I promise “Survive” is going to remain a website primarily focused on practical advice articles to help you get through your work day more easily. But occasionally, we feel the need to post an article meant to get the industry to stop, think and hopefully openly talk about important issues in newsrooms today. After all, that’s crucial to survive in TV news as well.
Over the last 5 years, “Survive” has watched as TV stations grappled with how to connect with viewers now more focused on digital news than TV. And after 5 years of watching, talking to key decision makers and digital users, a very important question needs to be asked: “Is TV news actually social media savvy?” Such a simple question, but a very complex answer.
I’m going to make the argument that TV News is not very social media savvy. Here’s why. It’s not truly understanding the nuances of why people use social media. We all know that social media is a connector. It helps people express themselves and find others who agree and disagree with what they say and do. But here’s the rub. Even though it seems like social media focuses on superficial things like the actual color of a dress, whether you’ve been to a new restaurant yet, makeup tips and GIFs, this is really scratching the surface. Trending topics and video going viral, while exciting and EASY to capitalize on, are just a small part of the power of the digital world. At its core, internet surfing and social media interaction have basic human desires behind them. Finding information. Understanding why.
Really stop and think about what you do on the internet. It helps me that I have super curious kids. Here are the last three searches my family did: Why is Easter Island called Easter Island? Why do you need fractions? Why are some metals harder to melt than others? Typical kid questions right? Now think about your latest searches. Some topics might be: Why is my insurance going up? Why did I pay more in taxes this year? What does (insert word) mean? And of course, a list of symptoms to see what illness you might have. You search up doctors to see if they get good reviews. You search to see if your home values stayed the same year to year. You check your bank balance. You check when your favorite band is coming to town. What’s on sale this week at the grocery store? And you also shop. All of that in addition to hitting your favorite news sites.
When you go on social media you want to see how your friends are doing and wait for it… what is happening in the world. I venture to guess that many of you look at what’s trending, get a chuckle out of some of it, then start looking for information other ways. Notice I used the word information. That’s intentional. Social media savvy viewers like INFORMATION.
I think the TV industry is marginalizing younger audiences. Yes, that’s a bold statement and I mean it. They think the average 20-to-38 year old just wants to watch crazy videos about the rat carrying pizza and near escapes. They only want to see selfies. What if that’s only a small fraction of what this mysterious new audience is looking at? What if they are also searching up all kinds of INFORMATION, looking to understand why things are happening the way they are? I get asked all the time by younger journalists, “Why does my boss think I only care about selfies?” “Why can’t they see that social media helps uncover what people really want to know about and cannot figure out the answer to?” I have viewers say to me all the time, “Why does TV news think I am stupid?” “Where can I get actual information about what’s happening?”
Now I can hear the nay sayers pointing out that hyper local news sites do ok for awhile then fizzle. I am going to counter with this. Maybe they weren’t actually listening to what people want to know, instead they were telling them what they should want to know. I recently started using the Nextdoor app. I can easily pitch 2 stories a week out of those discussion boards, that could hit broader audiences. And that’s by casually glancing. Some of the stories are obvious, but some of the discussions are a little surprising. And great topics for debate. Social media loves a good debate. You get to exchange INFORMATION. You get to try and discredit information too. Critical thinking.
What if digital tie-ins looked more like what happens on a typical tablet while watching TV. By TV I mean more than news. You’re watching a show. “Wait that actress looks familiar.” With a quick google search you find out who it is while still watching the show. Think of the shows with the pop-up facts. This scene actually took 10 takes to get right. I actually had the flu when we climbed this mountain. Extra INFORMATION.
The most digitally savvy journalist I personally know, attempts to add social media elements that contain tangible information to big stories. Factoids that make you want to delve even deeper into the topic, most often the why. Why did it get this way? Why is that the next step? Why did that happen? Then this journalist adds elements that are connectors. (Remember the other big reason why people get on FB each night.) Not cheesy “do you agree” throwaway pitches. Actual exchanges between people on social media.
I just have to say that simply deciding that you will look at the stories trending and make them the lead is not digitally savvy. It is an easy way out. Like the rip and read days. It will fail. It makes you look superficial and like you think the viewer is stupid. Do not under estimate the viewer who frankly is going digital to get information you are not providing. Do not give up on them either. Provide more information, in more accessible ways. Delve into the why in your digital elements. Give them a reason to want to connect to the story both on their tablets and on their big screens with great visuals and character development. These are just a few suggestions. But whatever you do, start with this thought: How can we give them more information? Not how can we manipulate them into watching? If you are into trending topics, you already saw it. That’s not NEWs. And frankly the audience hopes you are clued in enough to know it’s there. You do not have to prove you get them. Give them more of what they want: Information and ways to connect the dots. Many are way more analytical than you are giving them credit for being. For far too long, editorial meetings have been centered around what a group of people think the audience should know, based of those decision makers own personal interests and biases. Now you have powerful tools to see what they actually want to know, and what they are struggling to find out. Serve that. Then TV news might prove itself digitally savvy after all.