The social balance

Social media platforms are in a delicate balance when it comes to platforms and engaging users. (Photo: Visual Content/Flickr via Creative Commons)

In the world of social media, content is king, and for journalists, social media has allowed for new ways to not just inform audiences, but also to engage them – creating new dimensions in the relationship between consumer and news organization.

Yet, while there are benefits for journalists and news organizations in this relationship with social media, there also are questions as to the right balance – informing users versus attracting them.

For social media platforms, it is the matter of designing the right platform to curate these stories, and the algorithm that distributes them to users. This includes the most notable, Facebook, who has rolled out updates on stories and photos in an attempt to compete with Snapchat, which has been a notable app because of its ability to engage younger audiences.

For news organizations, it is the matter of staying true to the goals at the core of journalism – informing, engaging and stimulating, while trying not to be too content heavy, leading to people unfollowing them on Twitter or unliking them on Facebook.

It all comes down to the question both social networks and news organizations are facing: “How much is too much?”

As the right way to handle this is debated and put forward, and strategies are tweaked, there must be the consideration of the people who will ultimately be at the receiving end of these strategies – the audience.

When writing about the changes for Facebook, Casey Newton, an editor for the technology news web site The Verge, included a section in his story on the social network’s introduction of Stories, and wider implications.

Among them is this:

“Where should you post your daily story now becomes a daily concern for a certain subset of youngish, social media-savvy people,” Newton wrote. “Facebook says stories belong everywhere that people are talking online, but what if the format is a fad? And what if forcing it on users across its entire family of app leads to a general fatigue with the idea? The company says each of its apps has a distinctive audience, and I believe it. But there’s also plenty of overlap. There’s a risk here that Facebook’s mania for stories will be interpreted as overkill by its users, and the feature will ultimately fade into the background. (This happened with live video!)”

In other words, on the whole, its the delicate balance that social platforms like Facebook have to play in order to attract users but also try not to put them off. Because of the importance of the content, be it a photo or video based story on Instagram, going live on Facebook, or creating a Moment on Twitter, social networks are trying to be distinct in how they can get the most audiences possible – for content can support a platform’s future.

A new platform or new feature brings the potential for more users on the social network, and the opportunity for news organizations to increase their audience on that particular platform. That opportunity also raises the question of prioritizing stories, and what platform gets to be the lucky recipient of the story.

But considerations must be made for why the story is there on that social network in the first place. Are you posting a story on Facebook because people really need to know about it, or are you putting up on Snapchat a customized dancing cat video merely designed to expand your reach and the number of eyeballs on the post?

It is important that audiences are informed and engaged by journalists about the world around them – it is at the core of SPJ’s Code of Ethics’ steadfast value – seek truth and report it. It is also important that social media plays a role in informing and engaging audiences, as it is a reflection of the change in platforms where the news is curated and disseminated.

Yet, when all is said and done, both parties need to consider what is best for their audiences, instead of the opportunity to boost audience figures. After all, it isn’t about quantity, but quality, and that an accurate, fair and quality piece of work benefits everyone – instead of something rushed.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member, is a member of SPJ’s Ethics Committee and a contributor to the SPJ blog network. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is a Managing Editor and contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

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