Traditional media – less relevant, yet far from irrelevant

Imagine a street musicians that you pass by every single day on your way to work. One day the street musician is approached by the editor of a niche music magazine. Next, he has a feature in that very magazine. While the feature targets a relatively limited readership and does not directly result in increased record sales a blogger reports the story. The story is further re-blogged. And then again. Social networks increase awareness and generate buzz. A media reportage by a local news media follows. The amount of awareness and buzz has increased to such a degree that a review on the musician is written by a journalist in a major newspaper. Ultimately, the interaction between social and traditional media amplifies the impact of a small feature in a niche magazine to a degree which does affect record sales.

What the above demonstrates is the symbiotic relationship between old and new media.

Despite the increasing relevance of social media traditional media, including television, radio, newspapers, magazines and print, still has a role to play in marketing communications, journalism and PR. In fact, social and traditional media are considered to jointly influence marketing performance, affect each other and marketing results as well.

Two theories have been gaining ground as regards the dichotomy between social and mass media. One claims that social media follows topics, gets leads and sources its content from mass media. A news cycle study examined memes on 1.6 million mass media Web pages. It claimed that memes first appear in mass media and are only then spread to the blogosphere. The other, more recent theory, declares that social media follows its own script and is largely being used as a leads source from mass media. A study by an ex-journalist reported that bloggers almost exclusively use original source and reporting, particularly in regards to local topics.

Such a relationship is more and more pronounced and signifies the importance of both types of media in driving marketing performance. One example is pitching a story. While doing it directly to traditional media outlet can be much more difficult and achieve less, using social media to generate buzz and make traditional media aware of a brand, product, service or a campaign which it would not have noticed otherwise. 

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Another study found out that while both types of media impact marketing performance when measured in single units social media is considerable less impactful. Yet, this is counteracted by its much larger volume. While social media is considered high-volume and low-margin, mass media is the opposite – low-volume and high-margin. And it is indeed this complementing relationship in which the role of social media is to act as a brokerage in an information flow network and for mass media to be impactful.

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In 2009 the “point of no return” was crossed – there were more digitally connected devices than there were people on our planet. And indeed, the Internet and social media are redefining the nature of our social, cultural, political and economic lives. While mass media, press, radio, television have been the most important channels of communications only a few decades ago, now social media is taking the scene to provide a voice for the individual and change the status quo in both businesses and in society.

However, even though social media is becoming more and more relevant mass media is still here. It is counteracting, communicating and working together with social media so as to create a well-functioning, symbiotic relationship. And while it is becoming less relevant, it is not likely that it will become irrelevant any time soon.

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The blog is part three of a series on the changing media landscape. Read part 1 or part 2.

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