To the surprise of no-one, social media has shaken everything under the sun especially when it comes to marketing. Given the extent to which the media landscape has become more versatile, and the selection of different channels and formats has grown, journalism itself has evolved shockingly little. But how should journalism change to be able to genuinely compete in a fragmented digital environment, where there are so many things competing for our attention? Fortunately, we know that young people still want to know what is happening in the world and feel that they need journalists to tell trustworthy news that shines a light on injustices. Preferably on social media, though.
Since time immemorial, young media consumers have been encouraged to spend their time educating themselves through the news. Success, however, appears scant when you delve into the figures. Media outlets bemoan the fact that young people don’t want to educate themselves on the important things, but instead spend all their time on social media. Kids these days!
The media palette today is fragmented across several different channels, and young people primarily read traditional media through social media. At the same time, they spend an average of 20 hours a week YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram. Despite this, journalism and its distribution have remained almost the same. Some articles might be shared on Twitter. Others are thrown organically onto Instagram, alongside some photos. The number of views and the time spent reading remain low when the content is just shoved into the social media environment as it is – often without much consideration of whether the information ever reaches those who never open a newspaper in the morning.
The fourth estate or a slave to algorithms?
Before the era of the fragmented media environment, outlets were able to operate as gatekeepers of societal talking points. However, in the contemporary hybrid media system, journalistic content is only a tiny drop a the sea of all other content and information. Now Meta and Google, alongside other media giants, largely define how societal conversations are conducted, and the way they operate defines the way information reaches its target audience. The question is: does journalism function anymore if it does not do all it can to reach different demographics? Should news media strive to reach different leveraging algorithms to do so?
Critical, thorough journalism is still the basis of a democratic society and should continue to be so in a world plagued with multiple ongoing crises. However, if one of the roles of journalism is to spread accurate information about what is going on in the world, should it update itself to fulfil this role, even in an information environment dictated by algorithms? Nowadays we cannot simply disregard the interactive and digital approach of the media and see journalism simply as a one-sided monologue: “Here are the things you should know – take it or leave it”. Even if the media produces top-quality journalism, we should ask if it risks becoming irrelevant if it is unable resonate with everyone?
Journalism separated from social media? In this day and age?
For young people, social media is traditional media. Even though there are still unresolved issues with social media journalism, the fourth estate should be able to navigate the new, fragmented media environment to retain the basic essence of journalism – making information available and thus serving democratic society. Fake news, algorithms, and media bubbles are all issues stemming from social media, and marketing communication professionals are currently trying to find a solution to these. What we already know is that active participation on social media is a way to reach those demographics that, for whatever reason, do not read newspapers or listen to the radio. If media outlets do not learn to operate on social media, do they ultimately fulfil their purpose?
Fortunately, social media also provides entirely new possibilities. Sometimes, traditional media has succeeded in telling young people – in an interesting way – what is happening in parliament before the gentle nudge from the social media algorithms. YLE’s very own TikTok account @ylekioski.eduskunnassa is followed by up to a million viewers, which is in and of itself a testimony to how new technologies create new opportunities to succeed.
Long live the trailblazers
But where should one start? Through the ways in which they offer new ways to attain reliable news, YLE is an absolute pioneer of social media journalism in Finland. YLE’s strategy even states that they want their journalists participating in social media conversations concerning society, and to engage with their followers on their own social media channels. Possible lessons from YLE’s successful and ever-developing social media journalism are, for example, the way they follow social media rules and invest in dedicated social media teams. Their brave venture into TikTok also reveals a deep understanding of how the younger demographic behaves, and the versatility of social media journalism. So please give a big cheer for the journalists who have taken a dive into the world of social media and who were brave enough to venture into the unknown, immersing themselves into the sometimes-rough social media environment, as well as its known audience.
Interested in the social tone of media communication and its possibilities?
Media communication in a new environment requires a thorough knowledge of social media. Social media is not only one channel among many, where corporate messages are shouted one-sidedly into people’s ears. It is an interactive, critical, and multifaceted environment that acts as an extension of a person’s self. Being genuinely present, insightful, and taking the demographic’s point of view into consideration builds trust between different operators and their audiences. Since we have spent the last few years strengthening our expertise in social media, in addition to our knowledge of earned media, we are able to guide our clients on diving into journalistic content on social media. We help them recognise active and influential media operators and journalists on different social media platforms, and to discover concepts that open totally new possibilities for companies to be seen among their demographics.
Oona Pääskynen is a communication consultant with strong emphasis in creative strategies and social media, whose work is always guided by the desire to positively influence the world around her – even the tiniest bit. Oona preaches that social media is not just a piece of the marketing and communications channel palette, but a true bonanza of truly impactful marketing.