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We’ve just reached a new tipping point in the news consumption habits of the nation’s youngest generation (those age 18 to 24). According to a report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University, social media has now surpassed TV as the primary way that young millennials get their news.
For the first time ever, more young people get their news from social media (28%) than TV (24%). Print (6%) and radio (5%) are becoming more irrelevant with each passing year, while other online sources – not just social media, but also online news sites and blogs, are becoming more relevant.
While it’s perhaps no surprise that more people than ever before are getting their news from the Internet, what is surprising is how they are getting it from the Internet. In other words, they’re not visiting the websites of CNN, the New York Times or the Washington Post for their daily news download; instead, they are getting it via their Facebook newsfeed, or by watching YouTube videos that have gone viral. The three most popular social media platforms for getting the news are now Facebook (44%), YouTube (19%) and Twitter (10%).
So what does that mean for the modern digital marketer?
Remember how Marshall McLuhan famously said that, “The medium is the message”? Well, it’s now true – the medium is the message. How people read your news (the “medium”) is now more important than the news itself. As a marketer, you’re not going to get the word out about a new product or service by hoping for traditional media coverage – nobody wants or reads that type of “news” anymore.
Instead, you need to insert yourself into the Facebook newsfeed of consumers. Hence, the fact that the typical Facebook newsfeed is filled with “trending” topics, “viral” stories and Internet memes — the only thing that matters is that other people are reading about and commenting on something, not that it’s particularly newsworthy. This gets circular really fast – the only way to become newsworthy is by being something that people are already reading about.
And this trend is only going to accelerate. According to the Reuters Institute study, the most popular form of social media news is “breaking news” – the kind of news items you might expect to see crawl across the bottom of a TV screen on CNN or ESPN. People don’t want in-depth analysis or opinion — they want the latest gossip, the latest celebrity update or the latest tragedy, all packaged up with a title that makes it sharable.
Moreover, young people don’t want others telling them what to read — they prefer to read what’s organically trending, rather than what they’re “supposed” to read and care about. That’s another key insight from the Reuters Institute study — by a margin of 36% to 30%, young millennials would prefer to have an unbiased algorithm decide what appears in their Facebook newsfeed or Twitter stream, rather than a human editor. Facebook, in fact, is abandoning an experiment with “human editors” and is doubling down on the algorithm.
For people who grew up with the avuncular TV news anchor on the nightly news (already a relic of another era), or the notion that the New York Times delivers “all the news that’s fit to print,” we’re headed to uncharted territory in which there are new gatekeepers and new rules for getting noticed. Ultimately, this means more “gaming” of the Facebook newsfeed algorithm, in the same way that people have tried to game the Google search algorithm for more than a decade.