Study: Social Media Closing In on Newspaper Websites

(Aug. 13) — Here’s a bit of news to share* with your friends: According to a study conducted by United Kingdom based iCD Research, social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are catching up to major news websites when it comes to which source users turn to for breaking news.

The picture is not at all bad for traditional newspapers, which are managing to stay afloat despite heavy declines in their standard circulations, but the research results do provide the latest illustration of how the worlds of new and old media continue to collide. Surge Desk takes a look at where this latest study finds the Fourth Estate.

Social Network Use Shoots Up

Based on results from the 1,000-person survey, conducted exclusively in the United Kingdom, 50.4 percent of consumers still favor the BBC website as their primary breaking-news platform, but social media tops all other contenders, coming in at a strong second with 18.4 percent.

As more and more people log on to social networks (Facebook recently eclipsed 500 million users) for more and more time each day (jumping from roughly 3 to 5.5 hours a month during 2009, the Nielsen Co. reported earlier this year via Marketing Charts), it should not be surprising that their news-consumption habits should migrate to social media networks as well.

Dead-Tree Media Still Standing, But On Uneven Footing

The report dovetails with increasing fears over the fate of the traditional “dead-tree” publications. Newspaper circulation in the developed world dropped precipitously between 2007 and 2009 (by 30 percent in the U.S. and 25 percent in the U.K., respectively, according to one estimate). News websites have been seen as the next logical means for those outlets to hang onto readers, and this year started out better than any in a long time for newspapers in that sense, with properties attracting record traffic to their websites in the first quarter of the year.

Of course, social media continues to change the game: In the iCD study, not a single British newspaper website topped the social media category, with the pay-walled Times of London website receiving a paltry 5.4 percent in support.

The Great Tumblr Rush

Interestingly, while many traditional media organizations are attempting to use Facebook and Twitter to redirect traffic to their main sites (with less-than-stellar results, at best), there is one, lesser-known, less-trafficked social media platform that has lately become something of a magnet for news websites, despite its novelty and unfamiliarity: Tumblr — the weird microblog platform that fills a niche somewhere between Facebook and Twitter and eschews the now-standard comment threads in favor of a “reblog” option.

Traditional media heavy hitters such as The New York Times and The Atlantic are reportedly having “a field day” on Tumblr. But the definition of a “field day” in this case may be a bit overstated. So far, many of the websites have simply staked out domains on the service (ironically, the financially strapped Newsweek was one of the first, and so far few, to actually carve out a decent Tumblr-exclusive content presence), so it remains to be seen just how they will employ it and how effective it will be at drawing readers to their main websites.

Tablet Gamble

Add to that today’s revelation that News Corp. publisher Rupert Murdoch will launch an all-digital U.S. “national newspaper” specifically formatted for mobile and tablet devices such as the iPad, and what you have is … well, an unprecedented new/old-media collision, in which a sustainable 21st century business model remains as elusive as ever.

Of course, there are diehard holdouts to all of this newfangled social-media mumbo-jumbo. Among the respondents to the British study, 276 indicated that they straight up “do not get their news from the Internet.” Maybe they are waiting for someone to get it right?


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