Online social networking changing the way Canadians get their news: study

Canadians are increasingly using social networking sites to get their news, according to a recently released study. But are they listening to journalists?

Of the 1,682 Canadians polled, one in three considered sites such as Twitter and Facebook important news sources, according to the Canadian Media Research Consortium study released today. Of those who regularly used social networking sites, the study found, more than two-thirds do so to keep up with the news.

Before you break out the champagne: The study also found those news junkies are more likely to follow links from their personal social network than from a news organization or journalist — at a rate of two in five, compared to one in five.

Journalists who think that’s grim should pay special attention to this next finding: the CMRC also learned that Canadians have mixed views as to whether journalists should even be using sites like Twitter at all.

That could be because more Canadians still consider TV and online news sites as their most important source for news. Despite social media’s gain, only 25 per cent of those surveyed considered it to be a reliable source of information. Comparatively, nine out of 10 considered TV, print, radio and online news sites as reliable sources.

Younger Canadians and students, however, were far more open to journos being online — and far more likely to believe social media was a reliable source of information.

So what does this all mean?
The study signals that it’s more important to get others — those in the social circle you’re trying to reach — to re-post and link to your story than to broadcast it directly, says lead author and University of British Columbia journalism prof Alfred Hermida.

“Readers are becoming the editors for their own social circles,” he adds.

Meaning, the reader will decide if it’s worthwhile to pass your story on to their online social network. If it doesn’t pique their interest, it’s unlikely to gain traction — no matter how much the journo tweets about it.

This brings us to another interesting insight based on the study’s findings:

“If you’re trying to reach the younger audience,” says Hermida, “You need to be … where these people live [online]. You can’t expect them to come to you.”

This makes share- and like-style buttons all the more important. Unfortunately, says Hermida, it also makes sites like Facebook and Twitter the gathering point, not the news organization’s website: “And you don’t make any money from ads on Facebook. Facebook makes money from adds on Facebook.”

Even worse for news organizations is that the reader’s “loyalty is not to your brand,” adds Hermida, “their loyalty is to their social circle.”

The study concludes:

“The dissemination of news through social interaction has always affected the spread of news. New networked media technologies are extending the ability of news consumers to both create and receive personalized social news streams, undermining existing mass media business models based on delivering large audiences to advertisers. While social media creates new opportunities for the news industry to reach and engage audiences, particularly younger Canadians, it also represents competition for consumer attention and revenue.”

The is something many journalists and media moguls long suspected, says Hermida, but now there’s data to prove it. “What we think is happening,” he says, “is actually happening.”

Sometimes it just ain’t any fun being right.