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  • Leah Cunningham, Account Executive

Mixed Messages: The Blurring of Lines Between Social Media and Traditional Communications

In the first quarter of this year we undertook the task of conducting another social media survey amongst ‘traditional media’ in the Crown Dependencies, to build on the insights we gained from a similar survey we undertook in 2014.

It has enabled us to see how much has changed between how local media across the three jurisdictions use social media in terms of sourcing and researching stories, publishing content and engaging with public relations professionals.

Overall, there are some mixed messages shining through the results.

What stands out in particular to us as PR professionals is the overwhelming and persistent preference amongst journalists of sourcing stories from press releases and personal contacts, rather than relying on social media.

When we break down the results, the survey shows that two-thirds of journalists spend more than an hour on social media for work per day, and 100% of journalists use social media at some point. This is an increase from the 2014 survey, when 3% claimed they never used social media.

When it comes to sourcing stories, 100% of respondents for the 2017 survey said they prefer personal contacts and 88.5% said they prefer press releases. Perhaps surprisingly, this is also an increase from the 2014 survey when only 89% of journalists claimed to source stories through personal contacts. This shows us that even though journalists are spending more time on social networks they are still using traditional forms of engagement to source and research stories.

After ‘personal contacts’ and ‘press releases’, however, Twitter and Facebook were third and fourth respectively as preferred choices for sourcing stories. One surprise this year was the increased preference of sourcing stories through blogs. 2014 saw only 21% of journalists preferring to source stories through a blog, whilst our 2017 results show that just under half (46%) of journalists would use blogs to source stories; the figure has more than doubled. There was little interest in other platforms, such as YouTube and Instagram.

So how is the growing use of social media changing the way media report stories? Again, the picture is quite mixed in terms of whether social media improved the quality, the reliability, and the type of story.

Interestingly, 89% of respondents said that it would either make no difference or not improve the quality of a story and 92% said that it would either make no difference or not improve the reliability of a story.

31% said that it would improve the type of story when sourcing through social media, suggesting that perhaps one key benefit journalists find in social media is the ability to extend their exposure to different types of stories, even though this might not necessarily improve quality.

In an era of increasing interest in ’fake news’, it was pertinent that some respondents commented specifically on the need to ‘separate fact from fiction’ and ‘sift through the noise’ when using social media.

As an overall picture, then, these results suggest quite a disconnect amongst the media between social media use and attitudes about the impact this use is having - even though they are spending an increasing amount of time on social media and using social media to source stories as well as publish stories, they still rely heavily on traditional forms of communication and there is a clear lack of enthusiasm as to whether this is beneficial to them and their organisation.

Nevertheless, there is a clear and persistent blurring of lines between social and traditional media, and as public relations professionals it is important to be alive to how this evolving landscape impacts how we engage in social and traditional media.

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