Social Media is Affecting the News Media

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News agencies around the world are constantly challenged with finding and keeping consumers of their published content. Content is certainly king, but the business model has been stressed for many organizations over the past decade based on the advancement of technology and changing consumer habits.

It’s still about getting the attention of readers, listeners, and watchers. But now, your news source wants you to consume their content through digital media and share it within your friends, family, and professional circles.Social Media Logos

Consider that the traditional subscription model is based a one-to-one relationship. A consumer subscribes to a publication, and the agency pushes their content to the subscriber at a specified interval. If you want a newspaper delivered to your driveway each day, then you can have that with your paid subscription. You might share that printed paper with a single friend. But it’s not likely that you would share it with more than that one friend. In many ways, you are limited by the physical copy that you have.

Paul Grabowicz, of the Knight Digital Media Center, writes about the transition to digital journalism, stating there has been “a steady decline in print circulation and a  precipitous drop in advertising revenue” in recent years. News agencies that have not adapted to technology that consumers use have filed for bankruptcy, closed their doors, or merged with competitors.

Consider that the print subscription base for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Monday through Friday circulation was 183,415 in May 2011 down from 318,350 in November 2007.  That’s a 43 percent drop in a 3 1/2 year span.

All those print subscriptions of yesteryear have been replaced with different types of digital access such as mobile applications, Internet browsers, tablet applications, podcasts, and YouTube videos.

Traditional news sources relied on an intentional decision by the consumer to receive the content of the publisher. It was an individual decision between the consumer and the news source.  With digital media this can still be true. But evolution of technology and tools is leading to a new change in consumer behavior.

In recent years, social media sharing and linking has become mainstream, and the average consumer has access to share their favorite content with many people just by clicking a button. In contrast to the subscription model, that’s a one-to-many relationship and it’s beginning to have a changing effect on the mass media industry.

The consumer has become a free marketing engine for the news agency by sharing, liking, and commenting on publications. This very act replicates the content of the publication in a way that was once impossible.

Andrew Phelps, of the Nieman Journalism Lab, describes the sharing habits of consumers in his post news shows up in the least expected places. Phelps states that “A lot of readers get their news just like this — incidentally — according to a growing body of research. That is, they don’t turn to the web seeking news. The news finds them. And that has implications for how that news gets produced and distributed.”

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So, just as with any industry, news and media companies will have to adjust to consumer behavior.  AOL, parent company to Patch.com, understands this. A note in the management discussion section of the 10-Q report filed with the SEC on 11/2/11 states “As the behavior of internet consumers continues to change, a migration on the internet towards social networking could adversely affect usage of AOL products and services. This trend may have an adverse effect on our ability to rely on traditional sources of traffic and revenues. We seek to mitigate these potential competitive pressures by leveraging social networks to deliver our content.”

But social-sharing timelines such as those found on Facebook, Google+, or Twitter have a challenge as well. They contain an enormous amount of information that is updated constantly.  In fact, there is so much information hitting those timelines that we can’t possibly process it all.

It’s what link shortening service Bit.ly calls the half life of a shared link. They define half life as “the amount of time at which this link will receive half of the clicks it will ever receive.” According the Bit.ly study, “The mean half life of a link on Twitter is 2.8 hours, on Facebook it’s 3.2 hours and via ‘direct’ sources (like email or IM clients) it’s 3.4 hours. So you can expect, on average, an extra 24 minutes of attention if you post on Facebook than if you post on Twitter.”

For discussion sake, let’s call the half life of a shared link three hours. After that, your link is considered old news. The findings of Bit.ly study have prompted some news organizations to develop a policy of re-posting their content after certain time intervals. There is no additional cost to repost the link, and it will very likely pick-up new consumers.

Enter Google to this discussion. Google shook up the digital media and search world when it posted on its blog a post entitled Search, plus Your World.

Google states “We’re transforming Google into a search engine that understands not only content, but also people and relationships.” The latest search algorithm now includes results that are personal to your Google+ and photo sharing information. Controversies aside, about the what social data is included in the search results, what this means is that sharing news links socially could give that link a second life in future search results.

