Online is a main source for mainstream journalists

Feb 19, 2011 | Best practice, Communications & media, Digital marketing, Social Media

Brands and marketers who continue to treat information generated by online sources as isolated and inconsequential do so at their peril.

Recently I was talking with a marketing acquaintance. He didn’t consider social media to be particularly topical. In fact his exact words were “oh yeah – social media, blogging, twittering…I don’t have time for it”. Regardless of what you might think of the delivery, the underlying sentiment is all too familiar and reflects a misconception which is common amongst those who have yet to grasp the implications of the social web.

Typically, the thinking goes like this…

  1. These people believe that there is a clear distinction between the information produced via “mainstream” media and the “unofficial” user-generated content of the social web.
  2. As part of this distinction, they believe that most people (like themselves) view mainstream media as trustworthy and legitimate and consider information provided by online sources as lacking credibility and substance,
  3. They believe that this distinction is commonplace and is shared by consumers and journalists alike
  4. As a result of this distinction and the value judgement that goes along with it, they believe that a hard barrier exists between mainstream and online information sources that prevents story ideas (if not the story itself) from passing from the social web to the mainstream media.

Essentially this thinking assumes that social content goes somewhere out of sight and stays there. Its convenient, its comforting – its wishful thinking. Its a dangerous wish for those charged with brand guardianship as it ignores the basic dynamics of the social web. Just ask Dominos.

As Sean Howard says…

“In today’s world everyone is a publisher, everyone has some level of influence, and everyone has a network of influence”

It also ignores a progressive shift in the relationship between offline and online information. The nasty surprises recently experienced by Dominos Pizza, Toyota Yaris, General Motors, United Airlines and KFC demonstrate the ease and speed with which online stories can find their way into early general news. And these are not a product of some random web search.

The use of social media amongst print and press journalists for research and story ideas is now systemic.</p><p>While bloggers have always relied upon “traditional” media for topic ideas and research, a recent report by George Washington University and Cision suggests that the door is now swinging more frequently in the opposite direction.

According to the 2009 Social Media &amp; Online Usage Study released last week, mainstream journalists increasingly turn to the user-contributed environment of the social web for story ideas, background and research. If you think that content published online isn’t crossing the species gap, consider this…

  • Almost nine out of ten journalists reported using Blogs for their online research (89%). Only Corporate websites (96%) is used by more journalists when doing online research for a story.
  • Approximately two-thirds of respondents reported using Social Networking sites and just over half make use of Twitter for online research.
  • Blogs (64%) are the most frequently used social media tool to publish, promote and distribute what journalists write, followed closely by Social Networking sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook (60%) and Microblogging sites such as Twitter (57%).

If you actively post stories about your brand within the social media environment, then this is probably good news. If, however, you are the unsuspecting subject of an unauthorized or malicious piece, then the experience is likely to be far less pleasant.

This is not to suggest that mainstream journalists run unverified stories. On the contrary, the Cision report suggests that journalists approach online stories with a higher level of skepticism than those developed by their colleagues in traditional media. What it does suggest is that the social web provides a myriad of sources for stories and information – and journalists don’t seems to share the viewpoint of my cavalier acquaintance mentioned earlier.

A good story is a good story – and good stories move with ease between the worlds of social and traditional media. It is therefore a mistake to underplay the impact that social media content may have on your brand or to underestimate the likelihood of its emergence into mass media.

The increasing importance of social media as source of story ideas means that brands should begin to formulate plans for identifying and managing issues before they become viral – and well before they appear in tomorrow morning’s paper.

It sends an interesting message for those who maintain that brand no longer has a place in a digital world or that the evolution of online sales strikes a relentless path toward a world without the cost and complexity of human interaction.