News and the Social Media Take Over

Social Media and News

Social media has become an online leader for news consumption. 41% of all ages are either reading, watching, sharing or discussing news on Facebook. This percentage gets larger as you head towards the current generation. Around 52% of 18 to 24 year olds are getting their news from Facebook. Interestingly, Facebook isn’t seen as a place to get news. Consumers say that they tend to see news while they are there for other reasons. Twitter is a very different story in the battle for social media supremacy. The Reuters report says that 62% of consumers see Twitter as a useful way of getting news compared to Facebook’s 38%.

These numbers point to an increase in consumers obtaining their news via social media. However, what is more important is how news providers use social media to get their stories to their audiences. One would suggest that there are three types of news providers: traditional, user-generated and new news. Each of these types of news providers use social media in different ways to engage the largest audience possible.

Traditional News and Social Media

Traditional news providers are in a constant battle with technology to stay relevant and ahead of their competitors. Over the last 20 years or so news has become 24/7 thanks to technological advancements. Social media is just the latest tool available to news corporations such as the BBC. The BBC highlight three key roles that social media has in their journalism:

  • Newsgathering: it helps us to gather more, and sometimes better, material; we can find a wider ranges of voices, ideas and eyewitnesses quickly
  • Audience engagement: how we listen to and talk to our audiences, and allowing us to speak to different audiences
  • A platform for our content: it’s a way of us getting our journalism out there, in short form or as a tool to take people to our journalism on the website, TV or radio. It allows us to engage different and younger audiences.
BBC News Twitter
© Josh Owen, 2016

The BBC has recognised that social media is a tool that allows them to get news to as many people as possible. What is particularly interesting is that they have identified that their social media platforms are for a “different” and “younger” audience. This idea of social media being a platform for the younger generation is seemingly a universal idea. Pew Research Center found that 6 out of 10 said that social media isn’t an important source for their news. However, 5 out of 10 of people under the age of 35 said that it was an important source for their news.

Same Process, Different Content

The BBC’s main goal with its young social media audience is to drive them to their website and other platforms. This links to Olivia Koski idea that the consumer typically only engages with a story once it has been published. It is then pushed out on the various social media platforms, in the hope that it will go viral or open up comments sections that often devolve into virtual boxing arenas.

The issue with this mind-set is it does little to deepen the experience for audiences or reporters. While they attempt to use social media to engage with their audience and gather material, they aren’t looking to collaborate with them to produce better-quality articles.

Using Social Media to Collaborate with Audiences

User-generated news is a concept that has emerged recently that puts the audience at the forefront of the journalistic process. The idea is to have the audience involved throughout reporting rather than just giving them the content on social media. Koski points to WBEZ’ Curious City as an example of how news corporations can collaborate with audiences from conception to sharing on social media.

“I’ve been in newsrooms where they look at the audience as a consumer, a necessary evil, as opposed to a highly valuable ideas contributor”

This is what Jennifer Brandel, the journalist behind WBEZ’s Curious City, said and one of the main reasons why she wanted to start Curious City. The idea is to let the audience submit questions and get them to vote for the ones they deem to be newsworthy. Brandel suggests that inviting readers to ask questions yields more journalistic benefits than asking them to leave feedback in a comments section.

She also suggests that this leads to more original content. This pushes journalists to pursue stories that they would have never imagined on their own. In creating stories this way, it gives the audience a seat at the editorial table and Brandel has found that the audience is then more likely to engage with story on social media. Like the BBC they use social media to push their audience to visit their website so they can vote for an article to be reported on.

Content for All

Across Demographics, Increase in Facebook and Twitter Users Who Get News
© Pew Research Center, 2015

However, unlike the BBC, they do so much more with their audience on social media. They use Twitter to run Q & A’s between the audience and reporters. This gives the audience a chance to put forward ideas and questions for articles that are currently being investigating. The advantage of using social media in user-generated news is that social media cuts across all ages. Pew Research Center says that use of Twitter for news, grew among both users under 35 (55% to 67%) and those ages 35 and older (47% to 59%). On Facebook, news use grew among both men (44% to 61%) and women (49% to 65%).

This means Curious City is able to produce better all-round content that suits a wider range of people. This idea of “public-power journalism” allows reporters to continue to do the good work they do. The audience isn’t seen as just a consumer but as a resource to inspire and inform the work they do. The benefit of social media for Curious City is endless. It is evident from the way that their audience shares and engages with their content, that they feel empowered and more connected with the stories.

The Kings of Social Media: New News

New news are brands/companies that have made social media their home. They have no concerns over how their website looks as they know their audience is going to land on a specific page, read the article and then return to social media. An example of a new news company is Buzzfeed. They cover a wide range of categories on their website but rather than operate from just one account on each social media platform available to them, they run multiple accounts.

Buzzfeed can use each account to publish specific content rather than use one account to publish everything. This allows their audience to tailor what they see on their news feeds and allows Buzzfeed to give them more content on a much more regular basis. This is a far more aggressive approach to social media; an approach supported by Guy Kawasaki. He suggests that people will get used to the increase of content or unfollow you. And this is what scares a lot of accounts on social media. They worry about losing followers than giving their audience what they want. That is why Buzzfeed are the best at it. They simply don’t care if a few hundred unfollow because they will gain a few thousand. Like Kawasaki said:

“If you’re not pissing someone off on social media, you’re not using it aggressively enough.”

It’s All About the Presentation

However, it’s not simply a case of pumping out status after status and eventually you will go viral. It is about what content you push and how you present it on social media. Buzzfeed is an entertainment and lifestyle news provider which is why they are so successful on social media. People engage with this type of content more because it is relatable. Not only is their content relatable but how they present their content on social media is just as important.

Buzzfeed use links and imagery in their statuses along with very little text. They look to tap into their audience’s curiosity with the title of their articles. All this combined results in what Buffer sees as the perfect post. They suggest posts containing 40 characters or less get up to 86% more engagement than those with more characters. If you just scroll through one of Buzzfeed’s many Facebook pages you can see that they routinely stick to this. They have nailed social media on the head, so it is no wonder that other news providers are looking to replicate their success on their own accounts.

So, What Next for News and Social Media?

Each type of news provider has their own ways of getting news to their audience via social media. Traditional news providers use it as a platform to drive their followers to their website where they have more content for their followers to explore. User-generated news use it to communicate with their audience to provide them with news that is relevant to them. New news use social media as their main platform to communicate with their audience. Yes, their aim is to get people to go to their website but they aren’t expecting them to explore it. Their aim is to get their audience commenting, sharing and engaging with their content and then moving on to the next one.

What we are seeing through each of these examples is the audience’s willingness to engage on social media. It is starting to become a part of everyone’s daily routine and no doubt the percentage of people obtaining their news via social media will continue to rise. The type of content and what news providers want to achieve from social media will dictate how they use it. Perhaps we will see traditional news attempt to provide content like new news to drive up interest. Maybe user-generated content will operate entirely from social media. Could platforms like Facebook and Twitter become news providers? What’s stopping them from using the data we provide them to give us the news they know we will want to see.