Social media vs traditional news sources: How the UK differs from other countries


The first Reuters Institute Digital Report has attracted much coverage in the UK for the finding that 16-24 year olds in this country now use social media as their primary news source. This highlights the changing way that consumers are getting information, and what they are doing with it. But perhaps more interesting for us to learn from is how social media as a new source varies by country - showing not only how consumer behaviour changes by market, but how traditional brands are innovating.

Traditional brands vs aggregators vs social media

Traditional brands vs aggregators vs social media

The research, conducted by YouGov, compares news consumption in the UK, USA, Germany, France and Denmark, looking at how traditional brands (online news and broadcasters) compares with aggregators (such as Google News) and social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter and the like).

Behaviour in these countries varies, with the USA leading for use of social media as a news source (41% of all consumers), followed by Germany (30%) and Denmark (28%) before the UK (22%) and France (21%). So when compared against these countries, use of social media for news in the UK appears to be less developed than reports are suggesting. However, the truth is probably a little more complex than this.

In the UK, traditional news sources are still very strong - with 86% of consumers having used them in the previous week; and it is striking to compare this with Germany and France where only 69% of consumers have gone to these sources. Perhaps there is a connection between the relatively high use of traditional news sources in the UK, and the relatively low use of social media when compared to the other countries in the study.

The study distinguishes social media sites (Facebook, blogs and Twitter) from traditional brands - focusing on the different places that people get information. However, how social media is changing consumer behaviour is often less about the places people go and more about the changed behaviour itself. And in the UK, the more traditional news brands have been fast to change the way they engage with their audiences - the BBC and Guardian, for example, have been quick to innovate with live blogging, data journalism and other ways to adapt their delivery of information as consumer behaviours change.

So, in the UK at least it is these ‘traditional’ news brands that are offering the new ways of engaging with people and content that better reflect how consumer behaviour itself is changing.

The impact of social media on news, as with any industry, should not just be measured in how many people go to new destinations for content and information. Perhaps even more important is to look at how traditional players in the market innovate and change as consumer behaviour itself changes; how they offer new and engaging services which mean that consumers don’t look elsewhere for their needs.

Examples of online communities in the TV industry


Yeti TV
Image by Glebkach via Flickr

We return this week to our series of Online Community Examples. There is a lot of talk about the way ‘old’ and ‘new’ media combine - how newspapers are using Twitter and how television broadcasters and production companies are working with online media. So this week we take a look specifically at examples of online communities in the TV industry

Online communities in the TV industry

The TV industry has a relatively long history of online communities - both fan sites and sites sponsored by the brand itself. People like to discuss both within the fantasy of a programme (fan plot lines, character diaries and so forth) and also discuss the content itself - evaluating what happened, talking about the acting, new characters or a twist in the plot. What is more, there is a real rise in people discussing TV programmes whilst they are being broadcast - people combining the online community experience and the TV experience simultaneously. This industry is fertile ground for online community examples, as the three case studies below show.

Rate My Space

HGTV in the US set up their Rate My Space online community to accompany their broadcast schedule which, as their full name suggests is Home and Garden Television. The concept was originally very simple. Users could upload an image and brief description of a room or part of their house that had been renovated. Others could then vote for or comment on these images.

As we’ve discussed before, simple concepts can often be the best ones in online communities, and so it proved in this case. HGTV wanted to both generate engagement and discussions with it’s viewers, and to use the increased volumes of content to increase revenue from advertising on the site. And from an outside perspective they seem to have done both quite successfully. Just looking at the site you can see the speed at which images have views, votes and comments - the engagement they have created and the interest in the site is huge. And also there are reports of considerably increased traffic and advertising revenue from those parts of their site that have online community elements.

A further sign of the success of Rate My Space as an online community site is that it has now spun off a TV programme of it’s own. Users are asked to pick rooms on the site that inspire them and then a designer will come to their home and use elements from these to make over a room in their house. So an online community grew out of the broadcast element, and then a new broadcast element grew out of the online community.


Heroes is a well-known case study of how a range of online community and social network tools can be used to support a TV show. It is also a good example of how a hub and spoke approach to social media strategy can be the most successful. As well as a central hub (NBC’s Heroes site) they had presences in a range of spokes - other social networks and sites where viewers and fans might be. This approach allowed them to engage with users in a place and in a manner that was appropriate to them, but also to bring them back to their own site where they could share their interest for the show and meet people like them.

The range of spokes employed by Heroes was extensive and impressive, from the Ninth Wonder fan site, through social networks like Facebook and MySpace, to widgets, games and a Wiki that explained everything Heroes. The benefit of this approach for them was that it enabled them to reach out to people where they were, often in very active fan sites, and then bring them back to their own territory where they could interact with them and get value from this. They also worked the other way - letting those on their site take widgets and content out to their other social networks and communities and spread the word for the show.

This shows that sometimes, in fact in our experience more often than not, a standalone online community does not get the most benefit possible from your target audience. You need to work with the other discussions and online communities out there and build a hub and spoke model of engagement. Engage where people are but as a way to bring them back to your site, where you can both get most benefit.

