Networking News: Traditional News Outlets Turn to Social Networking Web Sites in an Effort to Build Their Online Audiences

Article excerpt

Can Facebook and Twitter save the beleaguered mainstream media?

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Maybe not by themselves. But news organizations increasingly are turning to social networking tools in their efforts to compete in a challenging and fast-changing media landscape.

Vivian Schiller, outgoing senor vice president and general manager of NYTimes.com, says social media marketing is one of several essential strategies for disseminating news online--and for surviving.

"Though the long-term viability of any individual social networking site or technology is completely unproven," Schiller says, "readers will engage with each other and share stories. That is a given."

Today, journalists romance new communities by blogging and posting updates and stories on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. Almost all news sites now use widgets that can be downloaded to a reader's personal browser or Web site to quickly link back to the "mother site." In addition, users are gravitating to the "thumbs up, thumbs down" recommendations engines (aka social bookmarking tools) like Digg, Mixx, StumbleUpon and Reddit. These sites invite readers to embed links and vote their preferences for individual stories, videos and Web pages, driving favorites higher up in the "must view" hierarchy and pushing more traffic back to home sites.

"Social media is a pretty good way to get young readers to read news." says James Brady, executive editor of washington post.com. "The one thing that gets lost in all the automation and search engine gaming algorithms is that people want to know what their friends think and what people respect. One way to get content in front of you to have your friends recommended it; that's a social filtering of news."

But as with so much in the digital space, the question is how much social networking can contribute to news outlets' bottom lines. "The challenge continues to be how to monetize these users' activities successfully," says Eli Wendkos, product managers for social media at AJC.com, the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Web site. "A model will emerge that does just that, the question is, when will it happen?"

The mainstream media met social media headon in 2008, says Ethan Beard, director of business development at Facebook. "The Internet has gone through a shift from people who get information to people who get to each other," he says. "But we realize there are a lot more pieces of the social graph than just people and their friends. We've wanted to get media companies and journalists to have a place within the social graph."

For Facebook, the "social graph" means "the mapping of connections between all people," Beard says. It's the chart of how everyone on Facebook (now more than 100 million subscribers, double number a year ago) is ultimately connected to everyone else. In 2007, Facebook opened its software platform to media and application developers. "At the time, it was a very innovative step to let anyone have access to the social graph and leverage it anywhere," Beard says. He estimates there are 400,000 software developers working on new programs for Facebook, along with 25,000 applications already built on top of the Facebook platform. The apps allow anyone--from gaming companies to university researchers to media giants--to launch news pages and hyperlinks back to their own sites from Facebook.

Some media companies (including Conde Nast, the New York Times Co. and the Washington Post Co.) already have a substantial presence on Facebook through advertising and branded pages that give users a chance to join "fan communities," accessing news, photos, features, quizzes and blogs while sharing them among Facebook friends. Companies including CNN, ABC, CBS, CNET and Digg have gone a step further: All are participating in the new project "Facebook Connect." When viewers click on one of these major news sites and register, they get direct access to their Facebook profiles, posted materials and circles of online friends. …