How social media news feeds have led to the rebirth of news

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Updated: May 17, 2016 3:50:04 PM

Our social media feeds are no longer densely packed only with updates from friends and family. Quick read articles and images/video based content have found their place among updates. What’s more, most of this content is being shared by traditional news companies

Our social media feeds are no longer densely packed only with updates from friends and family. Quick read articles and images/video based content have found their place among updates.Our social media feeds are no longer densely packed only with updates from friends and family. Quick read articles and images/video based content have found their place among updates.

There are chances that you may have come across the ‘news’ story about a mango vendor who sees Katrina Kaif as competition to his business. This original Humans of Bombay (HoB) Facebook post was circulated across multiple media outlets — traditional, digital, digital-only, video and what not, to reach the consumer. Or you may have come across a post illustrating the bond between a father and daughter created by Snezhana Soosh, the source credited to the artist’s Instagram account, vskafandre.

Then there is this article about a Syrian refugee named Refaai Hamo or ‘The Scientist’ who was invited to the State of Union address (USA) earlier this year. His story made waves via a Humans of New York post. Or consider the travel images posted by the now famous on Instagram #FollowMeTo couple.

Today, we are bombarded by the ‘10 things that…’, ‘20 places you must….’, ‘15 things every Indian…’ type of listicles which make extensive use of images or gifs, don’t require a lot of text and guarantee a healthy number of shares. Can a traditional media outlet compete with that? And does it need to?

Gauging which story can be popular on social media is being influenced less and less by editorial-digital policies made by media desks or editors. On social, it is the medium that is dictating what the digital pages of ‘traditional’ media outlets carry, to an extent. When something is already popular online, the piece of content has already proved its worth, given a sense of the estimated readership and can be indicative, sometimes, of the profile of the consumer reading it. What’s left now for the media outlet to do is to play the catch-up game and bring that content to a much wider audience.

The death of news as we know it Media has come a long way with reference to the manner in which it sources news. Ros Atkins, presenter, BBC World News Television at FICCI-FRAMES 2016 said, “On my show (Outside Source), if there is a credible news story from, say CNN, I show it to our audience. We have realised that if we don’t do this, the audience will not come to us.” News or content sourcing has gone beyond the syndication model the industry has been used to. So, arriving at a content sharing model that is ever evolving for the digital space is what media houses are grappling with.

Platforms such as Buzzfeed, ScoopWhoop, tumblr and Instagram are in a position to offer variety content at a higher frequency than set media establishments looking to cement their presence online. This is the space where the audience becomes the publisher every time it pushes content ahead. Angad Bhatia, business head, Indiatimes Lifestyle Network, Times Internet, says, “With the proliferation of social media, the world of news and content distribution is way more democratic than it has ever been. There is a lot of focus on platforms, streaming services, aggregation apps, etc but very few are focussed on creating meaningful content for those platforms.”

Indiatimes, he says, has seen over 50% increase in customer engagement since it started putting out content curated for social media and its other digital platforms.

The numbers may be few but the increasingly fragmented distribution on digital and mobile requires third parties to help out the media houses. This space has been occupied by content or news aggregators. Dolly Jha, executive director, Nielsen India, states that the environment within which content is consumed is of utmost importance, especially for a time-conscious consumer. “This is particularly so for advertisers in this space, where aggregators have a mix of quick updates, notifications, short snippets, etc,” she observes.

Show me the money

The addition of a third party comes with its own set of processes. Now the media house, in effect, has to be seen carrying content that not only pulls in advertisers for itself but also to generate advertiser interest for the platform it has sourced the content from. Consider the page HoB inspired by Humans of New York. HoB’s content is picked up by media outlets on a ‘first published by’ basis.

The only monetary stream it currently has is its recently released book. The platform will consider more mainstream means of monetisation within the next four or five years, states Humans of Bombay founder Karishma Mehta.

Aggregators need to crack the monetisation model much sooner than social pages if they want to be seen as a viable means of long-term content distribution. Inshorts, one such aggregator with a 74 member team led by Azhar Iqubal, is an example of where such players fit in. Azhar clarifies, “Our expertise lies in the development of product and technology, how fast we can deliver the experience, how well we can design the interface etc. We don’t want to be in competition with media.” The app, which delivers news in 60 word capsules, has a roster of five e-commerce players and over 30 content publishers. Monetisation plans are being worked on but the app plans to build its consumer base organically and not go the clickbait way. “User experience should not be compromised by clickbait. It is a short-term strategy which will only get you users the first time.”

Mobile Marketing Association (MMA)’s Mobile Native Advertising Guidance Report 2015 finds that when native ads were tested in Yahoo!’s premium content streams, they were found to have 23% higher ad quality scores and earned three times more time and attention than mobile banner ads. The report also states that 52% of active Pinners on Pinterest pull up Pins instore to guide purchase decisions and that 53% of daily users have purchased online or at a brick and mortar store because of a mobile native ad they saw on the platform. These may be global statistics, but a scale adjustment and estimations can give local publishers and advertisers some indicative milestones to reach for.

Jha cautions that knee-jerk reactions to moulding strategy heavily around native wouldn’t be advisable at this stage. In India, there are about 100 apps that account for more than 50% of cumulative reach, she adds. This is with the existing conditions of internet penetration. Milind Pathak, COO, Madhouse, notes that it is unadvisable to write off existing models and the equity that a media brand name carries with it. “On a general statement basis, traditional outlets are still leading the space. But the moment you go into news or content aggregator sites, the genres of content start changing dramatically. It isn’t one versus the other but depends on who best can fulfill a ‘content need’ at that particular time of the day,” he says. The tipping point, he adds, is trying to balance between domain knowledge (to cater to consumers looking for in-depth information on really specific issues) and the strength of the publication’s editorial forte.

Karan Gupta, founder and CEO,, sees the advertiser looking beyond the conventional numbers that earlier helped decide which publication to advertise with. “In the West, for publishers, it is more of a fulfilled value chain where everyone is moving together. That is what we don’t see in the Indian market or in APAC in terms of applying technology to help processes. They are either developing technologies in-house or developing partnerships to deliver to the advertisers.” A lot needs to be worked on from the publisher’s end too in terms of strategy. Gupta adds, “There are only a handful of publishers who have a cut-out social strategy of distributing content along with their traditional ways of distribution. Social in itself is a silo medium of content distribution. None of the publishers have a very pure-play social strategy.”

In a rush to crack what it takes to be the best and the fastest in the space, Bhatia warns against shortcuts. The onus, he says, is on the publishers to be transparent and fair in crediting the original source. Adding to that, scale is equally important with social networks shaping opinion by making content more democratic.

When a piece of content has had to originate from a social platform, grow organically, get noticed by the media, picked up and boosted further via distribution channels only to almost be on your timeline or phone, almost seen or clicked on, publishers can do well with going a step ahead beyond clickbait headlines or looping content through layers of ads. Because for attention, a publisher is competing as much with other media houses as it is with something like a 9GAG.

There is a lot of focus on platforms, streaming services, aggregation apps, etc but very few are focussed on creating meaningful content for those platforms

Angad Bhatia
Business head, Indiatimes Lifestyle Network, Times Internet

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