Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Social Networks and Political News

Last week I noticed an interesting article on the front page of the New York Times plus some interesting commentary from Steve Rosenbaum in the OnMedia blog. The Pew Internet and American Life Project also has interesting recent data on political information sources. Put together, they provide an interesting perspective.

We know that young people get a lot of their news from the Internet instead of from traditional media. According to Pew 42 % of people 18 to 29 say they regularly get news about the campaign from the Internet. That’s up from 20% in 2004. Now we are getting insights into how they use it.

Here’s a summary of what’s emerging:

•Young people post on MySpace and Facebook pages. When I searched for widgets for the two democratic candidates, I got over 500,000 hits, some of which are discussion, some of which are actual widgets. There are not quite as many for John McCain, but there are plenty. CBS News seems to be especially aggressive in creating news widgets that connect people with their content. The McCain widget is from CBS news. I found the Clinton widget on Yahoo!; it is from a suite of political widgets from NBC Universal. I found the Obama widget on an Apple site; it appears to be from a private developer. News organizations are catching on and networks and platforms want to be sure they’re not left out•As the NYT article points out, they also pass it on to their friends by email and IM. Perhaps even more important, they tend to go direct to the source—a video of a speech, for example. Is it worrisome that they are missing the context and interpretation that journalists provide?
•Finally, the Medill News Service at Northwestern University points out that political activity or extreme sentiments on the Internet can affect future job prospects. Students already know that potential employeers are searching Facebook and MySpace pages. Will this put a damper on political expression?

The political consequences of this activity and the political involvement it signifies are enormous. What are the take-aways for business?

One is not very new. If we haven’t already, we have to change the way we are reaching our audiences, especially if they are Gen X, Y or Z. A widely-repeated quote captures that well: “We’re talking about a generation that doesn’t just like seeing the video in addition to the story — they expect it,” said Danny Shea, 23, the associate media editor for The Huffington Post. “And they’ll find it elsewhere if you don’t give it to them, and then that’s the link that’s going to be passed around over e-mail and instant message.”

An even more provocative view is that they want the original, unedited information. Then they will share it or transform it using their own tools. That provides support for the multitude of video contests we find all over the web, but may be a superficial manifestation. How can we really work with customers to develop compelling messages?

There’s probably no single best answer to that question. However, it may be the question that we need to keep in the forefront of our marketing and communications strategy development.
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