It’s no secret the traditional news industry is on the ropes. Recently, the BBC slashed another 1,000 jobs. Viewership on US news networks like Fox, CNN and MSNBC has dropped 19 percent since 2009. Newspapers have cut more than a third of their workforce in the last 25 years.
But here’s the thing: these dismal stats don’t reflect actual demand. Viewers and readers aren’t abandoning the news; instead, they’re switching over to social media and other online sources in droves. The number of people who consume news via major social networks has significantly spiked in just two years, with the majority of Twitter users (63 percent) and Facebook users (63 percent) now saying they get their news from the platforms.
Not surprisingly, social media giants have been racing to take advantage of this increasing demand—bringing in more and more news elements to their platforms and making it easier than ever for users to get convenient, timely information via their social feeds. In the years to come, social media will only have a bigger impact on how news is distributed, consumed (and ultimately monetized). To get an idea of what the future might look like, here’s peek inside the playbooks of some of the biggest players:
Facebook: All things to all people… for now
According to a recent report, Facebooknow drives more traffic to news sites than Google. Indeed, any avid Facebook user will have noticed in the last couple of years that the network has become increasingly focused on news delivery. This is the result of tweaks to their algorithm to funnel to the top our feeds more popular and highly shared articles—versus just friends’ vacation photos and personal updates.
In another push further into news distribution, this spring Facebook released a new feature called Instant Articles, launching with nine major partner publishers including the New York Times, Buzzfeed and National Geographic. Partner outlets can “publish” articles right within Facebook’s iOS app, where they can quickly reach much bigger audiences. To sweeten the pot, they’ll make money doing it: Facebook is (for now) giving publishers 100 percent of revenue from ads appearing inside the articles. More recently, Facebook has opened up a feature that lets verified journalists stream video directly to users’ feeds—a privilege previously available only to celebs and public figures.
While critics have warned that this type of pivot gives Facebook far too much power in the publishing space, others suggest it could actually help kickstart a media industry desperately in need of more readers, advertising and revenue.
But it doesn’t stop there. Rumor has it that Facebook is also working on a breaking news tab. Similar to Twitter, the real-time news app will allow partnering publications to send instant mass mobile alerts to followers. Meanwhile, Facebook subsidiary Instagram has recently unveiled its own real-time events feature called Explore,which lets users in real-time find images based on trending Tags and Places.
The bottom line
Facebook is deep in the social news game, showing no signs of slowing down. And with a staggering base of nearly 1.5 billion users globally, Zuckerberg and co. are currently best poised to dominate the space.
Twitter: Still a serious contender—if it can get it right
Twitter has long been a go-to social media source for news hounds. In fact, despite a major decline in stock price,the summer resignation of former CEO Dick Costolo and flagging user growth, the number of people who get their news via Twitter has actually increased 10 percent over the last 2 years.
So if Twitter can find a way to play up its existing strengths, it can remain a serious contender in the news space. In July, co-founder and former CEO Evan Williams hit the nail on the head when he spoke out on what he believes remains Twitter’s core strength: news delivery: “I think Twitter primarily is a news system,” said Williams. “Early on we didn’t necessarily know what it was. We thought social networks.”
The company certainly seems to be making moves in that right direction. There’s already substantial positive buzz around the network’s newly-released Moments feature (formerly-called ‘Project Lightning’), which offers users curated real-time news via the platform. Crucially, Moments pulls in Periscope videos and Vines as well, offering a more innovative and robust experience for users.
Furthermore, in August Twitter also introduced an experimental news tab feature for iOS and Android, which pulls in top daily news headlines from trusted sources alongside top trending Tweets. Both the news tab and Moments curate the top Tweets from Twitter’s main feed and present them in more digestible formats for audiences. In this way, Twitter’s raw feed—as we know it—seems to be evolving into a more intelligent content engine, akin to Facebook’s feed. This evolution could be just the exciting twist Twitter needs to keep its existing 316 million active monthly users engaged, while pulling in untapped newsies worldwide.
