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Op-Ed: Social media of the future Special

By Nicolle Hiddleston     Jul 29, 2013 in Business
Austin - As news continues to transition away from traditional paper platforms, different age groups continue to turn to social media for news.
According to data from the 2013 Pew’s State of the News Media, about 34 percent of people in the age group 18-24 use social media as a means to consume news. In comparison, nearly 30 percent of people in the age group 30-39 gather news through social media. Overall, about 19 percent of the total population uses social media for news.
Although more people are relying on social media for news, the Neiman Journalism Lab recently reported that news organizations are rarely successful on social media platforms. Their report concluded that news organizations’ failure on social media could be due to the lack of quality news content posted on their sites.
Not all news organizations are falling behind in the digital age though. Fast Company listed the Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization, as one of the ten most innovative media companies. According to Rodney Gibbs, their chief innovation officer, the Texas Tribune has been using social media before it launched on Nov. 3, 2009.
“We’ve been figuring out the best practices, tracking metrics around social media, and figuring out how to use it better to reach more people,” Gibbs explained about their social media strategy.
It’s imperative that news organizations track social media analytics because online news has grown rapidly since the rise of digital platforms. A 2013 Pew Research Center survey concluded that nearly 50 percent of people received their news online in 2012. In comparison, about 19 percent of people got news from social media while 8 percent said they listened to a podcast.
Recent social media statistics revealed that there are currently 1.11 billion Facebook users, 500 million Twitter users, 130 million Instagram users, and 70 million Pinterest users. In order to track the success of social media campaigns on these platforms, news organizations utilize social media analytic tools such as Chartbeat, Radian6, Tweetreach, Hootsuite and
The Texas Tribune uses a combination of these social media analytic tools in addition to using another tool named SimplyMeasured. This tool gathers data from social media sites and forms graphs about social media engagement and other important statistics. Natalie Choate, Texas Tribune’s assistant director of development, said they also use vanity links to track click-through rates and have been making some technical advances.
“A major technical feat we’ve accomplished is making our website more responsive so that people can engage on the go. We’ve added different social media sharing buttons on our articles to make engagement easier,” Choate said.
Sharing buttons are essential because a 2013 Pew Research Center survey revealed that 15 percent of adults get their news from friends and family through social media. This number is small in comparison to the 72 percent of adults who get news by word-of-mouth, but social media consumers follow up more often on the articles. Some people even rely completely on social media to obtain news.
“It(social media) is the only way I consume news. I don’t follow news organizations, I follow people and they socially curate the news I read,” Joshua Baer, managing director at Capital Factory, replied in an email.
Since more people are relying on their friends and family to be curators of news, it’s important that news organizations provide consistent interesting information. Otherwise, they will lose both their readers and the opportunity to expand their audience outreach. According to a recent report by the Nieman Journalism Lab, 31 percent of Americans have abandoned a news outlet because they felt the news content they had grown accustomed to was no longer being provided.
The Texas Tribune focuses their attention on relevant, current political news and pushes out information they know their readers care about. According to Gibbs, they don’t have a dedicated social media person but rather have different people distributing content. Gibbs said they make sure to broadcast interactive, visual content such as quality videos, pictures, and infographics to spark engagement.
In addition to sharing content on their main social media accounts, the Texas Tribune also has an events coordinator that concentrates on marketing their events through social media. Natalia Ciolko uses both Facebook and Twitter equally to push out information about upcoming events. She said they started using Instagram last year for their Texas Tribune Festival and are developing a new Tumblr for their upcoming festival. Ciolko uses to track the effectiveness of links and advises news organizations new to social media to provide quality content.
“The medium is the message, but your message has to be sufficiently interesting for people to want to share and click,” Ciolko said. “It’s not build it and they will come; build it and make it interesting and people will come,” Ciolko continued.
This same advice can be applied to companies outside of the news business who desire to share events content too. Nicholle Jaramillo, events coordinator at Capital Factory, explained that she shares events content both through their main Twitter account, their events Twitter account and their Facebook page. She advises companies new to social media to keep updated with their social media and to response quickly and effectively.
Robert Connally, search engine optimization intern for Saatva Luxury Mattress, termed social media as the “wave of the marketing future.” Both news organizations and other businesses should recognize the important link between SEO and social media. According to Connally, the goal of SEO is to get your name as high as you can when people search for you. Social media is an effective tool that all companies can utilize to inform people about their products and services.
“Companies should have interesting stuff that people want to read and share with their friends. You cannot churn enough out; keep making content on a consistent basis,” Connally advised.
