Social media is about sharing. It’s about exposure. It’s about people discussing what they like or don’t like about the world around them with their friends, family, and often complete strangers. It’s about connecting and engaging, influencing and interacting.
In its purest form, social media allows the highest quality, most important information and opinions available on the Internet to reach a wider audience than it could on its own. Regardless of whether it’s a Pulitzer Prize winning article exposing corruption in the Middle East or a picture of little Timmy sliding into 3rd base, the idea is the same. Through social media, people who want to share the content (from proud dad to professional journalist) can share it and people who want to see the content (from the tech-savvy grandma to the interested masses) can see it.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) content sometimes needs help to gain the exposure that it deserves. For many journalists, this is a big problem. It challenges their sense of integrity by implying that content that needs “marketers” or “promoters” to help it get exposure is being unnaturally pushed and therefore is artificial.
From many journalists’ perspective, social media is dirty. It isn’t the entity itself that’s dirty bur rather the people behind the promotions that are shady, living in dark corners in their mothers’ basements, generating Tweets and shares, Diggs and upvotes, all with the devious purpose of unceremoniously inflating the number of eyeballs that see a piece of content.
Can integrity remain intact in an arena rife with spam promotion?
The Dark Side of Social Media
There are social media firms that claim to be able to help companies and publications gain viral exposure on many sites, most commonly on the two big social networks (Facebook and Twitter) and the three big social news sites (Reddit, Digg, and StumbleUpon). Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), most are not truly able to deliver. The big social media sites are well equipped to fight spam to some degree and low-quality content is usually sniffed out and abolished quickly.
Some of it sneaks through. For every measure, there’s a counter-measure. For every algorithm, there’s a way to game it. For every filter, there’s a back door. The best of the best of the evil ones (those in their mothers’ basements) work their way around the obstacles and get their targets the exposure they paid for, deserved or not.
It is in this realm that lines must be drawn. Companies may be stuck in the boat of relying on Google and Facebook to get the attention they need for success, but what about publications? Should they stoop so low as to pay people to distribute their content to a wider audience?
The Only True Filter in Social Media
You are the only true filter that keeps social media from falling completely to the dark side. Regardless of promotional technique or marketing hack, the big 5 social media promotion arenas are still controlled by the users.
On Twitter and Facebook, companies can artificially inflate share and retweet numbers using bots and mass accounts, but it takes real people with real followers to get true exposure. On Digg, Reddit, and StumbleUpon, votes can be manufactured, but the users have the ability to not only report spam but to downvote content that doesn’t deserve exposure.
As social media gets more embedded in our lives, we rely on it to present the news to us in the most convenient ways. Some “millenials” have never read a full article in a newspaper. Magazine subscriptions continue to plummet. Television is shifting towards digital integration. Facebook TV may be here sooner than we think.
And then, we have the “blogs” – potentially a huge threat to mainstreat media publications trying to stay relevant in a digital world. Mashable, Huffington Post, Engadget – they have no qualms with using social media for promotions. There’s a reason why AOL paid over $300 million for one “blog.”
Can traditional journalists survive in a world where eyeballs are bought and sold through social media? Will the NY Times always be as popular as they are today without promotions? What about the mid-level sites with small teams of paid journalists? Can the quality of the writing alone be enough to bring socially-savvy readers to the pages?
Strong social media firms can generate hundreds of thousands of additional unique visitors per month to a single publication for pennies on the dollar compared to other traffic-generating tecniques. How long can principals and integrity overrule business needs?