Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mainstream Media Use Twitter as Broadcast Medium (and so do lots of others)

The Pew Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) issued an new report yesterday covering how mainstream media outlets make use of Twitter.

Not surprisingly, 93 percent of mainstream media outlets surveyed--this included print, network television, radio, and online-- use Twitter as another means of broadcasting their own information. The study surveyed 3,600 tweets from 13 major news organizations over the course of a week and found that while many news organizations offer a wide array of Twitter feeds--from one to a total of 98--most Twitter feeds were spewing links back to stories on the news outlets main sites.

Sure, we see tv stations like the Weather Channel and CNN incorporating commentary from Twitter, but news organizations overall do not appear to be making use of the conversational and information-sharing aspects of Twitter (although individual journalists make excellent use of Twitter, and have done so for some time.)

Big surprise? No. Most of us who are news consumers already know that this is how their own local tv affiliates and newspapers use their Twitter feeds. And some individuals use their Twitter accounts as ersatz RSS readers (an article on CNET discussed that as early as 2009.)

Yet do we think of turning to our Twitter newsfeeds during a time of an emergency--say like last week's Snowpocalypse in Massachusetts and Connecticut? Honestly, no. If the power's out, like it was for several days in my town, no one--not even the most tech-savvy among us--thought of checking the Twitter feeds of any of the local stations. Considering the extent of the power outage, many of us could access Twitter only from our smartphones. That being the case, most of us chose to check our Facebook feeds, where the feeds from the local TV, radio, and newspaper stations weren't saying a whole lot. Or at least a whole lot that we could see in our newsfeeds.

I can't, though, get all over the mainstream media for how it uses Twitter. The need to generate traffic to stimulate revenue is easily the main goal of a media outlet having a Twitter feed in the first place. Sure, one might say that it's all about serving a steady stream of current news and information, but really? That's an aspect, but so is driving traffic.

There's another aspect to this that also causes me to not return such a hard indictment against mainstream media for its Twitter use. Over the past 2 years, Twitter overall has been turning into little more than a broadcast medium for marketers, social media types, and others who want to aggressively promote their personal brands. Oh, some will share information, but when you see the same information, the same articles or YouTube videos, or blog posts shared by the same people, ad infinitum, it's easy to conclude that many are looking to establish themselves as in-the-know news and information sources above all others. Yes, there's much linking, and re-tweeting, and so forth, but very, very little conversation. And certainly very, very little in the way of connecting with others.

Twitter has, in many respects, turned into Ultimate Me Broadcast Media. The more followers you have, the more value one has in the Twittersphere because one's brand is more known than the brands of others. Or so it is assumed. The more round-the-clock tweeting one does, the more popular one becomes.

Well, not necessarily so. Popularity in the Twittersphere is a relative term. One may certainly have thousands of followers, but what is the overall quality of those followers? Are those followers really reading all those tweets and retweets and broadcast tweets? If the followers also have thousands of followers, one can hazard a pretty good bet that what is read is highly filtered and you, my dear status seeking twitter maven, may be the last one on the leader-board.

If you think about it, then, does Twitter really have the same relevance for making good connections and growing a productive community that it once had if so many are simply broadcasting to grow a company's brand or their personal brand? Not really.

It makes me wonder how many Twitter innovators and early adopters are now using Twitter. Have many, like me, experienced Twitter burn-out, and use it mostly to share links, thus leaving the conversations to Facebook or other forms of new media (or even old media, like email?) Has the value of Twitter for business marketing use decreased because of the changing ways in which individuals use Twitter? I'd hazard a guess that if there's little interaction, there will eventually be a change.

Then, is broadcast media doing something wrong by not interacting with its Twitter followers? No. Because mainstream media Twitter followers know what they are getting with a msm feed, and do not resent a lack of interaction. And besides, at least it's real information and not continued funhouse mirror self-promotion.

On a personal level, here's what I've seen and do with Twitter: I maintain a small following of mostly valuable individuals and business connections. Some of those individuals, though, have turned into shrill self-broadcasters, while others are still pretty good (esp. the journalists I happen to know.) Some of the businesses have abandoned their Twitter streams (perhaps the interns who started them moved on?) while others are still good to check for a sale from time to time. And do I care about the mainstream media Twitter feeds that I follow? To some degree, as they do indeed give me a heads up as to what's hot on their sites. That then spares me time from going over and having to hunt for stories. The other thing that keeps me occasionally posting are the people I know. Not the self-broadcasters, not the marketing efforts of various companies or public relations concerns, but the individuals who have things to say as much as they have information to share. Can or should mainstream media be like people? No, and we shouldn't expect it to be either.

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