But since there are numerous social media platforms readily available to share content on, how do companies decide which ones to focus on? The Texas Tribune CIO Gibbs advises companies new to social media to pick just one social media platform, preferably Facebook or Twitter, and focus on doing well on that one site. At the Texas Tribune, they focus primarily on Facebook and Twitter and secondarily on Instagram, Vine and Tumblr.
“People come into my office and say we should be on Pinterest or doing this or that but being a news organization, or any organization for that matter, you have finite time and money to do these things,” Gibbs explained about how they decide which social media platforms to use.
According to the 2012 Pew’s State of the News Media, Facebook and Twitter were the dominant social media sites for news at the end of 2011. Approximately 70 percent of people got their news links from friends and family through Facebook while 36 percent got their news on Twitter. Only 13 percent of people got their news from news organizations on Facebook while 27 percent got their news on Twitter.
As Twitter continues to grow, more companies and news organizations have began to utilize it more. At The Texas Tribune, Gibbs explained that Facebook has become less useful because it has changed its edgeranking and that makes it harder for them to reach their audience. Unlike Facebook, Twitter allows users to see everything that is posted in their newsfeed.
“Twitter is higher in importance for us in terms of outreach. It’s instantaneous, and easy to share in a professional manner. Facebook is a more personal media channel and isn’t our main traffic driver,” Ciolko said.
Companies like Capital Factory, an Austin-based company that promotes start-ups, also thrive on Twitter. Their managing director and events coordinator both stated that they preferred Twitter over other social media platforms for sharing content. Jaramillo said that it’s important that businesses and news organizations have a Facebook and Twitter account because it’s often the first place that people go to see more about a company.
“It’s the best way to stay present and in front of customers and it’s a faster way to stay in touch,” Jaramillo said about Twitter. “It’s easy and it gets the most engagement,” Baer added in an email.
Companies often gauge the success of their social media posts by viewing their engagement level. Engagement refers to the amount of likes, shares or comments that a certain post receives whether it be on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus or any other social media site. Twitter and Facebook continue to have high engagement levels while other social media sites require more time and effort.
At the Texas Tribune, Gibbs remarked that his favorite social media platform to use is Vine because it offers a multitude of functions such as the control to stop and start video, stop motion, contrasts and jump cuts. Since the Texas Tribune delivers serious political information, this social media tool allows them to show a different side of the news organization.
Currently, there are several social media sites to start sharing on such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare, Cinemagram, Pinterest, YouTube, Google Plus, Storify, and StumbleUpon. Although there are numerous social media sites to choose from, it’s important that companies find one that works well for them and learn about the platform before just posting content.
“There are a tremendous amount of resources out there for best practices and strategies on social media. I follow several blogs that are constantly doing case studies, best practices, ways to measure your metrics, and engagement success stories,” Gibbs stated.
As digital media platforms such as desktop and laptop computers, tablets and mobile phones continue to rapidly expand among users, people are using social media more to get news on these platforms. A 2012 Pew Research Center survey found that mobile users aren’t replacing one platform with another but are actually consuming news more. In fact, 43 percent of tablet users said they are adding to the news they consume since getting a mobile device.
Since more people are buying electronic devices, news organizations and companies should make sure their sites are interactive across different platforms. At the Texas Tribune, they have made their live coverage more user-friendly for cell phones so people can live stream anywhere they are.
Another reason news organizations and companies should make their sites easier to access on different platforms is because of a trend known as the second-screen phenomenon. More people are starting to log onto their computers and cell phones while watching television. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, 27 percent of people in the United States were logged onto either their computer or cell phone while watching the 2012 presidential election on television. This new trend can help news organizations and companies to interact with more users and drive more traffic while showing an event on television.
The Nieman Journalism Lab posed an interesting question in a recent report asking, “What if news organizations confronted the reality that nearly all media will be ‘social media’ a decade hence?” This question should be at the forefront of all news organizations and companies desiring to expand their outreach and interaction among both current and new audience members.
In ten years, Gibbs of the Texas Tribune hypothesizes that social media will be more personalized, easier to post on and sees Twitter being used more as an RSS feed. In comparison, Connally of Saatva Luxury Mattress thinks that there will be a new, major social media platform that will take over. Jaramillo of the Capital Factory desires to see social media as more of a place to start a conversation and expects there to be more emerging technologies.
“In addition to developing more followers, we also want to create and sustain a relationship with them. We are constantly trying to make our content interesting enough so that people aren’t unfollowing us,” Ciolko said about the Texas Tribune’s future social media goals.
Currently, social media usage has increased 38 percent since last year and is expected to increase to around 50 percent by the end of 2013. As both the younger and older generation look to social media as a means to consume news and information about companies, businesses should invest more time in building up their social media presence. Social media is the digital media of the future but the users really determine where it will go. So, companies can either tweet away or fall behind in the digital media future.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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