Every start-up dreams about being mentioned in The New York Times. A dash of NY Times ink provides credibility to your idea and drives usage, or so the logic goes. But in today's rapidly changing media landscape, does this still hold true?

Based on my experience with TalkTo, the answer is a resounding NO. In fact, even large websites like BuzzFeed may not provide a huge boost to your business. The holy grail of driving traffic: raving fans writing genuine reviews for a small but passionate readership.

I came to this conclusion by comparing how press coverage from three outlets improved our average daily iOS downloads. I looked at daily downloads 5 days prior to each article and 5 days after each article. TalkTo, which was acquired by Path in June, has been covered by many of the major publications but for this study I looked at mentions in The New York Times (Old Media), BuzzFeed (New Media), and Tumblr (Social Media).

A Tumblr blog posted by an angsty 20-something from Canada named HeyitsJnnfr increased downloads by a factor of 38; in other words, if we got 1 download prior to the blog, we got 38 the following week. Jennifer nailed a particular use-case: "people who suffer from social anxiety where telephone communications might be triggering or uncomfortable." This message resonated with her 2,500 followers who started to like and reblog the post. As of today, this obscure blog has been shared by 89,000 people.

In comparison, BuzzFeed, with 1.41 million Twitter followers and 3.8 million Facebook likes, drove a 10X increase in downloads. The New York Times (13 million Twitter, 8.5 million Facebook) drove slightly more downloads than BuzzFeed and but far fewer than Heyitsjnnfr's post.

Downloads are only half of the battle. The other key element is conversion, i.e. the number of people that download, open and use the app. In this metric, BuzzFeed was the best. As you can see from the chart below, the 5-day before/after change in BuzzFeed New Users outpaced downloads. Tumblr, on the other hand, was pretty abysmal: A 38X increase in new users only yielded a 16X increase in New Users. The New York Times was similar to Tumblr.

Key Takeaways

  • It's great to get mentioned in the New York Times. It gives you the authority to slap the Times logo on your site as a universal "Seal of Approval." But if it's traffic you're after, engage your passionate fans and embrace their home-spun content.
  • BuzzFeed drove real usage, not just downloads. So how do you get on BuzzFeed? In our case, we answered a question on Quora. As an aggregator, BuzzFeed editors are constantly crawling sites like Quora, Reddit and Tumblr. Make sure you're participating in relevant conversations on these sites.
  • If you have a product, study the traffic patterns around press and social media mentions. Which ones resonate with your customers? Then double down there. The above data only applies to one product and the types of coverage varied; the NY Time and BuzzFeed articles were round ups, not features, for example. 
Published on: Oct 6, 2014