The Sex Education Show

Channel 4 in the UK has run two frank and educational series on sex and sexuality as part of their public service remit. The first, the Sex Education Show, gave advice and information on sex issues. The second, the Sex Education Show vs Porn, looked at how the portrayal of sex in porn compares with real life experiences. Both shows were successful and both were accompanied by a strong online community: Sexperience.

The subject matter of the programme was clearly sensitive, but also highly suited to an online medium. Subjects that can seem sensitive or difficult to discuss face-to-face can be much easier to talk about online. Especially in an online community where you know you are with people like you. You have the benefit of the level of anonymity that online can bring, with the reassurance and community feeling that you get in a well-nurtured online community. And this is why on Sexperience you get a range of discussions that would not happen elsewhere - discussions on penis size, premature ejaculation, and sexually transmitted diseases.

An online community can be a safe place and can be a place for people to share information, ask questions and suggest answers on a common theme, subject or issue. The Sexperience site does this well - encouraging and nurturing discussions on sensitive subjects alongside videos, blogs and forums that support this content. Factual programmes and in particular programmes that deal with more sensitive issues or subject matters are prime targets for successful online communities. You can add real value and real service, and you can encourage people to engage at a level they might not otherwise.

See all our Online Community Examples

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PR 2.0 - or how to engage people online


I came across this set of slides from Joery Bruijntjes about PR 2.0. How the world of Public Relations has moved on from a traditional (1.0) world where journalists are the middleman, to a new (2.0) world where people create their own content. And how

For me the slides are a great overview of how to engage consumers and enter a conversation with them, it highlights the need to understand who they are and how to reach them. Take a look at the slides below.

  • The Art of Conversation - It’s About Listening Not Marketing
  • When Private Details Become Part of Public Relations
  • Why online PR matters as much as print or perhaps even more
  • Lost In Translation [Public Relations]
  • “The Conversation” Continues:
  • The Art of Conversation - It’s About Listening Not Marketing

How to avoid convergence collision


At the E-consultancy Future of Digital Media conference last week the focus was on two magic words “relevance” and “engagement”. In Ian Jindal’s stimulating and lively talk he correctly pointed out that marketing hasn’t actually changed much, even though where we choose to communicate our messages may have. Consumers are at saturation point so the only thing left is for companies to get better at attracting customers from their competitors. The ‘How’ was the focus of the day. There were three themes:

  1. engaging customers around content using publishing techniques
  2. how to add a layer of social discovery around your brand
  3. finding ways to manipulate data to do our marketing for us

Many Intermediaries, product manufacturers and retailers are developing strategies around multimedia content to engage customers. Thomas Cook showed a particularly impressive video of their new 360 degree marketing strategy, complete with store front touch screens, co-browsing between customer and agent and every conceivable video clip you could imagine to show you what your resort will be like when you get there (which somehow I felt took the discovery out of it). The issue for most companies with this approach is the sheer cost of it and the skill sets needed to become programmers and publishers, as well as focus on your core business. The other issue was that there was one viewpoint that appeared to be missing from the strategy – the customer’s! Thomas Cook is still in broadcast mode.

The jury was out when it comes to engaging customers effectively using social network sites like Facebook. Brands are just not managing to attract the levels of fans they would like and I believe that it’s because people are, well, hanging out with friends and simply not in buying mode. Companies that have developed non intrusive, useful and engaging tools like Mydeco’s Roomshare seem to be having more success. Considering 56% people go to a brands home page to check out information first, it might be better to find a way to encourage people to stay there. For sectors like Insurance, where aggregator sites like and cashback sites like have contributed to a reduction of customer lifetime value from 3-5yrs to 1-2yrs, the focus has to be on finding better ways of retaining their customers once they are delivered to their door.

Understanding data is essential to running any business and more importantly what action you take from looking at it. The new kid on the block is APML or attention profiling markup language. It is a common standard to describe your interests, likes and dislikes and how much each means to you (weighting). The idea is that your attention profile is owned by you and is portable so you can decide which websites you want to share it with for more relevant surfing. Currently Amazon is the only company doing a good job of recommending to us what we’re interested in but they own your profile and the process isn’t transparent. In theory it’s a great way to reduce information overload but it feels like a very long way off, if at all feasible. When I think about how I tag my bookmarks with words like ‘cop’ (which to me means community of practice, not policeman) and when I think about how often I change my likes and dislikes, it feels like someone is going to have to do a lot of work to maintain this profile (either me or a very clever programmer). I would love to hear your thoughts on this whole area!

Don’t get me wrong, as data fragments into smaller, accessible pieces, there are many innovative ways to play it back to your customers in really useful ways. Some good examples that add a valuable social layer for customers include the new AMEX Members Know community where members can see the most popular hotels and restaurants based on anonymous purchase data and Flickr’s use of the Exif data hidden in your digital photos about which camera was used to take a photograph which is the served up as a league table of the best digital cameras. We’re going to see a lot more of this.

I tend to agree with Simon Waldman of the Guardian who commented that sometimes qualitative measures like “Why are you on our site and did you get what you came for?” are equally important. Having conversations with your customers might just reveal what they actually want from you!