Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Social media make news media your friends

Traditional news media used to ignore the internet in mid 90s. And not just at the content distribution level. Marketing department of Reuters in Moscow then had just one standalone PC connected to the Web for a team of about ten. Completely isolated from the local network with just a floppy drive to facilitate file transfer. It took almost a decade to change the attitude across the board.

Today, many traditional media are quite comfortable with the social media. The new media, however, lead the pack. See the below quote from founder of Storyful.com, taken at the recent annual newspaper congress and editors forum by WAN-IFRA, a leading newspaper association.

Editor of Mail & Guardian Online is, however, more skeptical on this. See his comment to a known media consultant's quote.

Perhaps, the skeptical tone of the last tweet comes from the fact that social media don't deliver some of the expectations. Are these expectations – mainly of visible and timely revenues – false?

Social media form a level playing field. Mass media on this field do not immediately possess the same power and strength they enjoy in traditional broadcasting or publishing formats. The same goes for their ability to sell advertising and other promotional formats to their business clients.

However social media is no comfort zone for the end-user and corporations either. Hence, any social media experience could be useful provided the efforts are well managed and assessed. What, if any, are other benefits the social media could give to traditional media?

Why not consider Russia as an example. A country where the total number of social media accounts exceeds by far not only the number of monthly internet audience but also the population figure.

The flagship product of the RIA Novosti multimedia publishing house is the news website RIA.RU. It boasts a daily audience of over 500,000 users and a monthly audience of over 7,000,000 users – that's about ¼ of the total Internet-connected population of Russia. The website has prominently been in the top of news websites in the country.

Russian and Western social media platforms are getting bigger every day in Russia. One could expect them to start playing a larger role in leading audiences to the websites. And they already have. Look at the below distribution of referrals from search portals and social media (Chart1).

Two main observations here. First, social media account for just over 20 percent of the combined referrals. Visible, indeed. Second, referrals from Western social media and search portals amount to over 60 percent of the combined figure.

With the new children's protection law in force many Russian news websites have rated themselves 16+ or even 18+. RIA Novosti stands at 12+. Even though the website's segment of the 12-17 year old audience is less than 5 % of the total, RIA Novosti values this audience. Social media help it to narrow down the generation gap, as seen from the below platform-age-gender diagram (Chart2).

VK is Vkontakte, Russia's Facebook (FB) analog, targeted at younger generation.

Overall, the present approach at RIA Novosti is News as Friend as opposed to the earlier approach of News as Alert. Here are the main changes in the company's social media strategy over the last two years:

Two years ago (News as Alert)

Now (News as Friend)

Same content published

Content chosen according to user interests
All SM platforms embraced

SM platforms chosen on merits
SM accounts isolated

SM accounts cross-promoted
Content not adapted

Content adapted
Local events ignored or bundled

Local events targeted

Day to day work with social media platforms is done not just for the sake of the website. The main news agency editorial of RIA Novosti gains from eyewitness accounts delivering breaking news on the one side and the journalists communicating with readers on the other side.

You may think the social media team at RIA Novosti is quite large. It indeed is almost 7x larger than the compact five-strong strategic and tactical communications groups I oversee. KPIs permitting, of course.

The above was based on my presentation at SSMS 2012 Media Day.

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