Some media organisations fail to take social media seriously. Image by Depone and released under Creative Commons

Some media organisations fail to take social media seriously. Image by Depone and released under Creative Commons

The challenges and opportunities presented by social media

Social media is an increasingly disruptive force on the media landscape.

It challenges traditional, mainstream media to reconsider how they operate.

Social media often releases information about which mainstream media might not have been aware, and information that mainstream media might have tried to ignore.

It can offer a wider, more diverse perspective on life than that covered by traditional media.

It challenges mainstream media’s editorial standards, and makes editors think again about their values and ethics.

It offers mainstream media opportunities to tap into conversations, learn about social change, and connect with those who were previously out of reach.

It provides a direct link from a media organisation to a connected, empowered, and active audience, and, in doing so, totally changes that relationship.

And yet, surprisingly, some media organisations fail to take social media seriously, or, perhaps worse, totally misunderstand what it is about and, therefore, respond inadequately.

An empowered audience

In an earlier module we looked at the importance of “Identifying the target audience and its information needs”, then we considered “Adapting to changing audience behaviour and monitoring the market”.

Those modules looked at who makes up the target audience, the issues that concern them most, the devices they use to consume and share news, and how they interact with news.

We then looked at how a media organisation should adapt to meet the challenges and opportunities presented by changing audience behaviour in our module entitled “Newsroom evolution from digital denial to digital first”.

Now we look at what a social media strategy could mean for a media organisation.

But first, let’s look at how we got to this stage in media’s development. 

Media evolution

The media is in a constant state of change, or at least it should be.

Technological advances, leading to changing audience behaviour, resulting in altered attitudes to consuming and sharing news, which means that a media organisation can’t afford to stand still.

Innovation is needed, but only if it makes business sense.

There have been many stages of media evolution over the years, below we look at three. The “broadcast AT or publish AT” model, the “engage with on our terms” model, and the “participate in” model.

Broadcast AT and publish AT model

This is the model where the broadcasters and publishers thought they knew best.

They would broadcast and published programmes and information to a passive audience who consumed what they were given.

There was no interactivity, and the output reflected the choices made by the journalists, not the audience.

This resulted in a limited perspective of society, usually representing that of the owners of the media organisation, the state, or the editors and journalists who were producing the content.

That model is dead.

We then moved to the ‘engage with on our terms’ model.

Engage with on our terms model

In this model, mainstream media offered limited interactivity. It could be in the form of studio debates, vox pops conducted in the street, or, in the case of print, letters to the editor.

Some media organisations had websites, and would run polls and invite comments, but these were usually heavily pre-moderated and monitored, and were about issues that the broadcasters and publishers wanted to discuss.

Audience participation was carefully controlled, with the audience selected based on a journalists assessment of the public’s value to the story.

That model is in it’s death throes. Now we are in the ‘participate in’ model.

Participate in model

The ‘participate in’ model is where audience engagement is part of the editorial proposition.

It’s where stories are built around the issues the audience is discussing in the street, in their homes and on social media.

Please refer to our modules entitled “Identifying the target audience and its information needs” and “Establishing a market differential with original, in-depth, issue-led journalism”.

It’s about having an active unit in the newsroom who use social media to monitor what the audience is saying, share stories from the newsroom, stimulate a debate, and then watch that debate develop while feeding those developments back into the news production process.

This strategy will not only bring a media organisation closer to its audience, but it is also likely to increase engagement around the content being produced, while, at the same time, winning audience trust.

It will mean that output will be enriched to reflect audience concerns.

What is required

A modern media organisation needs to have a social media editor, or at least a member of staff whose job it is to monitor social media. Ideally, they will be sitting at the central superdesk in a converged newsroom. Please refer to our training module entitled “Convergence, roles and responsibilities and workflows”.

The social media editor or producer has an important role to play. They will:

  • attend all the main news meetings.
  • be called on to contribute ideas based on what the target audience is discussing on social media.
  • use free tools, such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to monitor audience groups and key words in order to track story developments.
  • be expected to be offering news alerts when news breaks on social media.
  • stimulate the conversation of the day based on the main news stories being produced by the converged newsroom.
  • monitor that conversation and feed updates back into the news production process.
  • ensure consistent cross-promotion between news and programmes via social media.
  • monitor any UGC (user-generated content) in terms of images, video, sound and graphics submitted by the audience.
  • suggest story treatment ideas based on the results of their social media monitoring.

Smart media managers will realise that for the news to truly reflect the concerns of the target audience they will need to exploit the opportunities and benefits of social media, and not see it as an unwelcome distraction.

And if you are thinking in terms of a wider reach via social media on new, continually-developing platforms/devices, you will be helping to ensure that your media organisation is always responsive to new revenue-generating opportunities.

Copyright: The text, and graphic in this training module are from Media Helping Media ( and are released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0

David BrewerThe author of this piece, David Brewer, is a journalist and media strategy consultant who founded Media Helping Media, handing the site over to Fojo in early 2018. David has worked as a journalist and manager in print, broadcast and online. He has spent many years delivering journalism training and media consultancy services worldwide.


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