Social media is real and here to stay

September 28, 2009

Nic Newman- Nic Newman is Controller Future Media and Technology in BBC Journalism, and former Journalist Fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. On September 30, he will speak on the Rise of Social Media and its Impact on Mainstream Media. The opinions expressed are his own. -

The news last week that the Prime Minister’s wife, Sarah Brown, has more Twitter devotees than Stephen Fry, is a further reminder of the onward march of social media

Politicians, entertainers, marketers and captains of industry are just some of those waking up to the potential of social media in transforming the way they relate to voters, fans and consumers.

But where does all this leave the traditional media organisation? Disintermediated? Bypassed? Stripped of all power and influence?

I’ve just spent three months at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, trying to work out the answers. Here are five key thoughts for your consideration.

Ignore the sceptics. Social media is real and it is here to stay. There has been an explosion of participation over the past two years (2007-9), driven by user-friendly internet tools, better connectivity and new mobile devices. Social Networking and user-generated-content have become mainstream activities, accounting for almost 20 percent of internet time in the UK.

Time for traditional news organisations to take note.

Social media is relevant to journalism. The death of Michael Jackson and the street protests in Iran earlier this year demonstrate how it is changing the nature of breaking news. It is contributing to the compression of the “news cycle”, putting more pressure on editors over what to report and when.

News organisations are already abandoning attempts to be first for breaking news, focusing instead on being the best at verifying and curating it.

Journalists are getting the hang of social media tools like Twitter, Blogs and Facebook, but very much on their own terms. “Same values, new tools” sums up the approach in most mainstream organisations as they try to marry the culture of the web with their own organisational norms. Will they succeed?

Social media, blogs and UGC are not replacing journalism, but they are creating an important extra layer of information and diverse opinion. Most people are still happy to rely on mainstream news organisations to sort fact from fiction and serve up a filtered view, but they are increasingly engaged by this information, particularly when it comes from a friend or another trusted source.

Social recommendation is playing an increasingly significant role in driving traffic to traditional news content. Most mainstream news organisations are devoting extra resources to exploit social networks like Facebook, You Tube and Twitter. Over time, social media sites could become as important as search engines as a driver of traffic and revenue.

These are powerful trends, and not all traditional news organisations in the UK have yet caught on. Taking social media seriously doesn’t mean you have to leave your core values behind, but organisations that fail embrace the power of the network will struggle to survive.

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