A publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

Social media increasingly the conduit for online traffic, say content pioneers

The comments section for stories posted online is dead and social media now king, according to a number of prominent figures in online media.

Words by Liam Clark
 

“Blog posts that would once get hundreds of comments are now lucky to get five comments,” fashion blogger Phoebe Montague told a New News session, ‘Hashtag Successful’. “But it’s now all being shared over Twitter and Instagram.”

Montague, who edits the online site Lady Melbourne, was joined on the panel by prominent social media users and content creators, who discussed how journalists and others could build an online presence.

A columnist for the ABC’s The Drum, Tim Dunlop, said the rapid rate of change had “empowered consumers” and changed them from “passive recipients into active contributors”.

“My job didn’t exist 10 years ago and half of the platforms I now use [to spread my content] didn’t exist five years ago.” — Phoebe Montague, editor of fashion site Lady Melbourne

“We’re not in Kansas anymore. The rise of social media has been one of the defining characteristics in the disruption that is new media. It has been an amazing decade.”

In fact, the term new media had “become a bit passé”, he added. “It should probably just be called media now.”

While the majority of panellists agreed that maintaining a presence on social media was critical, there was little consensus about which platform reigned supreme.

Montague said it was crucial to know which platforms worked best for each content creator.

“Work with the platforms that work best for you,” she told an audience at the Wheeler Centre, in Melbourne. “For me, that’s Twitter, Pintrest and Instagram.

“My job didn’t exist 10 years ago and half of the platforms I now use [to spread my content] didn’t exist five years ago.

“But this is my job, this isn’t just something I do on my lunch break.”

The former editor of the National Indigenous Times, Amy McQuire, praised the ability of Facebook in connecting with Indigenous communities, while helping to build trust between them and the media.

“The relationship between Aboriginal people and the media has always been very negative,” she said. “By giving them a bit of yourself, Aboriginal journalists can give something back.”

Dr Ashleigh Witt, who curates the Twitter handle @westudentdocs, which features different medical students, said social media had broken down traditional barriers between the public and journalists.

“Previously, it was virtually impossible to speak to journalists, and now you can communicate with them personally and the better journalists will usually take your criticisms and make their next content stronger.”

Red Cross social media manager Isabelle Oderberg said journalists no longer had a monopoly on getting information to the public.

“Previously, it was virtually impossible to speak to journalists, and now you can communicate with them personally and the better journalists will usually take your criticisms and make their next content stronger.” — Ashleigh Witt, curator of the Twitter handle @westudentdocs 

“It can be quite difficult to get your agenda out to mainstream media, and for the first time we’re being given an avenue to build an audience, create our own content and deliver it straight to those who are interested.

“You can see your audience. You can see what they’re engaging with and, most importantly, [what they are] sharing.”

Montague agreed, saying “you need to use your analytics. It’s how you know your family and your tribe.”

Buzzfeed reported last year that social media had become the number one conduit for referring browsers to specific online sites.

McQuire said this had not changed in the past year.

“People don’t go to home pages anymore, they’re getting their content [more] from social media,” she added.

Dunlop referred to social media as being “the New Front Page”, a notion that he drew on for the title of a recent book.

But even though social media had grown in importance, the panel agreed that generating an audience took dedication and knowledge.

Oderberg’s advice was simple: “Create good content and give people a reason to care.”

Montague agreed: “You need to have some good content if you want to ask people for some of their time.”

Dr Witt added that “you need to create content that people will want to consume and share. You need to have stuff people will retweet.”

Oderberg said that this, in turn, would pay dividends.

“Creating better content that people share and like more gives you more presence in the Facebook algorithm, [even if] Facebook itself admits that they don’t fully understand how their algorithm works.”

Although the panel agreed that the social media’s influence was increasing rapidly, Dunlop reminded the audience that the future was still unknown.

“We’re still at the bottom of the learning curve and none of us have any idea what it’s going to look like in five years’ time.”

About The Citizen

THE CITIZEN is a publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism. It has several aims. Foremost, it is a teaching tool that showcases the work of the students in the University of Melbourne’s Master of Journalism and Master of International Journalism programs, giving them real-world experience in working for publication and to deadline. Find out more →

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