The bottom line
Don’t count Twitter out yet. If new CEO Jack Dorsey manages to execute on Moments and other planned changes in news delivery, it can remain a powerhouse in the evolving news space.
Snapchat: A formidable underdog
The recent leak of Snapchat’s financials indicate that in terms of generating revenue, the ephemeral social network still has a long way to go. The news has some even questioning its staggering $16 billion valuation (which makes Snapchat currently the fifth highest-valued private venture-backed company in the world).
However, while Snapchat might not yet have the earning power of Facebook or Twitter, it’s very much a force to be reckoned with in the changing news industry. First, Snapchatters are mostly between 13 and 25 years old, compared to Facebook users, who average out at 40. Second, while Snapchat may “only” have 100 million daily active users compared to Facebook’s 968 million, its user base is the fastest growing of any social network.
Even more titillating for traditional publishers is that Snapchat has been busy testing out innovative ways to connect its young audience with fresh news content. In fact, the network pioneered many of the types of news features that were later released by popular networks like Facebook. Snapchat launched Discover in January 2015, partnering with big name publishers like Buzzfeed, Vice and the Daily Mail, months before Facebook revealed Instant Articles. Snapchat also launched its highly successful Live Stories feature more than a year ago. It consists of custom-curated photo and video montages pulled from users at popular events around the world, like Coachella or the MTV Music Awards. These already draw in an impressive 20 million viewers on average, per day.
Where Snapchat will take this all next is still unclear, but there are certainly no signs it’s slowing down (profit or not).
The bottom line
Snapchat is still an underdog in the news race, but with its young and hip userbase and history of innovation, Facebook and Twitter should be looking over their shoulders.
Twitter + Google (a.k.a. Alphabet): The could-be game-changer
In May, Google made a surprise announcement: Tweets would soon begin showing up in mobile searches—the first time that comprehensive results from Twitter have been available in Google since 2011. In August, it expanded the partnership further to include Tweets in desktop search. This tighter relationship between Google and Twitter is not going unnoticed, and many have been speculating it’s only a sign of something bigger to come. For months, industry experts have predicted acquisition may be on the horizon. Twitter investor Chris Sacca recently described a union between Twitter and Google to be “an instant fit.”
It’s a valid guess. Especially with the demise of Google+, Google currently lacks influence in social, mobile and native advertising. Social sharing has quickly become nearly as important a traffic driver for both content and advertising as search is, and this makes access to real-time social data even more crucial for Google’s future. Acquiring Twitter would instantly help boost Google’s competitiveness in these particular areas. In the meantime, last week Google revealed it is also working with Twitter on an open source project for faster-loading articles across the web.
If Google in fact does buy Twitter, this could rock the playing field—not just for the future of news distribution and consumption, but on many different fronts. Finding ways to further integrate Twitter with the world’s biggest search engine, not to mention Google-owned YouTube, which boasts 1 billion users, could produce some very interesting results.
The bottom line
Even with Dorsey officially back at the helm, a Twitter acquisition is not out of the question. And if Google (a.k.a. Alphabet) bites, it could shake up not just the news industry, but a lot more.
So in the great social media newsification race, who will come out on top? Will it be Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Google or an unforeseen contender? Certainly, there are plenty of smaller social digital news tools that are picking up speed in the quickly-evolving landscape. Take for instance Flipboard, the ‘personal digital magazine,’ which collects content from social media and other websites and presents it to you in a flippable format. Flipboard has reported a remarkable 75 percent jump in user growth in 6 months, clocking in at over 70 million monthly active users as of June. Meanwhile, I now get a lot of my news from another handy news app called Nuzzel, a social news aggregator, which taps into my Twitter and Facebook accounts and delivers to me only the top shared daily news stories in my networks.
The late communications theorist Marshall McLuhan once said, “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.” Ten years ago, movements like Ferguson or the Egyptian Revolution—which surfaced large-scale injustices and important societal issues—would never have had the same reach without technologies like Twitter and the rise of digital-enabled citizen journalism. New technologies—from social media networks to the smartphones and tablets we access them by—may be paving a way for a much bigger communication revolution in the decades to come.