Where Do We Get Our News — the Source of Social Media or Social Media as Source?

March 22nd, 2012 by Megan Lindsey

It’s always up for debate on what’s “newsworthy.” In the time before computers, newspaper and newscasts were the ones that dictated what was important in the world.  What they considered “news” and a “must-know” became what was published and what we did know.

But now things are different — very different.  With social media sites like Facebook, and Twitter, we are seeing more and more that the applications of social media as news source are quickly growing. 

Let’s take the recent death of singer Whitney Houston, for example. Within the first hour of her death, over two and a half million people tweeted about the tragic story, averaging about 1,000 tweets per second.  The traditional news outlet will not go live about such a story without proper verification, which takes precious time. By the time those outlets did go public, the story was “old news” to these two and a half million viewers: an entire 42 minutes late, in fact. Twitter was indisputably the first one to the finish line.

This is a prime example of the growing collective consciousness caused by these sites. Think about how many followers each person may have, then think about how rapidly a story as gripping as a long-beloved singer’s tragic death can spread from person to person. While this system has its advantages in quickly disseminating stories, though, its speed can be a double-edged sword; Twitter rumor-mongering can spread like wildfire, with false reports of celebrity deaths and other incidents gaining legs where traditional journalism’s insistence fact-checking would have prevented the publication of such a story.

Other “newsworthy” incidents that spread like fire at a gas station include the death of Michael Jackson, which averaged at about 493 tweets per second in 2009.  The announcement of Grammy-winning chanteuse Beyoncé’s pregnancy had one of the highest ever with 8,868 tweets per second. Now let’s take something like the death of Osama Bin Laden, who is obviously not in the entertainment industry. This incident let to an average of about 5,000 tweets per second. The list can go on.

Can you imagine if another war would to start?  How quickly the world would know.  If Twitter was around in the 60’s, how fast would people Tweet about the death of JFK?  The landing on the moon?  The fall of the Berlin Wall? Single-source outlets and the “gatekeeping” of which stories are publicized are obsolete: all people need is a computer or a cell phone to have the entire web, with its intricacies and viewpoints and thousands upon thousands of stories at their fingertips.

These sites are not only used for the quick spread of breaking news, but for event gathering as well. For instance, the Occupy Wall Street movement seems to have popped up overnight across America.  How did they do it?  It wasn’t thousands of dollars of advertising: Occupy Wall Street was a completely Internet-based movement.

Using a great tagline, “We are the 99%,” Occupy Wall Street used tweets, Facebook events, and Youtube videos to get its message across.  The effect of such a movement will definitely go down in future generation’s history books.

So let’s look at this from a business point of view: with the way that social media is evolving, how can marketers get themselves into the mix?  The answer is that they must find a way to get people to tweet, Facebook share and interact with their product, service, or brand the same way the social media consciousness does for events and topics it finds important.

This is the future of getting your news heard and many successful businesses are already on top of this.  They’re using these social media networks to get themselves talked about.  Letting the consumer be the advertiser.  The more a business’s product or service is shared and spoken about via these networks, the more brand targeting and awareness they get.

For example, on October 4th, 2011, millions tweeted and posted about the iPhone 4S.  Over seven thousand people alone posted something about Siri, the new voice assistant application.  Yes, Apple spent millions on advertising its obvious success — but a good chunk of the advertising work was being done for them by the social network community.

So where can this go?  A stronger bond between companies and customers or celebrities and fans?  A greater union between the citizens of Planet Earth?  Time will tell, but the most important thing is to keep sharing, keep tweeting, keep posting, keep your place in social media — and the social web will evolve on its own.

Right now, we are in a crucial time in human communications, when the entire world is more connected than ever before and information spreads at the blink of an eye.  Click like, share this post, or leave a comment — you’ll never know who you’ll connect with!