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How newspapers are leading the way in social media. Yes, really.

Written by Simply Zesty on

The post title might come as a bit of a surprise, as newspapers have long been discussed as lagging behind in adoption of digital media, including on this blog. It may be time to reassess though, as in many ways, newspapers are setting the trend for using social media and showing how even though they have been slow to adapt, they're now racing ahead and using social technologies in innovative ways. This is backed up by a recent report into social businesses in the U.S. that saw The New York Times come out on top, closely followed by The Washington Post. This comes amid a rapid rise in the adoption of social technologies by many newspapers, and though there may only be a few leading the way, as opposed to a widespread industry acceptance of social media, they're consistently proving how social media can be used well.

Leading the pack

In the social business report issued by Net Prospex, The New York Times was ranked number 1 across a survey of the 100 most social companies in the U.S. beating off established tech companies like Google, Apple, eBay and Amazon :

To put it into perspective, the survey was based on the companies that have the most social employees and while you would expect the tech companies to be leading the way here, as social will make up more and more of the way their companies and products are run, this isn't the case. This is good news for publishers and it shows that their employees, i.e. journalists, are keeping newspapers relevant by using social networks personally to source news and build communities. The adoption of social media within newspapers is coming from the bottom up, which in many ways reflects the function of social media itself.

Journalists on Twitter

More specifically, journalists have consistently used Twitter to grow their profiles online and use it as a valuable source for gathering news. Niall recently wrote about how journalists can't live without social media and it is this reliance on social technologies that is making newspapers be social, almost by default. This is confirmed further by the Net Prospex report, that found when looking at the top 50 companies on Twitter, The New York Times still came out on top :

The iPad revolution

One of the most significant factors that shows how newspapers are leading the way in social media, is the adoption of new technology, specifically iPads. The New York Times launched their iPad app in 2010, just a few months after the iPad itself was announced. Many other newspapers have since followed suit, including the Washington Post and in the UK, the Telegraph and the Guardian. No other industry has been as quick to jump on new technology as newspapers have been recently, and this is possibly the result of a hard lesson learned from initially ignoring digital. Here, newspapers are recognising the importance of content consumption through social technology, and how our habits are changing. They have a need to adjust the format of their content and find new ways of getting in front of eyeballs that are shifting away from print and even away from standard PCs or laptops as everything goes mobile.

Forward thinking

While many companies struggle with social media guidelines for staff and how much employees should be encouraged to use social media, when they should tweet, disclaimers etc.. the strategy at the New York Times is a lot more simple : "Don't be stupid". The quote comes from the social media editor at the New York Times - Liz Heron, who explains that rather than having a set of guidelines to adhere to for staff, they are actively encouraged to use it, just telling people to have a bit of common sense. This is a refreshing approach for a news organisation to have, in contrast to the more heavy handed approach used by the BBC, who have a strict set of social media guidelines for staff to adhere to. Again it shows that it's the people on the ground leading the way in social media, with some gentle guidance from the top to give it structure. Liz explains that last year journalists were encouraged to use social media more for distribution, whereas this year the focus is on real engagement with people. It shows the New York Times' have a clear strategy, but recognise that in social media, that strategy has to be less prescriptive, and react to how social media develops.

Facebook is next

Newspaper's social media strategies are no longer just tied to Twitter, which has been the default channel for many, as now Facebook is becoming increasingly important, and actively used by newspapers. Facebook conducted a study of news pages on the platform, with interesting insights into how news is being consumed via pages. They found that rather than newspapers pushing one-way updates, i 30% of the posts sampled, they were asking questions, with these posts receiving 70% more comments than simple news updates on the page. They do still have some work to do, to adapt however. The study found that updates with pictures received the most engagement, but only made up 7% of the posts in the sample. Anyone in the newspaper industry will know the difficulty of getting a photo that can be used on Facebook, due to their usage rights, but it shows that there's still some change to be made, to react to the needs of people on Facebook. Overall, it's encouraging that newspapers are using Facebook and the level of engagement is in many cases outperforming that of other brands, showing that they understand user engagement.

Innovation at a local level

As well as national newspapers using social media, this is also occurring at a local level. In an excellent example of innovation by a local newspaper, the Cincinatti Enquirer last year launched a location-based app called 'Porkappolis'. The app combines local news alongside coupons and deals for the area, showing them getting on top of 2 major trends : location based apps and daily deals. It's interesting to see them expanding out of a pure news based offering through mobile, and into other areas that readers will respond to. And this approach is by no means restricted to the Cincinatti Enquirer, as many local newspapers are using social technologies and working with bloggers to change the way their news is gathered and delivered.

Newspapers may have been slow to get there, but now they're running with digital and social media and are leading the way not only it how affects their product, but also how it affects the organisation, as social is being led from the ground.

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