Monday, 5 December 2011

Social Media: Challenges and Opportunities from a Media firm perspective

Social Media and traditional News Media

As social media networks continue to grow, they have become both a challenge and a threat to traditional media firms, as well as a tremendous opportunity. The latter implies that newspaper publishers and other media firms have a chance of becoming truly engaging and interactive with their audience, as opposed to the old way of one-way information represented by all mass media including broadcasting. In fact co-creation has become a new trend in many media firms, where those who were traditionally called an audience are now proactive in creating content in multiple ways. "The Internet has turned the news industry upside down, making it more participatory, social, diverse and partisan - as it used to be before the arrival of mass media." (Ref. Tom Sandage, in The Economist, Special Report: the News industry, July 2011).

The daily news has undergone a transformation. Commentary on news articles are not only shared on the websites of media brands, they are widely shared, hated or recommended in social media networks such as Facebook, Google+, Twitter etc. In fact many news sites have been created to comment on the latest trends and developments in social media and technology e.g. Mashable, The Social Media Guide, Tech Crunch etc. The same goes for TV, where live shows generate more participation from the audience than before. In fact many people watching TV are communicating on a laptop, tablet or smartphone at the same time. Television newscasts now include amateur videos (the same appear on newspaper websites), covering events like the riots in London or the Japanese tsunami. Messages posted on Twitter have been woven into coverage of these events and many others. 

In the past year we have also seen other phenomena involving social media such as WikiLeaks, an organization that rose to fame by publishing leaked documents supplied to it anonymously. This information has been well covered and widely discussed both in traditional and social media. The phone hacking scandal in Britain is a hot topic at the time of writing of this blog post. The scandal is about traditional media (the tabloids) and their unethical methods of finding out doubtful information about celebrities. This debate is now subject to further investigation and all new information about the scandal travel fast in social media networks. One could say that “old media” has been conquered by social media networks by the sheer speed of how news is spread in social networks. However, in-depth analysis and articles are still better covered in traditional media (be it in print or on electronic devices).

Social Media – challenges
As social media continues to develop, so do the roles within it. In business it is a big issue to attempt to control “corporate and brand image” in social media. Traditionally it was enough to have a clear communications policy towards traditional media and it was the role of a Communications Manager to handle the relationship with media and its editors. The different roles of people managing social media networks are discussed in an article in Social Media Today. Among these are the roles of social media manager and community manager (Ref. Social Media Today, 28th November 2011).

“A Community Manager is like a Shepherd. A community is like a flock of sheep.  A Shepherd tends to their flock. They live among the sheep, but they are not a sheep. They foster a healthy environment by allowing the sheep to work out conflict without bringing harm to each other. They keep the sheep together and moving in the direction of green pastures, so the flock can grow and expand. They protect the sheep from outside predators. The Shepherd always knows the count of the heard.”

A Social Media Manager takes the lead in managing the overall efforts of a company’s social media platform. This can include writing and/or posting content, monitoring accounts, and reporting on followings. A Social Media Manager is responsible for creating content e.g. specific to a product or brand strategy across social networks. They monitor and create engagement to achieve goals of a specific campaign. Many marketing campaigns are today designed to engage people in storytelling through participation, hence marketing in social media tends to be visual, witty and appealing to people’s emotions. The basic idea is that consumers and potential customers become the people carrying out the marketing campaign by way of commenting and sharing on the information of the relating product or service.

Many companies want multiple staff to manage specific aspects of online marketing and social media, while a small business may just want an effective presence on one or two channels. This depends on the size of the company and its operations. However local the company is, the cyber world of social networks is always global. Today, it´s almost a prerequisite for a CEO to be active and engaged in social media, one way or the other. It's where you meet the customer. CEOs simply cannot afford to leave the business of social media to their employees. This is not typical for the older executives in traditional Media firms. See the linked INFOGRAPHIC on CEO's activity in Social Media.

Another relevant aspect to consider is that in social media the product being “sold” is the individual, i.e. the consumer. This has clearly been highlighted in the recent public discussion regarding Facebook and its development. Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg says he wants the world to share. Critics say he wants to steal our privacy to make billions.  (Ref. The Sunday Times, 4th December 2011). The more personal information we share in social networks, the more it is utilized to personalize offerings and information targeted to the individual. In fact Google are in the process of revamping their search engine to give more personal results based on the individual’s information and behavior.

Social Media guidelines in Media firms
The general threats of social media for traditional media firms is usually referred to as 1) the loss of relevance, as news are more rapidly shared and spread in social networks, 2) a loss of subscription revenue, as people opt for other sources of information than the traditional print subscriptions, and 3) a loss of advertising revenue as marketers find the audiences in social networks and other new channels for marketing such as games.

However, for the purpose of this blog post I will discuss the different set of rules applied by media firms regarding staff members’ activities in social media networks. Quite a few of Finnish media firms such as Aller Media, Sanoma News and YLE have set their own rules for behavior in social media.

Aller Media’s rules are quite simple – be smart! (in Finnish: “Käyttäydy fiksusti”). Aller Media claim to be the “most social media firm in Finland” and it is well known for its consumer magazines. Aller Media have coined the "Social District" name for their concept. Aller Media also own, the most frequented Finnish social network. The management of Aller Media simply encourage people to act smartly in social media and also set the example by way of being active in Facebook, foursquare, LinkedIn, Suomi.24 and Twitter. Social media is cleverly utilized for marketing of the firm’s products and services.

Sanoma News, part of the media conglomerate Sanoma Corporation, has been more conservative about its attitude towards social media networks. In a recent article in Finland’s biggest daily, Helsingin Sanomat, professor Saara Taalas was quoted that “now media firms face the voice of those in the audience previously ousted by the gatekeepers”. The digitalization of media and the rapid development of social networks have led to the situation where the Editor-in-chief, let alone individual journalists, can no longer control the public debate. Instead journalists have been forced to “come down from their ivory towers” to meet the people and engage in the halo of the discussion.

If Aller Media’s set of rules comprised of two words, Sanoma use 401 words to advise journalists on how to behave in social media. This set of rules was published in Helsingin Sanomat on 7 November, 2011, basically encouraging journalist to use and understand social media. The HS guideline is only published in Finnish. It is well worth reading with some thought. Helsingin Sanomat is actively present in Facebook and Twitter.

In these guidelines Helsingin Sanomat clearly state that the social media networks are indeed news channels and very helpful when sourcing information for articles. Helsingin Sanomat are collecting valuable feedback and information on development projects through social networks, from its readers and advertisers. An interesting point in these guidelines is that journalists should try to separate between their private lives and personality from their professional role – easier said than done.

Also YLE – the Finnish Broadcasting company – has published a similar set of guidelines to their staff. YLE have been at the forefront of utilizing social media for comments and input on their website both in Finnish and Swedish, as well as running YLE Areena – a much appreciated streaming site as a public service.

Conclusion - Social Media is here to stay.

Engage. Be smart.

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