Update: Angie Muhs, of the Portland Press Herald, points out that the Press Herald does not automate its Twitter feed.
A new poll by Zogby says that Americans are more likely to trust social media such as Facebook and Twitter than mainstream media outlets, delivering a swift kick in the gut to an industry that’s still unsure what this Internet thing is all about.
What this all means for Maine’s media outlets — which have so far been lucky because Mainers, for the most part, still like their paper product — is unknown. But social media hasn’t always been a strong point for them. For the most part, the Twitter and Facebook feeds of the MaineToday Media papers KJ and MS are automated through RSS feeds — known disdainfully to some as “shovelware.” The result is a feed that includes one article a day — oftentimes posted long after the article was published — and spurs little interaction. The Kennebec Journal has 678 fans on Facebook and 818 followers on Twitter, and few people comment or reply to posts.
By contrast, the Sun Journal of Lewiston curates articles for its Facebook and Twitter accounts by hand and frequently responds to @replies on Twitter or comments on Facebook. The results show: The number of followers dwarfs both the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News, who are just about tied for the title of largest paper in the state.
The Sun Journal also aggressively promotes breaking news on its social media accounts, posting updates as they come in and retweeting eyewitness photos and comments.
There are, of course, times when social media has led us astray. It is a common story to hear about rashes of tweets spreading false news. After Michael Jackson’s demise, news of other celebrity deaths spread through Twitter like wildfire. It is easy for rumors to take off on the Web and it oftentimes takes a while to ring them back — you just have to read the comments section to see that.
What the poll really indicates is that media companies need to pay really close attention to readers, and that means being reliable and personable. If the local newspaper isn’t consistently the first organization to report breaking news — even if that means promoting the news through social media before there’s a story on the website — how are readers to trust that paper to deliver any news at all?
(Hat tip to the BDN’s Todd Benoit for the link.)
Full disclosure: The author just finished a stint with the Kennebec Journal, a MaineToday Media newspaper, and will in short order work for the Bangor Daily News.