Sunday, February 15, 2009

Social Media vs Traditional Media: It's NOT a Contest

All the hand-wringing about Social Media vs. Traditional Media is starting to irritate me. It started when a friend from the UK sent me a link to a blog talking about the "first tweet" on Twitter related to the crash of Continental Airlines 3407.

Andrea Vascellari wrote "What’s impressive from the communication point of view it’s to see that the information about the crash spread much faster through social media channels rather on traditional ones."

Another tweet found it strange that it took the 24-hour news networks two hours to get the news onto their airwaves.

We all need a little reality check here. It's not particularly impressive (or even surprising) that a guy who lives a few miles from the crash reported on it before CNN did. And strange that it took two hours? As John McEnroe used to say, "You cannot possibly be serious!"

Let's say I work at CNN and for some reason I happen to follow Buffalo Best Buy manager Keith Burtis. Here's what I would have seen:

Am I going to break into programming to announce that Keith Burtis is reporting a plane crash a few miles from his house? No, I'm not.

I'm going to do things like find out who the hell Keith Burtis is and where he lives. Then I'm going to call credible sources like the county sheriff's department, the Buffalo Airport, the FAA. I'll start monitoring the social networks to see if there is other chatter.

In going back and forth with Neil Chapman, a veteran PR guy and superb crisis communicator who posts from time to time at CrisisBlogger, he pointed out that traditional media's competitive advantage in the information space is accuracy. It is the same advantage a company has when using social media.

When Flight 1549 splashed into the Hudson, Chapman says (and I agree with him) that US Air could have used social media to let people know that they were:

*Contacting relatives
*Offering counseling to anyone caught up in the terrible events
*Making sure people had somewhere to stay
*Ensuring relatives could be reunited with loved ones as soon as possible

A company involved in an incident will ultimately be a better, more credible source of information in a crisis than bystanders or witnesses. But if they aren't part of the conversation. Companies information is valuable not for what people heard or saw or felt, but for what is being done about the incident.

All journalism is about how events impact people. Companies must use Social Media to get the word out about how they responding and helping the people impacted by it.

I'm not knocking or criticizing anyone who used Social Media for this event or that uses it for any other information dissemination that matter. But the "first tweet" isn't the finish line. It's the starting gun.

Bill Salvin


  1. Outstanding post, Bill. Neil has mentioned you to me several times and I am eager for us to get acquainted. I'll be speaking on Social Media and Crisis Communications at the Ragan/PRSA conference in Las Vegas in mid-March. This has given additional food for thought and perhaps a quotation or two. Thanks and looking forward to meeting.

  2. Really enjoyed this post. Great insights and deeper thought on a topic that we usually gloss over. Assuming that the on-demand type of media is best always, you've helped me to see a different POV! Thanks!

  3. Definite a great reality check post. When comparing social media and traditional media, there are few comparisons. Traditional media's job is to get out news, accurately. Social media is not so much about news as about observations, what's going on, links to sources of information (typically, traditional media), what you're doing, etc.

    There will always be the traditional media and a need for it. However, to survive, it does have to get "social."