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The real danger of social media

I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and have concluded that the danger of social media isn’t just what is said there about you. The real danger of social media is what you don’t say there about yourself.

Obviously danger can lurk in social networks and blogs.

The creator of Napster – also formerly president of Facebook – complained bitterly when social media noted that he paid millions in fines to settle a government complaint over construction work he had conducted on a site planned for his wedding in a protected forest. He criticized the “rehashing and regurgitating of nonsense news, contrived to tell whatever seems to be the most sensational story…”

Similarly there is danger in how news media use social media.

When news broke of the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, news media frantically searching for fresh information discovered a Facebook profile of a New Jersey man with the same name as the alleged shooter and ran with the photo. It was the wrong person.

None of this is new. Gossip columnists and ambitious journalists have used similar tactics for years.

What is new is the accelerating pace with which news media use social media for stories and sources.

“More than anything, we just try to keep people informed, and social media is a useful tool for doing that,” one journalist told the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR). “Twitter and Facebook allow that concept to work in reverse sometimes, too.

“If there are layoffs, we will find out about it on Twitter long before we get an official statement. Sometimes, we can leverage information from social media to force a comment from an official source.

“The tips, reactions and sometimes outrageous statements that come with social media have become part of the newsgathering process.

“Other times we just need to explain the context of a story or help someone better understand why something is happening. This engagement has become an essential part of what we do as journalists.”

More than anything else, that remark about “outrageous statements” caught my attention because often it seems media use such statements in stories, and the more outrageous, the better.

But that is beginning to change. As news media increasingly use social media for stories and sources, the media are beginning to add both vigor and rigor in efforts to verify these stories and sources.

Actually, they are getting help from such organizations as Storyful, which appraises and validates content from Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Twitter, Weibo, YouTube and other social networks.

Storyful provides this validated content to an array of news media that want to use stories and sources from social media but which do not or will not commit resources necessary to verify the information.

Storyful told the CJR that news media call every day “asking for the best content to put up tomorrow.”

Such social media “fact checking” services will mitigate if not eliminate the threat of “outrageous statements” that have no basis in fact but which start on social media and migrate to news media.

Once the media are certain that stories and sources culled from social media are accurate, then this content becomes legitimized and as a result this trend is going to accelerate.

And not only are mainstream media going to use more stories and sources from social media, so will trade media, online media, foreign media, in short, all media.

Suddenly the danger of social media is no longer what is said there about you that might be wrong and yet still be reported by the news media and cause your company reputational problems.

The danger of social media now is more what you don’t say there about yourself that would be used by the news media and which would support your company business goals.

Here is how we suggest you take advantage of this trend right now.

  • First, meld your social media and media relations strategies to create one media strategy. From here on out, whatever you say to one media, you should now plan to say to all media.
  • Second, start creating more short stories about how you solve problems. People care less about what product you sell and more about what solution they buy. Use more vignettes that identify problems and which outline your solutions across your product and geographic markets. Add short videos.
  • Third, start developing leadership positions with short and pithy comments on major macroeconomic and other trends and issues as these affect your customers, employees, communities and more. Add short videos when addressing a topic that is important for positioning you with all of your audiences.
  • Fourth, post this content on all social networks and send it to all media targets. Each genre, social and news media, individually will use this content if it is interesting. And then each will use this same content as it appears in the other genre, e.g. social media from news media, news media from social media. This becomes a multiplier effect in reaching everyone. Add more content beyond this sampling of ideas.

And more.

The medium is no longer the message because social media and news media rely more than ever on each other for content. We are getting to the point where there are no social media and no news media. There are only media. And the message, the message finally is you.

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