For news agencies, that’s good news. It means when a link from their content is shared with others, it could create additional impressions in Google’s search engine index. That can increase the probability of additional visits to their media properties in the future.

So the race for your attention continues. But the game has changed. It’s not played with college students selling you the covenience of home delivery through a subscription, but with digital publications and the quality of the content.

You the consumer are both the audience and the marketer. Your influence, and it’s a good one, drives more people to the published content when you share or recommend it to a friend. Social is as social does.

This post is from my column on technology and business from the Suwanee Patch.  I cross-post the entire contents here for the Merchant Stand audience. The original version is online here:

Recipe for a digital diet

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The digital information flow in our lives is increasingly complex to manage.
Think about how you manage digital content in your life. News, blogs, streaming video, books, music, etc. The options for consuming digital information are changing rapidly. They include not only hardware devices but also software tools made specifically for managing our digital intake. Chances are that if you are reading this post that you use multiple tools and those tools change over time.  For example, I remember using Delicious and Plaxo at one time. But today, I’ve replaced those two  with Evernote and LinkedIn. I use other tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Google Reader and have more in my toolbox. I bet you do to. Which is exactly my point. It’s complicated.

We are making choices everyday choosing what to consumer and what to ignore.
As with food, the abundance of the information in our lives creates a decision for what we will and will not consume each day. There’s just too much to consume it all and we have other activities in our lives, outside of processing digital information, that are important. Our choices are  individual decisions:

  • What tools to use
  • What information to read, watch, listen to
  • What new information to add (status updates, shares, comments, etc.)

So what’s your game plan for managing a digital diet?
How do you make those daily choices of what, when, and how you’ll process information? My answer to this question may be changing over time as I try different techniques and methods. One principal that is very clear to me is that even within my information filters, such as people and site follows/subscriptions, there is too much information for me to consume it all. That means there are social status updates, blog posts, news articles, published videos, etc. that I never see to consume.

My information management plan has evolved into a strategy of quality over quantity.
Gone are the days with trying to skim and consume it all. I found that with this ‘quantity’ approach that I really did not benefit from the information because I did not have time to think and process the information. After all, the goal of our reading, watching, and listening is to learn, think about, reply, and apply the information in our lives right? Otherwise why are you doing it?

So my consumption routine has slowed down a bit. I’m finding it is more valuable to skim content headings and summaries to find information that potentially gives me a deeper dive into a topic of interest. A quick preview of the information will confirm or deny this. But if it’s information that I want to enjoy then I try to slow down and absorb it. What I’m really after is thinking about what I’m consuming. This means be engaged, respond, contribute, share, maybe even write a blog post about it. 😉

So the thought of quality or quantity is to choose wisely and then make the most of what information you allow in your life. I realize that’s not a new concept or any startling revelation. But it’s a necessity in this age when a digital stream of data flowing at rapid rate is facing us each day.

Happy eating.

Video affects your search engine results

Last week I posted about how video is the fastest growing advertisement method on the internet.  Also this past week, Douglas Karr posted on Marketing Tech Blog the effects video can have on search results.  Karr gives a great example of not only how video can rank highly in search results but the importance of the description of the video as a secondary way to drive customers and prospects to your web site.

I decided to do a test of my own with a video I posted on YouTube last November. The video was part of game recap between Peachtree Ridge and Brookwood high schools that accompanied a football story I wrote for the Suwanee Patch.

I first logged out of Google so that my profile could not influence the search results. Then I searched “Brookwood Peachtree Ridge Football 2011”.  My video appeared as the number four  natural search result. The full story I wrote wasn’t even on the first page of search results.

Brookwood Peachtree Ridge Football Search Results

That’s significant. The video link is posted on my YouTube channel contains no backlinks (I just created the first one) and I have just a handful of videos on it. Yet it ranked higher in the search results than some media pages including the one I provide content to!

