Can social media save the news media?

April 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

The news media faces huge challenges ahead. Social media has and will continue to change the way we find and consume news, and the news industry – which has proved less than nimble so far – needs to prepare or it risks becoming increasingly unprofitable.

Publishers are seeing an increasing number of us receiving our news through social media platforms. The Nieman Journalism Lab for big picture, crystal ball gazing on the future of journalism says 5-15 per cent of traffic to news websites is coming from social media referrals. This might not be a big percentage now but as more people take to social networks, the trend is on the way up. One US survey showed, 44 per cent of news readers use social networks to share news and information.

The buzz phrase for harnessing the power of social media to bring in punters is social media optimisation. It describes how the news media can adopt strategies to optimise the probability of their content being distributed through social media networks.

It stands to reason that news organisations need to harness this human impulse to share interesting stuff by making it easier for their content to be spread by social media networks. One way to prosper is to lead a reader or viewer’s attention from one story to another. Many news websites are very effective at doing this and other less so. But the trend does represent, as Ken Doctor of Newsonomics puts it, “the social web is the new homepage”.

While many news websites have Facebook and Twitter tabs on webpages to make sharing easy, it’s fair to say traditional news organisations have been patchy in coming to terms with the impact of the internet and how news consumption patterns and habits are changing. More and more news stories we are interested in find us through our social media filters and we also like to participate, to discuss the news online and to share it among our peers.

To increase audiences, news organisations and journalists need to learn to engage with them. Being open to feedback can improve the customer’s experience and grow loyalty for the news brand. One idea is for news organisations to encourage their journalists to use their social networks to bring more readers or viewers to a story and make it easy for them to share it.

Journalists also need training in social media. News rooms need to counter any curmudgeonly resistance by old school thinking because they now need staff adept at using social media to increase the organisation’s ability to engage and promote its news product.

News organisations also have to keep up with future developments. For example, many of us will soon be able to live stream news events from our mobile phones. We can already do it on a peer to peer basis but news from YouTube that it will be rolling out YouTube Live means we are so close to realising live streaming citizen journalism onto open internet platforms that can be viewed by anyone with reasonable access to the internet. How will the traditional news media cope?

In the last decade, we’ve been witnessing a slowly unfolding crash between the news industry and the internet. Now social media has added a high speed element. There are casualties especially in the US where dozens of newspapers have closed and hundreds of journalists have been made unemployed. But if your business is based on news, wouldn’t it be foolish to ignore or minimise an increasing part of the connected and literate world that is using social media to share the news?

Let us know your thoughts below. How do you get the news? Are Twitter, YouTube and Facebook increasingly doing it for you? What media organisations use social media effectively and how are they doing it?

And if you have bright ideas on how news organisations can generate more revenue from giving their news content away for free on the internet, I’m sure they would like to hear from you!

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