While Share Wars is chiefly concerned with how journalists and their organisations distribute through social networks, we’re also pondering the role of the mainstream publisher in reporting and explaining stories trending in social media.
Since the early days of the web, portals have presented a filtered view of the total offering. Each day, portal editors offer a selection of the important and interesting. Most portals still work this way. This curation has been the traditional role of the MSNs, Yahoos and AOLs and it has a natural extension in social media.
Curation is one of four factors in what Share Wars has termed the mainstream/social value exchange, illustrated by the diagram below.
The two circles represent the audiences of the mainstream media organsisation and social media with the duplicated audience at the intersection of the circles. If it were in proportion, the social circle would dwarf the mainstream media circle and the duplicated audience would be a much larger proportion of the mainstream.
In this model, media organisations deliver value through curation and by creating and distributing assets – articles, images and videos – through social networks.
There are three key elements to curation of information from social networks for a mainstream media audience. In essence, they’re no different to dealing with news from traditional sources. First is the surfacing of viral material as early as possible in the trending curve. There is real value for the reader in knowing first and being able to share this knowledge with peers, just as there is with traditional breaking news. Second is the explanation and context setting of stories or memes gaining traction in social media. (What is tiger blood and why should I care?) Third, and most importantly, is the distillation of social media – sifting the gems from the slurry.
Social media’s contribution to the mainstream organisation is new audience (those people in social networks who engage with the media organisation’s assets) and story leads or social signals (which form the basis of stories).
How important is this incremental social audience to mainstream publications? At 500m active users, Facebook has become an alternate internet in itself. Search engines still deliver about 30 percent of traffic to most news sites but Facebook’s importance is growing. The Huffington Post receives eight percent of traffic from Facebook and the The New York Times about six percent, according to the recent Pew Research Centre study.
Twitter’s contribution is low according to the Pew study, in part due to the difficulties in tracking traffic from third-party Twitter clients such as Tweetdeck (recently bought by Twitter). Pew says Twitter accounts for one percent of referrals. Pew also says that, even taking into account Twitter clients, the microblogging network is delivering comparatively low traffic to mainstream news publications. Its greatest impact was registered at the LA Times in delivering 3.53% of total referrals to the newspaper site. This article in Techcrunch quoted GlobalStats’ Statcounter as reporting Twitter delivering 10% of total social media referrals to Facebook’s 48%. StumbleUpon referred 25% to media sites. There are issues with GlobalStats’ data, however. Chief among them is that it over indexes for small blog sites and doesn’t include big mainstream news services.
The following graph shows Nielsen data on audience in Australia for the second-tier social sites. While Facebook is just behind ninemsn at 9m, Twitter and LinkedIn’s Australian audiences of about 1.6m are not to be sneezed at. This graph was presented by ninemsn’s social product team (@becjacobs, @Nat_Sutton) to the content group to show the recent growth of Tumblr.