On the Ground at Social Media Week: Participation, Aggregation and Criticism in the Digital Age
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“Imagine watching a bad, stupid, or offensive ad all by yourself and how it makes you feel. Now imagine that you are watching it with a group of people, who are all realizing at the same time just how stupid or offensive it is. The latter has a much stronger stronger impact, right? People are not experiencing media in isolation anymore, and that’s a huge change for the media business.” Jay Rosen, Professor of Journalism, New York University.
Insights like this one and many more came out in today’s Social Media Week panel, Participation, Aggregation and Criticism in the Digital Age, Hosted by Deep Focus: How Social Media is Challenging (and Changing) Social and Business Rules of Engagement. The panel discussed the three forces driving social interaction today: participation in it, aggregation of information to build profitable businesses, and criticism of and among people that are using social media.
Hottest Topic: AOL Acquires the Huffington Post
Much of the discussion focused around the AOL acquisition of the Huffington Post for $315M. Jonah Peretti, Founder of Buzz Feed and the Huffington Post, talked about the early days. “We thought about things differently. It’s about communicating and sharing, and the activities the readers are doing. You need real-time stats to see how people interact with content. Do they share it, pass it along? It is less about saying, ‘Here is our media for you to read and digest,’ and more about ‘How are people interacting with our media?’
Jay Rosen posed the question, what is the Huffington Post? “The Huffington Post started as a business with the revenues available online and built it from there, as opposed to asking, ‘I have a big news organization. How do I fund it online?’ One of the strengths of the Huffington Post is their openness to the online world. Arianna Huffington doesn’t arrive with preconceived notions about what news online should be. You can see that with the way they’ve adapted with each new wave of technology.”
The Huffington Post is a very intelligent organization, combining very intelligent aggregation and SEO with a blogging platform that several thousands of writers are attracted to (read: working for free), plus a paid staff that resembles the more traditional media organizations. The classic news model is the “view from nowhere,” based on the belief that the news has to be delivered impersonally. The Huffington Post espouses a distinct philosophy. One of the strongest assets of the Huffington Post is the view and personality of Arianna herself, which makes the brand something to which people can relate.
What is the potential outcome of this acquisition? It could be an entirely new combination of metrics and old fashioned editorial practices to form a hybrid version of AOL and the Huffington Post that is better than isolated journalists and metrics driven news and that uses intelligence to drive content to the top.
Super Bowl Ads: Social Media Epic Fail?
The panel generally agreed that last night’s Super Bowl ads missed the mark – and the opportunity – around social media by a long shot. The ads were seen as safe and traditional. Worse, few of them had “calls to action” for the viewers to continue the story online. Some of the stories will continue online in the days to come, but for the most part, they came and went.
Arguably, it is difficult to tell a compelling story in 30 seconds. However, according to journalist and panelist Danielle Sacks, “Those ads could have run 10 years ago. At this moment in time, the agencies or the clients just aren’t getting it.”
Jay Rosen agreed. Before the internet, the viewers were connected upwardly to the media, watching it in isolation in their homes. With the today’s technology, they are still connected upward, but they are also connected with each other, horizontally. The mass communications professionals are still reverting to what they know, or the traditional way of doing things, which explains the Super Bowl ads. “This is an example of why Ariana Huffington is so effective at what she does – she is not afraid of new ways to do things.”
Sacks added, “Before, you strove to be skilled at one important aspect of your industry. Today, the best skill you can have is to be curious, always be learning new things.”
Is there such a thing as a “Twitter Revolution”?
The panel discussed the role of social media in the recent events in Egypt. Malcolm Gladwell has stated that social media had nothing to do with the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. There was a general consensus that Gladwell does not use social media himself, and so his critique may or may not be justified. By the same token, these revolutions have been simmering for a long time. Social media may have played a role, but the real story and the questions we should be asking about these events are much much more complicated.
The real question is not around whether or not there have been Twitter revolutions, but rather around the real role of how people used the media to achieve their social and political goals in the face of media suppression and political aggression. The panel agreed that discussing a Twitter Revolution would probably be more fun, but it is not a relevant discussion at the end of the day.
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