Communications Disruption: Keep Up or Catch Up

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By: Amy Schatz, Vice President

Once upon a time — let’s say 1990 — most consumers kept up with the news in a few ways. They listened to the radio, watched the local TV news after getting home from work or read the morning newspaper. Reporters went to city council meetings, worked the phones, got press releases via fax and kept up with breaking news by looking at the AP Wire.

Things couldn’t be more different today.

The news in papers is old before the printing presses even start rolling, Twitter has become the top hangout for media looking for news (or to procrastinate) and texting, emails or online message apps, not the phone, are how many reporters stay in touch with sources. Many cities and towns no longer even have local newspapers.

It’s been well-documented how disruptive and harmful this change has been for the media industry, especially for press in smaller towns, but it’s also been a challenge for those of us trying to get information out to the public or to respond to news events.

Consider the case of Justine Sacco. At just 30-years-old, Sacco was a senior PR person for a major corporation when she fired off some tweets while traveling from New York to South Africa to visit her family over the holidays. Unfortunately, some of her tweets were, to say the least, in poor taste. One tweet, about AIDS, was so offensive that it began being spread widely on the social media platform. Justine didn’t know this, of course, because she was on a plane without internet access for 11 hours. By the time she landed, she was the top trending topic on the platform and quickly lost her job.

When I started in the newspaper business in the mid-1990s, we had daily deadlines. You turned your story in around 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. and learned the next morning whether the competition had managed to scoop you. But daily deadlines became a thing of the past as the Internet became more ubiquitous.

At the Wall Street Journal, it was a gradual change from focusing on print to digital. We began filing shorter stories earlier in the day for the newswire and internet site and filling out those stories with more details for the paper edition the next morning. Then we began filing headlines (and Tweets) for stories that were updated several times a day. At one point, I stopped paying any attention to whether my stories even got printed in the physical paper (unless they were on the front page). As a tech reporter, none of my sources were looking at the print edition anyway.

It’s vital for companies, agencies and other organizations today to be as fast and nimble as the press who are covering them. That doesn’t mean keeping up with and engaging on every social media platform. But it is important to understand where your audience is and how they’re consuming news and information today.

At Glen Echo Group, we subscribe to a monitoring service so we can see when and how our clients are being talked about on social media platforms. Some companies, agencies and organizations obviously attract more attention than others and may need more robust monitoring, but it’s good for any organization to pay close attention to what’s being said about them on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other sites.

If they aren’t talking about you, that’s another problem entirely. Consumers are faced with so much noise online today that it’s hard to break through and be heard. That’s especially true when you’re trying to reach consumers in areas where newspapers have either disappeared or have lost much of their staff. It gets awfully hard to place an op-ed for a client in a local newspaper when there just aren’t that many papers left.

Increasingly, we’re having to think of more non-traditional places or ways to get our clients messages out. That could mean anything from creating sponsored content that looks and reads like a feature story to geotargeting messages, blog posts or other content to the audiences we’re trying to reach via Google, Twitter or Facebook.

One agency that’s done a great job of breaking through in a totally non-traditional way is the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Dubbed the “the coolest government Twitter account” by the A.V. Club, the CSPC’s social media team routinely creates clever, sharable graphics that quickly become memes and further the agency’s mission of informing consumers about safety hazards and keeping them safe.

Disruption in the media industry isn’t over and even some social media networks, such as Facebook, are considering major changes to how users will interact in the future. Machine learning and AI technologies are still in their infancy but already some news organizations are publishing computer-generated stories. All these developments will change how we share information and tell stories online, which is why it’s important to keep experimenting and keep an open mind on using new technologies and platforms.

Note: This article originally appeared on Medium.