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Comparing Traditional versus Social Media Monitoring

What is similar, what is different, and why it’s critical to monitor correctly?

Monitoring traditional media for mentions and issues of interest to an organization is a PR practice that has been around for a long time. Talk to any PR practitioner whose career started before 2000 and they will likely regale you with tales of “clip books”—literal binders full of newspaper and magazine clippings. That was the era of the “thud factor,” meaning PR practitioners’ effectiveness was often judged by how thick and heavy that binder was—if you dropped the binder on a table, how loud would the “thud” be?

While there are still remnants of this type of thinking around, particularly when it comes to tracking “hits,” PR pros understand there’s a lot more to successful monitoring than counting clips.

The landscape for monitoring changed significantly with the advent of blogging, and then the arrival of social networking. First, there was a lot more content being generated. Second, the user-generated nature of social media led to a wide range of questions for both PR pros and the organizations they represented, such as: who should we be paying attention to on social? How do we get through all of this volume? Are all comments worth monitoring—and if so, how should we prioritize this content?

And, most importantly, to what extent does all of this additional content impact our brand?

The answers to these questions can be as individual as the organizations doing the monitoring. Consumer-facing brands are going to want to watch user-generated content quite closely, as the impact is fairly direct. Business-to-business enterprises will watch for different things, such as how reputational impacts might affect their organizations. Nonprofits will monitor to see how fundraising efforts respond, and governments may look to monitoring to determine how policy impacts and messages are being received.

Traditional and Social Media Monitoring – The Similarities

The most obvious and critical similarity for PR practitioners is that both traditional and social media have the potential to affect public opinion, and therefore both should be routinely monitored.

Both generate coverage that is easily found online and can reach either niche or very large audiences. Because links are easily shareable, disseminating information can occur at a fast rate regardless of where a story is first posted – a traditional outlet or on a social channel.

This speed also means that crisis communications plans must include monitoring of both information channels – a crisis that starts on one can easily leap to the other.

Many traditional media outlets have a presence on multiple social channels, which makes any lines drawn between the two blurry at best. News outlets with and without paywalls use social channels to promote stories, drive traffic to their websites, and look for new subscribers.

Monitoring software is available that monitors both in a single platform, which provides ease of use and a cost-effective option. Single-platform monitoring allows for fast analysis to uncover where a story originated and to track the movement of an issue over a period of time.

Traditional and Social Media Monitoring – The Differences

The differences between monitoring traditional media and social media arise from the generation source—for traditional media, the source is professional journalism. On the social side, content can come from anyone. This means that social content will typically be higher volume, and of varying degrees of accuracy.

On the volume side, traditional media sources are professional news organizations, publications, and things such as trade magazines. They produce content designed for their readership audience (paid or free), and generally speaking they are likely to be businesses. This includes nonprofit or publicly supported news organizations, like NPR and BBC. In contrast, social media is basically anyone, whether an individual or an organization, posting content on a social platform.

So, there is the potential for much higher volume when monitoring social media on a topic, versus traditional media.

Another difference is linked to the issue of professional vs. amateur-created content, although again this line has blurred considerably. Professional news organizations provide information with expertise, and this translates to a product that is considered credible. When you are working with clients looking for earned media coverage, news stories from professional sources will carry more weight than social media mentions. Some blogs straddle this line, of course—in particular, properties that may have started as irreverent blogs and over time became recognized as respected media outlets, like Jalopnik.

However, one of the biggest differences between monitoring traditional news sources and social platforms is that traditional outlets are one-way (publication of an article, video, or radio show) versus the two-way exchange that defines social platforms. This means that you can monitor that content for conversations, which can provide additional insight into how people are viewing a product, issue, or cause.

Monitor both for Effective Analysis

PR professionals know that it’s important to monitor both traditional and social media. Given the amount of coverage that can be generated, having a good grasp on what you are hoping to learn or measure through your monitoring efforts is imperative, or you’ll soon feel buried by content review.

Keeping SMART goals in mind, determine what your objectives are for monitoring. This will help guide your efforts and assist you in prioritizing the content that meets the needs of the business. If learning what is being said about your brand in two-way conversations is a priority, social listening will play a dominant role in your analysis. If third-party coverage is the goal, traditional media analysis will take the lead, with social playing only a supporting role.

Understanding the strengths of traditional and social media and how each can contribute to reaching business goals helps to balance your analysis and measurement work. This makes your monitoring more efficient and more productive, leading to better and more useful reporting.

Speak with one of our experienced consultants about your media monitoring and communications evaluation today.