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Social media and its place in the circle of traditional media life

Social media and its place in the circle of traditional media life

Social media and its place in the circle of traditional media life

Many magazine editors are using reader-driven material to fuel their upcoming coverage. Watching the circulation of content is almost akin to watching the food chain in action. A single story can start out as a guppy in the form of a personal blog or stream of comments on a Web site. Once that topic, event or person gains popularity, it gets swallowed up by a bigger fish: Facebook or Twitter. With enough momentum, that small story soon becomes a trending topic and has a ton of fans or followers. Once it has become fat with fanfare, it starts to get noticed by the sharks, also known as traditional media outlets. And those stories look plump and delicious, eventually making their way into print and TV.

Take last year’s Amazon wolf shirt phenomenon for example. One of millions of items for sale gets noticed because a user of Amazon’s Web site decides to dedicate an unnatural amount of time reviewing an obscure product – a black shirt with three wolves on it. The write-up by an anonymous user is so clever and funny that, like a shiny fish, it gets noticed by others nearby. More and more similar comments pile on to this one T-shirt for sale until it works its way up the food chain to find itself being featured in the Washington Post and then Seattle Post Intelligencer. According to reviewers, the shirt has powers, which include mysteriously attracting women to the man wearing it. “I bought this shirt and instantly old girlfriends started calling me again,” one male user commented. The shirt even made it to an episode of The Office where the character Dwayne wore it to pick up chicks.

Yes, that’s funny, but could it be done with a Social Media outlet like Facebook? This would mean not just finding a source on Facebook, but finding an idea for editorial content based on something happening in this space. PR people who have the ability to create or generate buzz about a product or event in a social media realm, will get noticed by traditional media outlet editors. For example, editors will sometimes read the comments their readers leave on their Web sites. When readers leave a link or a comment about a hot topic, the editor will follow that link to Facebook wherever it originated to find out what all the buzz is about. If the buzz is interesting enough, the editors will turn that topic into a story.

Last year, Wired magazine started a viral story on Twitter with the purposeful disappearance of their staff member Evan Ratliff. Similar to the Red Balloon Challenge Team, both the missing Ratliff and missing balloons deployed by students at MIT were interesting stories to magazines and TV shows because of their novelty – using social media to rapidly locate missing items in a coordinated effort and then getting overwhelming responses. Many stunts like this might take place, but not all of them get over-the-top responses across the social media universe. But when they do, they garner the attention of the bigger fish.

Clearly the Ratliff disappearance would be covered by Wired, but MIT’s Red Balloon Team had no idea that Stephen Colbert would interview them on the “Colbert Report.” So unless the viral campaign is owned by the traditional media outlet, it must work its way up the food chain like all the others – unless of course, one of your consumers is clever enough to think of something that will do that for you.

-Rebecca Bredholt

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