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How well does media coverage follow trends in social networking?

Social networks enjoy volumes of media coverage that reflect their actual popularity surprisingly well

As media outlets seek out ways to incorporate socially generated content into their coverage, the online social networking angle has become compatible with almost any news story. In the plane crashes in New York and Denver earlier this year, survivors used Twitter to scoop the media before they even deplaned. People looking for images of the Mumbai attacks turned to citizen photojournalists on Flickr. And as my colleague Heidi Sullivan pointed out in a post last week, reporters are using social networks to harvest sources more than ever before. But did you ever wonder, does the volume of media coverage devoted to each of the big social networks reflect their actual popularity? Mostly, it does.

I did a little analysis of media monitoring data with this question in mind. I took a look at how many mentions five major social networks received in North American media outlets, including print, Internet and online news organizations, in the past year and the year before. News junkies out there won’t be surprised to see that while the media have fallen in love with Twitter, they are mentioning MySpace less frequently than they used to. What’s interesting, though, is that these changes do reflect real trends in the traffic to these sites, almost eerily so. For example, media mentions of Twitter rose by more than 780 percent, and according to Compete.com, Twitter’s monthly traffic is up 812 percent over roughly the same time period. Similarly, an 8 percent decline in mentions of MySpace mirrors a 5 percent drop in its monthly traffic. To me, this means that news organizations are doing a pretty good job of following online buzz where it’s actually being generated, rather than over-hyping any one social network. What do you think? Does media coverage influence the public’s social networking habits? Have you noticed trends in mainstream media coverage of the social Web?


Media Mentions of Online Social Networks

February 2007 through January 2008           February 2008 through January 2009

Twitter                                  916                                                       8,115
Facebook                         22,528                                                    36,416
MySpace                           46,374                                                    42,527
Flickr                                  2,517                                                      5,946
LinkedIn                            1,190                                                      2,705

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