Social Media, Newspapers Need to Play Nice

In an average day, I post to my blog, check out Facebook several dozen times, browse my Twitter feed every few hours, look up a thing or two on Wikipedia and maybe watch a few clips on YouTube. I don’t consider myself anymore engaged in social media than you. I consider my activities to be very normal.

So does Erik Qualman, who’s book Socialnomics argues social media is no fad, but rather “the biggest shift since the Industrial Revolution.” In Qualman’s case, the numbers don’t lie, and he’s leveraged them in a YouTube clip — fittingly — to advertise his book. (You can find the clip at the end of this post.)

  • 96% of Millennials have joined a social network.
  • Social media has overtaken pornography as the No. 1 activity on the Internet.
  • 1 out of 8 married couples in the U.S. met via social media.
  • 60 million status updates on Facebook happen daily.

Socialnomics stresses the importance of businesses investing in social media campaigns to stay relevant with the times. I’m no MBA, but I can say this: Anymore, if I see a brand or business without a Facebook page or Twitter account, I immediately question its legitimacy. It’s kind of like back in the mid-1990s when URLs started showing up in ads. Such oversight feels to me like a serious disconnect, making it harder to trust a company.

My dad is part-owner of Millers & Hass Builders, Inc., a homebuilding company in Sioux Falls, S.D. that operates in the basement of our house. It’s a small operation — literally two Millers and one Hass — but companies like theirs can really benefit from smart usage of social media. They’ve started a Facebook fan page, and while they only have 66 fans, there’s potential just one of those people could pass their name along and essentially land my dad a contract to build a $185,000 home. There is no cost to maintain a Facebook fan page. Talk about return on investment.

As a newsman, this also worries me. A decade ago, my dad’s company would’ve gone to the local newspaper to buy advertising. This would’ve been the most practical and effective way of drawing interest. Now, that’s not necessary, especially for a small business with a conservative budget. In a very real way, Facebook is stealing revenue from newspapers, leading to Qualman’s grim statistic that “24 of the 25 largest newspapers are experiencing record declines in circulation.”

Here I am, a gluttonous media consumer who indulges in Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Wikipedia and several blogs everyday, while these things have the industry I hope to work in — the newspaper industry — in a stranglehold. Here’s why I don’t feel guilty, though: Smarter newspapers across the country are pumping resources into social media integration because they realize this isn’t a fad. My daily usage, along with yours, proves social media a worthy investment.

But why does it matter?

Arthur Miller once said, “A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.” One could argue with Facebook and Twitter, who needs newspapers? Well, if you feel the civil discourse should be capped at 140 characters or a status update, that’s your problem. (Please don’t vote, by the way.)

What I mean to say is social media might be the right forum, but journalists are the right people. Once the two learn to play nice, it’s possible we can have our cake and eat it, too.

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