoga, The X-Files, peaty scotch, hiking, and poetry. If I were a social media channel, I’d want to be Instagram, but I think I’m Twitter.

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