The “social media generation” also dictates the news cycle
I wanted to add my two cents to what Matt discusses below. The insights of The Times’ Brian Stelter has generated some fascinating discussion about the power of word-of-mouth referrals on the news process, most notably from Jeff Jarvis and Matthew Ingham.
The line in the NYT piece that has Jarvis, Ingham and many of us in the journalism field buzzing is a comment from a college student sitting through a focus group. The student, a member of the so-called “social media generation” remarked, “If the news is that important, it will find me.”
Consider that for a moment. In this indexable, searchable, sortable, mashable, Digg-able world we now live in, there is no such thing as burying bad news. It’s impossible. This is pretty unsettling for big businesses and governments. If bad news makes it into the public domain you can bet it will be scrutinised and amplified by concerned citizens over an excruciatlingly long period.
Matt & I see this all the time (what Matt referred to as the ‘half-life of information’) when we conduct social media audits for our clients. A negative news event will occur, at first only generating minor reverberations. The mainstream media often misses the first ripple, but some specialist reporters and activist groups see it and they start to report on it or blog about it. That’s Stage one.
Stage Two is a discussion breaks out among bloggers and social
media commentators who are knowledgeable about the subject matter. [I
should note here that these are civilians with varying degrees of
knowledge on the topic, but there interest level is high, and that's
enough to generate further interest from outsiders; again, the news
media has barely noticed this issue still.] As the discussion builds to
a certain level, a kind of tipping point occurs. Here, we enter stage 3.
Stage 3: the mainstream media notices this clamour online, and
they begin their reportage on the story. (Even though they arrive late
in the news cycle, they have a built-in lead: A furore has kicked up in the blogosphere, etc…]
Stage 4: With the mainstream media now following the story, it
perks the interest of generalist bloggers. With their attention, the
blog storm has now multiplied in intensity. If we were to graph this
(and watch this space… I will post a graph of what this looks like in
the coming days), you would see ever increasing spikes of interest in
regular intervals as we move from stage 1 to stage 4.
From a brand reputation and crisis management perspective, social media
has has completely changed the news cycle. It’s now agonisingly longer,
stretching for weeks and months what used to play out over a few days.
That’s because it is not the mainstream press, but consumers that are
driving the cycle. Reporters may have to quit a story when something
else that’s newer and fresher arises. Social media commentators don’t
have these constraints. They can bang the same drum every day for weeks
and months on end. And they do.
Remember that line: if the news is important, it will find me.