Lessons learned in 2009: Social media is not a fad


How did social media reshape the publishing industry in 2009? Let us count three ground-shifting ways:

  • Live blogging, Facebook updates, Twitter tweets and YouTube videos dominated Barack Obama’s inauguration in January. Mainstream media not only covered this social media activity as news, but participated in it as well.
  • News of the dramatic US Airways’ plane landing on the Hudson River broke first on social media sites. Photos included.
  • Social media sites became the primary source of information about citizen protests in Iran following the country’s disputed presidential elections in June, after the government banned foreign media from reporting on the protest movement. At its peak, Twitter reported 221,744 tweets mentioning Iran in a single hour, and the Obama administration asked Twitter to postpone a scheduled maintenance shutdown so users in Iran would not be cut off, ajc.com reported.

There were plenty of other stats to demonstrate the power and reach of social media. From the Socialnomics blog:

  • The second-largest search engine in the world is YouTube. Source: TGDaily
  • 25% of search results for the World’s Top 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content. Source: MarketingVox and Nielsen BuzzMetrics
  • More than 1.5 million pieces of content (Web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photos, etc.) are shared on Facebook – every day. Source: Facebook
  • 80% of companies use LinkedIn as a primary tool to find employees. Source: Jobvite Social Recruitment Survey 
  • The fastest growing segment on Facebook is 55-65 year-old females. Source: Inside Facebook Blog
  • This year, Boston College stopped distributing e-mail addresses to incoming freshmen – Gen Y thinks email is assé. Source: Metro Newspaper

How did media companies adjust to their sea change? Many editors and reporters, naturally, created their own accounts and joined the virtual conversations taking place. Some found a rich new way to develop sources. At Health.com, a team of 11 staffers began posting updates, tips and links to relevant content – and increased their “followers” by nearly 2,600% in just three months. 

Acknowledging the growing influence of social media on the very nature of journalism, more publications formalized their social media efforts. National Geographic, the New York Times, the Austin-American Statesman, and BBC News all filled new editorial or executive positions to manage social media efforts. 

Publications also sought to develop more formal guidelines for writers and other staffers participating on social networks. The Washington Post, for example, caused a stir in September when it released a new policy that some critics saw as overly restrictive of staffers’ use of social media.

Social media’s impact on journalism extended beyond coverage of breaking news. Bnet’s David Weir speculated that Twitter could transform financial journalism, for example.

Twitter will provide a serious challenge to Yahoo Finance and other business media as the discussion forum of choice for real-time information about stocks and other financial investments,” Weir wrote. “This is critical from a business perspective, because financial journalism is one of the few types people will pay for online.”

While media companies and marketers acknowledged the benefits of social media as a way to engage – and even learn from – consumers and potential customers, they continue to look for more tangible metrics to demonstrate its business value. At an annual gathering of media and technology bigwigs in Sun Valley, there was plenty of talk about the impact of social media, but plenty of trepidation about investing in companies like Twitter and Facebook that have no discernible revenue model.

They may be getting closer. This week, paidContent reported that Huffington Post “has started offering placements to advertisers directly within articles’ comments sections and will include paid messages among the live Twitter feeds it features on its site.” 


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