Traditional news media outlets are staving off their much-reported impending demise by learning to use the very social media tools that are supposedly clobbering them to death.
The day when we no longer have use for the television, newspapers and radio might come, but not just yet, according to media experts that took part in a Toronto panel discussion titled The Future of Media.
The discussion, which was sponsored by Digital Journal, included representatives from the print, broadcast and digital media industries, including mobile application developers and social networks.
Chasing the mobile consumer
“The days of our readers having to start the day by coming to our site to read the news are gone…We need to find a different way to deliver the news,” said Anjali Kapoor, managing editor, digital at the Globe and Mail newspaper.
The Globe and Mail, which traces its history back to 1844 is Canada’s second largest English daily newspaper, it is often described as the country’s “newspaper of record”. It is reported to have a weekly readership of about 935,000.
Despite the exodus of print readers to online media, Kapoor notes that media consumers still value good content. “Content is still the way to go. It’s not about bells and whistles.”
“News organizations,” Kapoor said, “need to find out how to deliver that content to the consumer when and where they want… whether it’s at 7 am from a mobile site on an iPad or iPhone or at 10 am on a newspaper.”
The Globe and Mail digital editor illustrated the hardships traditional papers are undergoing in trying to capture online audience. Despite having launched its Website back in 1995, “
we need to get a larger piece of the pie,” she said. “There are 25 million Internet users in Canada we’re not up to even a tenth of that.”
To that end, the newspaper is experimenting with pushing its content to mobile customers. “The Globe has its content available on mobile such as the iPhone and BlackBerry… we are definitely moving this direction so much so that we are pouring a lot of our resources in this direction.
“We have a mobile editor who’s primarily listening to what our audiences are talking about and consuming through our mobile channel.”
“Sometimes,” Kapoor said, “it’s no longer print first and other channels later sometimes we start with what can we do on mobile first.”
It’s a strategy that Kunal Gupta, CEO of Polar Mobile, a leading mobile content solutions enabler, finds little fault in.
“Mobile users tend to be more engaged consumers,” according to Gupta whose company develops applications for companies such as Sportsnet.ca, CBS Sports and Sports Illustrated so that their customers that access their content on smartphones.
What’s more, he added, mobile app users are on the rise. “Last year we had 1 million users of our apps, today there are about 6 million people using our applications.”
The days of the “single platform reporter” are over concedes David Skok, journalist and senior producer of online content at Global News.
“Two weeks ago we gave our all our Global national reporters iPhone 4s, whether they like it not,” he said. “They will be blogging and shooting videos and producing content for broadcast or online.”
Big media wants to be your friend on Facebook
Remember when TV was supposed to kill the radio and the Internet reportedly bumped off television? Never happened, at least not yet, according to the panel that discussed the Future of Media.
“Maybe there will come a day when we won’t be reading newspapers or watching the news on TV, but that won’t happen within the next five or ten years,” said Global’s Skok.
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Global is in fact using social media giant Facebook to prop up traffic to the television station’s online site and broadcast channel. “We’re using Facebook media to increase the social graph of our site.”
“Now, when a user clicks on a story on our site they are able to know who among their friends ‘liked’ that article and are able to find articles that their friends “recommend’,” he said.
He said there has been a boost on online traffic to Global’s site through Facebook referrals. “There’s definitely traffic there and we have seen a boost.”
Skok, however, said there is no clear way to track consumer patterns of consumption as they move from mobile sites, to online, to broadcast. “But our studies show that we have a multi platform audience.”
In the last three months, Globe and Mail has also been working with Facebook to drive more traffic to its online site.
According to Elmer Sotto, head of growth for Facebook in Canada, the newspaper is among the 250 or so local companies that the social network is currently helping.
“We’ve been working with a bunch of media companies to find out and understand what types of products they want from Facebook,” he said.
Their work with Globe and Mail, Sotto said, involved installing social media tools such as the “like”, “comment” and “share” buttons found on Facebook on the newspaper’s online site. He said this was part of a strategy to encourage viewer collaboration among each other.
He said by simply adding these tools, the Globe and Mail achieved an 81 per cent lift on referral traffic from Facebook during the first week of the experiment.
“In a matter of 72 hours we were able to raise the site’s 2,000 ‘likes’ to more than 5,000 ‘likes’,” said Sotto.
Do you really want metrics to determine content?
Mark Evans, former journalist and now head of ME Consulting, a local digital marketing and social media strategy firm, however advices caution on totally buying into the social network bandwagon.
“I think limiting your choice of what to read or not to read through referrals from friends will tend to skew your view of what’s happening around you,” Evans said.
He also voiced out concerns that publications moving to Facebook could lose control of their brand in the site. “If I were a publisher I would be very leery of doing business with Facebook because it’s a walled garden.”
“You can have a page there and your have your blog, brand it, but it’s not your place,” he said.
Skok of Global, also warned against using metrics to determine the type of content to show viewers.
He said Global always listens to its audience but the broadcaster can’t always give them what they want, “because what you want might not always be good for you.”