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This article was published on September 16, 2011

Social media is everywhere, but is print still valuable?

Social media is everywhere, but is print still valuable?

The growth of social media isn’t in doubt. More and more people are turning to social networks to communicate while more and more decision makers are turning to social platforms as well. But digital publications have a bit of a problem.

While social media may be seen as a ‘sexy’ platform that you can’t afford to ignore, it’s losing out to print media when it comes to being trustworthy. According to a recent survey, 62% of key opinion formers said they would react to a negative story if it was printed in the paper, while just 21% would if it happened in social media. So why is social media getting all the attention but not the trust?

The headline is the holy grail

There is no doubt that seeing your name in print still brings a pretty special feeling with it. You know it means something when this happens – for good or bad. And this largely comes down to exclusivity. A national newspaper will print less stories than a major blog because they are restricted by space. You know if you’ve made it into the paper that you’ve ‘made the cut’ whereas we know that blogs can potentially publish stories endlessly throughout the day.

While this does not mean that blogs/online news sites have any less strict editorial policies, you know that a paper only has one chance a day or week for a headline. When it’s online, you have multiple chances. So if you’ve hit the front page of a newspaper, you are going to be seen all day long, no matter when someone picks it up. With online, it’s not the case. You can get pushed further down, which if it’s a negative story can bring with at an (inaccurate) feeling that your story is kind of forgotten and you can move on.

This is, of course, a dangerous way to look at it. While there is a very physical experience to holding a paper in your hand and reading your or your company’s name, the actual impact on your reputation is no different to that of online. And let’s not forget that there’s no such thing as ‘tomorrow’s chip paper’ when it comes to online. You’re there forever, so why does the attitude persist that print matters more than digital?


It can be largely attributed to a misunderstanding of how social media functions. Because it’s seen as immediate and there is generally more content produced and shared, it’s easy to see a negative brand mention as just ‘one of many’ and that it will soon pass. But this shows a misunderstanding of just how influential social or digital platforms can be, and also a misunderstanding of how influential the person writing something is.

If you’re faced with a negative mention of you or your brand online, it can be easy to just take it at face value and see that one mention as the totality of the coverage. But if you look at how influential that individual might be across other platforms, you begin to see a different story. Then they have the power to tweet that story, influence other bloggers in their area, turn up in the search engine results for your brand, and you suddenly have a big problem on your hand. Ignoring something that’s said online ‘because’ it’s just said online shows that you might not understand what it is you’re dealing with.

Where did the story start?

What’s perhaps most amusing about the findings in this study is that it ignores where a story might actually have originated. Nearly all significant news stories will no doubt now start online, as it’s the most immediate medium for discussing and generating news. Further to this, a story can make the papers purely because of the hype that’s built up online. So while you may not feel something is important until you’ve seen it in print, the chances are you probably could have stopped it becoming a story worth printing altogether. Or failing that, you might have been able to influence the story that was printed, by acting fast online.

It’s likely that this change in thinking won’t happen as quickly, at least in the upper echelons of an organisation, because newspapers are steeped in tradition and remain much more of a physical experience than reading something online. But thinking about it in this way only brings with it risk, that you ignore something until it’s too late.

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