By Ashley Rindsberg, Thursday, April 8, 2010, at 3:20 pm.
During the protracted health-care debate, it quickly became clear that the media put a premium on accessing information: Even C-SPAN, the cable industry’s nonstop outlet for televised government affairs, had to challenge the Obama administration to open the doors to the process. In the meantime, Americans would have to make do with the networks—Fox News, CNN, The Washington Post and other major media outlets—to get the juice on health care.
Just as the media seems to be at the apex of its influence on society, it’s also at its greatest crossroads for change. The fact that this writing is being placed on a blog—and that there is no need to explain what a blog is—shows the extent to which media has changed.
Factor in the unlimited success of Facebook and Twitter, and consider that MySpace is old news; figure that the idea of a newspaper printing press seems to many people like a quaint contraption from an industrial past; remember that the once untouchable New York Times appears to flirt quarterly with bankruptcy…and you can begin to understand the depth of change occurring.
Because you’re reading this blog post, you might assume your neighbors are just as Internet-savvy. Think again.
The “U.S. Mind and Mood Report” from Euro RSCG Worldwide PR and Euro RSCG Life, just out last week, found that 62.2 percent of respondents have never used social media. But the trend must be drastically different for politically interested people, you might argue, remembering Howard Dean’s “netroots” constituency in the 2004 presidential campaign or even the very wired Obama campaign of 2007-08. And you’d be wrong again.
Sixteen percent more Americans would rather not voice political opinions by social media, and have their politicians listen in, than the number of those who would, the Euro white paper finds. When it comes to having “more open dialogues with politicians via social media” the net response is -16.5 percent. And 18 percent more respondents disagree with the statement “I would like to have ongoing communication with my local politicians via social media” than the number of people who agree with it.
So what’s all the fuss about? The last time something this big happened socially was back in the late 1960s, when the “flower power” movement was not only instrumental in getting the United States out of a major war but also had a transformative effect on all of American, and probably global, culture. The size of that movement, as indicated by the critical mass of 100,000 hippies who descended on San Francisco in the summer of 1967, was tiny relative to America’s population of about 200 million people at the time.
The “U.S. Mind and Mood Report” found that 12.9 percent of people overall have used social media, and 17.0 percent of 18-to-39-year-olds have. Although the numbers might seem small, like the hippies of ‘67, social media users of today have discovered something irresistible—and they’re eagerly sharing it with others. As the report said: “These are significantly high percentages for a type of technology and usage that were virtually unknown just five years ago. As part of an overall mix of media contact points, social media is likely to become part of the mainstream.”
For the moment, though, Americans are clinging to traditional media. Euro’s white paper found that 45.8 percent of respondents pay attention to local TV reporting (15.3 percent don’t), while 39.3 percent pay attention to local press reporting (print or online), compared with 18.4 percent who don’t.
On the other hand, social media fares far worse than what could be considered unidirectional media, with 37.8 percent more people not paying attention to social media for information than those who do. In the blogosphere the distance is even greater, with 54.5 percent more people not paying attention to blogs than the number of those who do.
“The real drivers were old school e-mail and Web [traditional websites for the campaign]. We did build a social networking [presence] but it was Web and e-mail,” David Plouffe, President Obama’s campaign manager, said about the campaign’s use of digital and social media. “It was an historic marriage, in U.S. politics at least, between digital technology and grassroots [campaigning].”
Plouffe’s point cuts to the heart of the matter: Despite their ambivalence about social networks, Americans still want to see political candidates show a presence in the social media sphere. In fact, a net 30.7 percent of “Mind and Mood” respondents believed candidates should “take an active role in social media” (a significant 37.1 percent agreed and just 6.4 percent disagreed). But, at the same time, a net 29.8 percent agreed (39.9 percent agreed and 10.1 percent disagreed) that “politicians should use social media as a tool, but only in moderation.”
Social media is about transparency and being in touch—two qualities that the electorate demands. But it also incorporates a kind of digital distance, with real personalities obscured by user names and an off-the-cuff approach to messaging that doesn’t sit well with voters.
Social media also distances people from their own locale. Voters want to see candidates at the local diner or town hall; what could be the social media equivalent of a handshake on Main Street? Although this feeling is changing, and hyperlocalization has become one of the hottest trends in social media today, it’s far from entrenched.
In the meantime, even though people are still watching TV news and reading newspapers, it has become clear—witness Rupert Murdoch’s recent announcement of establishing a pay gate to two of his most popular news sites—that the shift of news from pulp to pixel is inevitable.
In tomorrow’s post, see what the findings of the “U.S. Mind and Mood Report” mean for America in the future.
This entry was posted on Thursday, April 8th, 2010 at 3:20 pm. It is filed under Features, Politics, Social Media, Technology and tagged with blog, campaign, change, Facebook, Health and Wellness, hyperlocalization, Media, Obama, social networking, Twitter. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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