Just below my video was a second video from the same game. This content wasn’t sourced from YouTube. It was embedded on the owning sports site. At first I thought it was for a different game between the two schools because the date said 2008. After watching it, I discovered that it was the same game in November 2011, but the owning site posted it to a page for the 2008-2009 sports videos. This emphasizes the point that Douglas Karr made in his post that the surrounding page and content for videos will have impact on the search display and could affect your search results.

The lesson for technology marketers in all this is that videos can provide influence for their content but can also provide an added lift to your search results. If you are already using videos as part of your marketing strategy then find out how they rank in relevant keyword searches. If you are not making videos for products and services then now may be the time. YouTube is a convenient host but you can use your own site as long it’s capable of adequately supporting video playback and is setup to allow search engine indexing.

Online video ad usage is surging

Online advertising is becoming more advanced and taking advantage of consumers attraction to video elements. According to eMarketer online video ad spending will grow by a compound annual rate of 38% in a five-year span ending in 2015. That’s the fastest growing category in the study. In total spend though, video ads are expected to remain far below search and banner ads. I expect that will hold as video assets can be more expensive to produce and deploy. In fact it was the top factor cited for limiting growth potential in another study by eMarketer.

What I think is more interesting is the variety of opinions on how video ads should be used and measured. Measurement is a bit more complicated than tracking clicks to a hyperlink or banner ad. For example a non-linear (runs parallel to other content) video ad is something the marketer knows a customer does not necessarily see or pay attention to within the context of the main content. Is the tracking and effectiveness simply based on impressions? Does it require a full play of the content? How do we measure customers that abandon the video or pause the content play-back? Is it possible to track a video viewing to a sale? What about social sharing and conversations (buzz)?

In my personal experience I’ve observed linear video ads (in-stream with other content before, mid, or after) the most. They play between video news clips on CNN and before free music sets on Last.fm.  Speaking honestly, I have not found these two examples annoying. They are short, 30 seconds or less, and I’ve concluded the trade-off of playing the ads acceptable to consume the free content.

For some reason I’m not so content with other types of ads. If I’m trying to read content on a site, I don’t like the moving ads that cover my reading area and require a click to remove. Theoretically, I guess I should accept these ads as well in exchange for free content. But I don’t. Maybe there is a different psychology to non-linear ads. The linear video ads are closer to traditional television, so perhaps my mind is trained to accept them. Tell me your thoughts on this in the comments.

For fun I am listing my favorite video ad thus far. This one played for months in front of the Last.fm music. I still laugh when I watch it.

Using social media for customer service. Facebook and Google+ open the doors.

Facebook rolled-out a feature for Asia based admins of business pages to allow them to send private messages with fans writes Jon Russell of cmo.com.  The communication must be initiated by the customer. So it’s an opening for a customer service touch-point first rather than private marketing blasts.

With this move, Facebook is giving companies another email like inbox for conversations with customers. It’s a bit more feature rich than just an ordinary email inbox though because it’s integrated with a fan page. The Fan page can enable messages, discussions, video, applications, etc.

Most companies already list email addresses under the “contact us” section of their internet or eCommerce sites. Will they adopt and allow Facebook as a touch-point for customer service as well? One advantage email has is the ability to use list management tools for sorting, screening, auto-replying, filing, etc. That’s there from years of growth and maturity as a messaging platform. Companies with high volumes of customer interaction may find managing messages within Facebook difficult.

What about other platforms for customer service and interaction such as twitter or Google+? Twitter is already used by many organizations to interact with customers and Google recently announced they were adding features to Google+ Pages as well.

One thing is for sure. Customer service is becoming a puzzle with more pieces. If companies want to meet customers where they are and provide convenient service options then they’ll need to consider more than a phone number and email inbox. Customers have choices about how they communicate and where they see brand information. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and mobile applications are all viable and now very real platforms where customers spend time.

Over the past several years we’ve a large amount of information was published about how marketers and PR groups can use digital media to reach customers. 2012 may be the year where the media and industry thinkers start to publish thoughts on using digital media more for customer service.