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Jan. 29, 2009, 7:54 a.m.

Social networks: news organizations ignore them at their peril

On the heels of my post the other day on building social networks around news (in which I mentioned that more than 90 percent of newspapers still have no social networking in their business model) here’s some information from the Pew Internet and American Life Project that that makes it clear why, in largely ignoring social networking, the newspaper industry is missing the boat:

The share of adult internet users who have a profile on an online social network site has more than quadrupled in the past four years — from 8% in 2005 to 35% now, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s December 2008 tracking survey.

By age group, the survey found that in 2008:

  • 75% of online adults 18-24 have a profile on a social network site
  • 57% of online adults 25-34 have a profile on a social network
  • 30% of online adults 35-44 have one
  • 19% of online 45 to 54 year olds have a profile
  • 10% of online 55 to 64 year olds have a profile
  • 7% of online adults 65 and older have a profile

View those levels in the context of the four-year quadrupling  rate, it’s clear that in another few years, virtually everyone under 45, and perhaps a majority of those older, will be active on social networks.  (It’s the newspaper readership curve, upside-down.)  What will they be doing and  looking for on these networks, besides banter with friends?

Well, add this forecast to Pew’s findings: “10 Ways Social Media Will Change in 2009” at ReadWriteWeb, including this (italics added):

Social media will no longer be about features and applications. These have become a dime a dozen. People will be looking to get tangible and relevant value out of their social experience; they’ll be looking for meaning and for order. “Social media online is no different from social media offline,” said Brent Csutoras at a recent Social Media Club event. People will be looking for ways to keep their networks going regardless of device or platform. They will connect around meaningful topics and have live and simultaneous conversations within parameters they themselves define, which will bring relevance back to their interaction with others.

In an earlier Pew finding, 46 percent of Americans sought to connect online with the “meaningful topic” of the 2008 election — something the Obama campaign organization understood masterfully.  People used to read newspapers to make that connection, but that’s ancient history.

The moral of the story is, if you’re in the news business (I’m trying hard not to call it the newspaper business anymore), you need to be where your customers are and interact with them as they prefer to interact.  I’m getting mighty tired of trudging down my driveway every morning to retrieve a flimsy newspaper that takes me 10 minutes to read.  I’m of the geezerly persuasion, but I spend more time than that on Facebook.  American publishers: build a social network, a community, around the news and you’ll reconnect with your audience. For now, it can be local; eventually, these networks will want to be interconnected.

To give them credit, a few, a very small handful of newspapers, are active in real social networking experiments.  In my several prior posts on this subject, here and back at News After Newspapers, I’ve been asking for examples, and here’s what my list looks like now:

  • The Bakersfield Californian has a social network with profiles, friend connections, blogs, commenting and more.  The whole thing needs an update, but it attracts quite a local following.
  • YourHub (Denver, associated with the Post, and elsewhere) allows profiles, posting of blogs, stories and classified, friend messaging.  It needs a bit of an overhaul, as well, I’d say.
  • SavannahNow, an online community operated by the Savannah (Ga.) Morning News: profiles, user content, groups, blogs, forums.  And a nice, up-to-date look (even if it’s a little busier than older folks might like).
  • The Wall Street Journal, behind the paywall, has The Journal Community, where subscribers can post profiles, make connections, share news items, and form groups around their interests.
  • The New York Times offers TimesPeople, which is so far in a very featureless beta mode.
  • And one reader pointed me to the history of CoolerCrew, an online community around the St. Paul Winter Carnival Medallion Hunt, which began in the 1990s on the Pioneer Press forum site but migrated to its own website when the PiPress changed their board system — an illustration of the demand, and an opportunity lost, obviously.

For any additions to the list, I’d be much obliged.

POSTED     Jan. 29, 2009, 7:54 a.m.
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