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Has Social Media Nudged Out News As We Knew It?

26/08/2016 4:11 PM IST | Updated 29/08/2016 8:20 AM IST
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Where will you get the next news break from? About 10 years ago this question would have been easy to answer – TV or newspaper. But in subsequent years over the last decade the answer seems blurred.

Overwhelmingly, social media is winning the race to deliver your next news break, news feature or news analysis. Be it the refugee crisis in Europe, US presidential election debates, spats between different political parties in India, public reactions to cricket, games, movies and events – crises or celebrations – social media platforms rather than traditional media are your first source of information. It won't be incorrect to say news has become social.

Where "social networking news" doesn't score is professional, trustworthy delivery.

The reasons are not far to see – users have their smartphones with them all the time. Major networking sites have shaken up content delivery, enabling news to get to you within nano-seconds. People are getting to know about events and reacting to occurrences such as earthquakes or major government policy decisions on social platforms on smartphones rather than reaching for the TV remote. The former is "omnipresent" and easily scores over traditional media. For millennials, news means what you see on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and the like, while for the older generation social media complements their already existing new sources.

But where "social networking news" doesn't score is professional, trustworthy delivery. Thankfully, the world has not come to a stage where every tweet or blog is taken at face value. Else gossip peddlers would have a field day! And here is the big opportunity for traditional media houses to leverage multiple platforms so their trustworthy brands and news feeds reach a far wider audience. For example, news apps powered by big data technology can match trending keywords on Facebook, Twitter to suggest relevant news from trustworthy publications to users.

The faster media houses and users get assisted by tools like news aggregators, the better it will be. Although television remains the leading source of news across the world, online channels (social media and news sites) have a large share of the market. In the United States, 74% of people use online sources, in the UK it's 73%, in Brazil 91% and in Finland and Denmark, 90% and 85% respectively, according to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report. And the shift to social platforms has been made easier with every upgrade.

For example, in 2009 Twitter allowed users to post photos and later to post videos — both the features made news delivery, among other things, livelier. Facebook, with more than 1.5 billion users worldwide, has more reach than any news media organization has across the world. In any 24-hour window millions of people are on this popular social platform, exchanging their holiday pictures and updating news and articles on what they believe their friends might also be interested in. Not surprisingly, the future of content and news consumption is more like "content looks for the right users" instead of "users looking for content". By machine learning and big data analysis smart apps are able to deliver news that users care about.

There's a big opportunity for traditional media houses to leverage multiple platforms so their trustworthy brands and news feeds reach a far wider audience.

There are 7 billon people on the planet. About half of them use mobile phones. As connectivity improves and more and more people rely on smartphones, news delivery on social networks will grow. Real-time, on-the-ground news that comes directly from the people who are affected is more compelling and trustworthy, particularly in calamities like tsunamis or earthquakes, than carefully produced news reports and editorials. Here time is of essence and social media scores over the paper that will be delivered next day or TV news, which might be available 24 hours, but not as easily accessible on the go as a tweet or a news feed on Facebook.

News organizations are also dependent on search engines like Google and social networking apps and sites to reach out to their audience. They are also increasingly vulnerable to changes that technology-driven platforms are introducing. Even technology firms are reaching out to companies that create more "stickiness" with their products and services. Just recently Microsoft paid a whopping $26 billion to buy professional networking site LinkedIn, which has a portfolio of 400 million plus working professionals globally. They use the platform to network, post out their profiles and increasingly to consume information and news. Such tie-ups point to the future of news and information consumption – it's going to be via apps and sites and not newspapers.

Despite the attractiveness and convenience of social media as carrier of news, they suffer from a handicap. They are still dependent on traditional media for "trustworthy" content. Would you rely on a blog by an unknown person to know about an impending merger & acquisition or political developments? We are in an era of real-time information and news delivery that's coming from multiple channels — from traditional and new media companies employing journalists to bloggers and independent writers. The future is close collaboration between news organizations and the platforms that carry news. Blogs written by unknown or little known writers, but vetted by experts, could ensure credibility and authenticity of information. That's why strong brands with reputation still matter. The challenge is to maintain financial strength (of media houses/newspapers) and technological savviness (of social platforms) to foster those brands. At least in the short term, closer collaboration between news organizations and social media platforms seem inevitable.

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