Digital Frontline: Making The Media More Social

Chatter About Social Media Heats Up

Social media seems to be everywhere. At any conference, event, or nearly any discussion about the media industry, the topic invariably turns to what is happening with social media, and how to better utilize these tools that are consuming hours of people's lives each day.

Editor & Publisher reported on Jan. 25 that a Nielsen Company survey for December 2009 shows that Twitter's unique traffic has climbed dramatically from last year, "increasing 579 per cent year over year, from 2.7 million unique visitors in December 2008 to 18.1 million in December 2009."

Even Pope Benedict XVI told the Catholic ministry recently that it needs to use technology, including blogs and video, to reach people.

This just proves that media companies need to examine how they are using these platforms and consider what the best vehicle is for their message, what they are trying to say, and maybe more importantly, who they are trying to reach.

Marshall McLuhan's phrase, "the medium is the message," takes on a whole new meaning today when you consider the distinct differences between platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and upstarts like Tumblr. Although that catch phrase says more about the differences between traditional media outlets, it is clear that any message will be vastly different when presented on Twitter, versus Facebook. The challenge, then, is for media companies to make their message make sense on each platform, which ultimately will strengthen their brand and increase traffic to their websites.

Since Facebook and Twitter have become ubiquitous among the majority of all age groups, it is vital that companies find a way to work with both platforms. On Facebook, that can be as simple as creating a page and sharing recent news stories. That model has earned CNN over 700,000 fans on the website, and 500,000 fans for the New York Times.

As effective as these approaches may be, though, in today's marketplace, it is also essential to look at some of the inventive new techniques for building brands and harnessing social media in different ways.

That leads me to two recent strategies that are intrinsically tied to their platforms.

One great example came with Metro's announcement on Jan. 26 that they have partnered with Foursquare (www.foursquare.com), an innovative social networking program.

Foursquare lets users ‘check-in' to locations through their mobile phones while notifying friends about their activity. Metro's partnership means that Foursquare users will have the opportunity to read location-specific editorial content based on their activity.

The article on their website said that, "someone close to a restaurant that Metro has reviewed would receive a ‘tip' about that restaurant and have the ability to link through to the full Metro review ..."

A different approach from Newsweek in the U.S. shows a more youth-oriented approach as the company created a blog on Tumblr (newsweek.tumblr.com), a micro-blogging site popular among the 16-to-30 demographic.

Featuring video, photos, and quick, often humorous links, Newsweek's Tumblr site includes a deft mix of content that seems ideal to enticing new readers, while also filling a need within the Tumblr community for dependable content from a reputable source.

These two examples illustrate very different alternatives to the same problem of harnessing social media. What makes them notable is that they are both scalable opportunities that match the perspective audiences.

In my mind, the best ideas should also not require a large investment of time or money. They may require a little bit of ingenuity and research though, but as the media landscape shifts with f