“It’s news Jim, but not as we know it.”
Revisionist Star Trek quotes aside, the story remains the same but the way the story is told and delivered has changed an incredible amount over the last eight years (remember Obama’s revolutionary use of Twitter in 2008 – how long ago does that seem?). The news cycle has been 24/7 for a long time – but social video platforms like Facebook Live have added the capability to activate large audiences with rich video content for both news publishers and the candidates themselves. Increasingly, that content is also being delivered through that little screen on your phone.
Today, news publishers of all sizes understand that the electorate wants a lot more than passive consumption. They have passionate opinions – and they want them heard and represented in their content experiences. All the best editors recognize this new paradigm, and combine commenting, sharing and polling to achieve the ultimate goal: engagement.
On platforms like Facebook Live, engagement is currency: it drives all-important discoverability in the Facebook algorithm. Live posts appear in more subscribers’ news feeds, which in turn gives them a better chance of driving bigger audience numbers.
It's word-of-mouth on steroids.
Judging by the amount of times we’ve been asked in the last four days if our platform can do this:
That message has not been lost on savvy publishers (approximately 40 times by the way – and yes folks, we can.)!
The Presidential election served as a lightning rod for the evolution of news coverage. The proliferation of content with a variety of different tones and perspectives means there’s more to go around for everyone. It also makes it a much more immersive experience with broader opportunities to consume and engage than ever before. Maybe one of the most interesting glimpses into the future was foretold with The Donald’s launch of “Trump TV” through Facebook Live on the night of the final debate: if you’ve already got a built-in following of 14 million-plus (it was 10 million less than a week ago) and can push your message directly to them with quality video when you want, why wouldn’t you do it? Especially if those difficult journalists keep asking you tough questions you don’t really want to answer!
It’s difficult to judge how much this and his prolific use of Twitter was a part of his triumph. Given that Trump significantly underspent Hillary and successfully rallied grass roots support, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that future candidates will focus more energy on getting their manifesto out through direct marketing channels (like Twitter and Facebook Live). After all, analysis from Pew Research Center found that more moderate members of each party are less likely “to say that news they get from family and friends represents just one side.” Candidates can use social media as a way to amplify their message and – through friends and family – find potential swing voters that can be influenced with thoughtful targeting strategies.
All of which could be bad news for traditional news outlets who are increasingly challenged by relative newcomers like Huffington Post and BuzzFeed, and will now have to deal with social platforms ability to directly distribute quality content organically from the candidates and its superior ability to target through paid media.
This also begs the question: has all this improved the democratic process?
Well, that depends – there’s some good and some bad in this regard. By having more channels through which the electorate can get their content, increased transparency, and unlocking the ability for voters to participate directly with candidates and peers, more people should be engaged and get the facts “straight from the horse’s mouth” (the 133 million voter turnout was only just below the all-time high from 2008). This should especially be true for younger voters who are more likely to access their content through social media.
The downside to all this is the “echo chamber effect” – on social media, our views are reflected back to us by like-minded friends in our networks and we don’t hear enough alternative points of view. This reinforces our own opinions and distances us from an understanding of The Other Side – there’s no natural discourse and debate and acceptance of other people’s needs and views. To me, this has come across very clearly with Brexit in my home country as well as the Presidential election. As Stephen Colbert so elegantly put it in his Facebook Live stream we powered on election night:
“Who’s Going to Clean Up This Shit?”
The two-fold evolution in how people curate their news and in what form will be increasingly complemented by changes in the news gathering process - the quality of video content from mobile devices is improving all the time and, combined with the potency of live social streaming, the advent of citizen journalism will take another leap. There will always be a place for professional journalism and quality production values but more and more it will be supplanted with breaking news from members of the public who are first on the scene and able to collect and stream live immediately. Why waste time and money on expensive news gathering apparatus when all you need is an engaged citizenry and a smartphone?
Live social video may just have found its perfect companion in long form news content, and vice-versa, and the 2016 Election - with its record-breaking amount of live streaming, the ability for voters to participate easily in debate and candidates’ ability to engage directly with the electorate – will prove to be a watershed for political campaigning in the future.