Originally posted to on the Terralever blog November 2, 2010:
Last night around 8 pm, I settled in for Monday Night Football and a nap. I haven’t gotten a lot of sleep lately – work hard, play hard, live hard is common for Terraleverians. I awoke 3 hours later to ESPN SportsCenter and a great segment on the new World Champion San Francisco Giants. This year’s Giants were a scrappy team of misfits that wanted it more than anyone else. As I hopped online to knock off a couple to do items before calling it a night, I stumbled across the #SFriot tag on Twitter. Giants fans’ celebrations had turned dangerous, complete with crowds, bonfires, vandalism and physical violence. Coverage was all over Twitter, as were links to listen in on SFPD scanners in real-time. As I tuned in, all thoughts of sleep went out the window.
Twitter hashtags are great for real-time updates on a trending topic, but painfully limited when you want the background story. Search engines, on the other hand, are great for this. Google search results for “san francisco riots” returned Mashable’s story on the riots in coveted top slot. Mashable’s story was posted within a couple of hours of the first reports, and painted a quick picture of transpiring events by leveraging citizen journalism – documented accounts of news events reported by members of the public.
It would be easy to cite this as yet another example of the power of social media to break and share news quicker than traditional outlets, just as it was during the Hudson River plane crash and the Haiti earthquake. But that’s a rickety bandwagon. Real-time channels can quickly become muddled by virtual onlookers contributing their own commentary on current events. It happened with #SFriot, where jokes about hipsters and social commentary on, of all things, social media culture.
What is compelling about this particular incident is that social and technology news sites, such as Mashable, TechCrunch, and Gawker dominated the results for two of Google search verticals: aggregated web search and news search. Within the aggregated vertical, after the first three results, Google returned results for other riots. Did traditional news outlets not consider last night’s riots significant enough to cover in a timely fashion? Were they all asleep? Or maybe Google just wasn’t sure my interest was current or historical. Changing the search paramaters to San Francisco (instead of local) had no effect on the quantity or ordering of results.
What does it say when Mashable and TechCrunch rank highest for current events and news search? These sites aren’t focused on general public awareness or safety. They are focused on cultural relevance, but from a very niche viewpoint – social media technologies. Mashable’s post was sufficiently grave, but it was written to showcase the real-time nature of social media and citizen journalism.
As a business or individual, your ‘news’ may not be of the scale or nature of last night’s riots, but right about now, you should be thinking how this changes your outreach and coverage strategies when you have a story to tell.
- Is your ‘news’ really news? Determine whether the information you have affects society at large, a local municipality or just your own customer base.
- What sites and sources are most likely to consider your information newsworthy? Is it editorial content for journalists or conversation points for niche-interest sites?
- What, exactly, is the angle that each of your targeted sites is going for? How do you fit?
- Are you presenting your content in a way that aligns with the goals and audiences of your targeted sites?
- Are you in it for the coverage? Or are you interested in building a relationship with the editors and audiences of each outlet?
Answer those questions, and you’ll know whether traditional media will sleep on your news too and if your strategy should focus on social news and citizen media.