Embrace Social Media—But Ignore Traditional News Outlets At Your Peril

by Greentarget

Twitter, Facebook and various bloggers reach readers by the millions. But how much faith do people put in what they see on the Internet, really?

Not much, apparently.

A national survey of attitudes on the 2012 election conducted last May and released in June included a question about how much trust the 1,000 poll respondents put in various types of media. Just 34 percent said they put “some” or “a great deal” of trust in what they read in online forums, and just 30 percent said the same of social-media websites. Traditional news outlets scored far better, with public TV and radio leading the way (75 percent), and newspapers (71 percent), cable news networks (70 percent) and network news (64 percent) not far behind.

So, companies and politicians stampeding into the blogosphere and onto social-media networks, take note. Social media tools can be powerful. But the public still turns to traditional media for reliable and high-level reporting. For now, they’re still our society’s reputation-makers.

The August 2012 USC Annenberg/Los Angeles Times poll on Politics and the Press, too, found that the majority of voters who follow current events daily turn to traditional sources, and that traditional news media remain more trusted than new-media alternatives. The Los Angeles Times noted that “the results helped explain an enduring phenomenon, even of this Digital Age presidential race: the candidates’ routine willingness to grant interviews to regional television outlets.” During the presidential election, Obama and Romney looked to these TV segments as an opportunity to “connect with voters via their favorite, and most trusted, news source.”

Consider one compelling example, a television show that most bloggers probably don’t tear themselves away from “The Simpsons” to watch on Sundays: CBS News’ 60 Minutes. Nobody would argue that this news franchise has the kind of reach it did back in the 1970s and 1980s. So what? It still swings a big bat.

After President Obama focused on new media and small, niche outlets during the 2010 election cycle that resulted in Republicans gaining control of the House, he decided to begin his crucial post-election communications campaign with an appearance on—you guessed it—60 Minutes. Author Ari Berman noted that “this is the gold standard of TV journalism.” To turn to an outlet with the reach and gravitas of the longest-running news magazine on the air, he explained to The Christian Science Monitor’s Gloria Goodale, made sense—it allowed the president to reach out to the widest swath of the American public.

Consider two other examples of 60 Minutes’ influence:

  • The STOCK Act, a measure to ban securities trading by members of Congress and their aides based on non-public information obtained during their official duties, gained traction after a hard-hitting 60 Minutes report in November 2011. The report exposed the practice and outraged the general public. The legislation, first introduced six years earlier with minimal support, was signed into law in April 2012.
  • Health Management Associates felt the negative impact of a 60 Minutes story last month. The segment on alleged profit-oriented admission practices at the company precipitated a 6 percent drop in Health Management’s stock in trading the day after the report aired. (Granted, the stock has since roared back.)

Despite the growing number of specialized venues for news and information, general news outlets still have impact. The best communications strategies integrate both social and traditional media platforms based on the specific goals and the story to tell.

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