SAY: A Week of Apple, Sheen and Social Sharing

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Nothing interrupts a Charlie Sheen media meltdown like the launch of another Apple product. With the introduction of the iPad 2, Apple is ready to take gadget domination to the next level. Amongst its many new boasts, the iPad 2 is now capable of making music and editing movies in ‘intuitive and powerful’ ways not possible on a traditional computer. No one is quite sure what this exactly means, but needless to say, Apple-driven tablet-mania will continue to redefine how individuals create and consume media, making the entire continuum more portable and accessible than ever before. In fact, if you count all the different media-related apps for the iPhone and iPad, there are almost an infinite number of ways to digest media – especially the news.

However, regardless of how many newspaper, magazine and/or news aggregator apps become available, the real future of media distribution and consumption lies in recommendation and social sharing. According to a fantastic article by Josh Benton of Nieman Journalism Labs, the actual “verbs” of social media will influence news’ future far more than any other component of the current media ecosystem - thanks to a seemingly minor change Facebook is making to its social sharing features. On Sunday, Mashable reported the remaining functionality of Facebook’s “Share” button is now being moved over to the much more popular “Like” feature. Clicking “Like” on a webpage will now post a thumbnail and excerpt of it on your Facebook wall, just as “Share” used to do. As the old “Like” behavior made the links less prominent, this new feature will likely lead to stories spreading more readily through Facebook.

However, the really interesting part of this transition is not the details of the implementation but the verbs (i.e.,“Like,” “Share") themselves. “Sharing” is neutral, but social in nature, while “liking” has a “ring of personal endorsement.” After doing a quick sampling of the web’s most popular news sites on how they integrate Facebook on their story pages, Benton discovered that more traditional news organization are uncomfortable with the “Like” metaphor, whereas “internet-era” creations are more often than not “Likers.” This seems logical, as traditional news orgs tend to shy away from connecting journalism to readers’ endorsement of the news.

But times have changed and the current online ecosystem favors passion and emotion - particularly positive emotion - to the impersonal recounting of facts (hence the SAY 100). Brenton states that news organizations, “many of them traditional bringers of bad news,” will now have to adjust to the new paradigm of “emotion as distribution.” This model isn’t just anecdotal, it’s backed up by facts. According to the article, Anatoliy Gruzd and his colleagues at Dalhousie University conducted a study that looked at a sample of 46,000 tweets during the Vancouver Winter Olympics and judged them on whether they expressed a positive, negative, or neutral emotion. They found that positive tweets were retweeted an average of 6.6 times, versus 2.6 times for negative tweets and 2.2 times for neutral ones. Furthermore, “Facebook’s own internal data, looking at major news sites’ presence within Facebook, found that ‘provocative’ or ‘passionate’ stories generated two to three times the engagement of other stories.

According to Benton, “we’ll soon be at a point where social media is a more important driver of traffic than search for many news organizations. And those social media visitors are already, I’d argue, more useful than search visitors because they’re less likely to be one-time fly-by readers. As people continue to spend outrageous amounts of time on Facebook (49 billion minutes in December), as Twitter continues to grow, as new tools come along, we’ll see more and more people get comfortable with the idea that their primary filter for news will be what gets shared by their friends or networks.”

Finally, in a quick snapshot of the contentious world of traditional media, The New York Times and Bloomberg are at war over who will reign as “the worlds most influential news organization.” At present, the NY Times holds the distinction, but it’s a stated goal of Bloomberg's that they plan to dethrone “the gray lady.” The NY Times’ feathers are duly ruffled as Bloomberg begins encroaching on its territory and poaching its top talent. Time will tell which organization trumps the other, but as influence is upended and its power redistributed to passionate creators whose work is shared by devoted followers, no one publication will be able to lay claim to the title. Instead, influence will become fluid and shared by a number of voices across a variety of focus areas.