WSJ Social: An Experiment in Citizen Journalism
In the midst of a flurry of Facebook bells and whistles being introduced at its f8 conference last week, I was struck not by Mark Zuckerbergâ€™s unbridled enthusiasm, but rather by an unrelated comment made by Maya Baratz, Head of New Products for the Wall Street Journal. Baratz told Jeff Bercovici of Forbes that Facebook â€œreally is kind of like another Internet.â€
What caused Baratz to make this pronouncement was the launch of not just a new product, but in essence, a new online environment for the Journal, something called â€œWSJ Social.â€ In an innovative and bold move for the business newspaper, WSJ Social is a whole new way of presenting the Journalâ€™s news and features, entirely through Facebook. Jeff Bercovici calls it â€œreimagining newspaper reading as an inherently social experience.â€
Users of WSJ Social can follow streams from the paper or from friends to determine the stories they actually view. The Journal will even award prizes to the most-followed users. Baratz says WSJ Social is â€œreally about the users being elevated to editors.â€
Bercovici points out that WSJ Social is in keeping with Facebookâ€™s move to be the all-media sharing platform of choice, as demonstrated at f8. In fact, he says, Facebook has invited about twelve news outlets, including CNN, the Huffington Post and the Washington Post, to create â€œFacebook editions.â€ Obviously, the Wall Street Journal wanted to pre-empt its competitors. To give WSJ Social an extra push, the Journal is making all of the content on the Facebook app free for one month.
This is a fairly remarkable occurrence. Sure, the Huffington Post has famously relied on bloggers for content, and CNN has diluted its own news reporting by giving â€œiReportersâ€ plenty of exposure. But for a staid publication like the Journal to empower readers, suggesting they have become amateur editorsâ€¦ gosh, youâ€™d think maybe the Journal was actually owned by Rupert Murdoch or something. (Oh wait a minute, it is owned by Murdoch.)
Seriously, though, if you hadnâ€™t noticed, a dramatic movement is afoot in the world of content. It is becoming harder to distinguish the professional from the amateur journalist. Some people might even think it doesnâ€™t matter anymore. The problem seems to be invasive — itâ€™s frequently difficult to tell the difference between fact and opinion these days.
Not that Facebook is entirely to blame, but the social media phenomenon has given everybody the ability to observe, report, comment, and critique. Itâ€™s too late to turn back now, as confirmed in Nielsenâ€™s just released study, â€œThe State of the Media: The Social Media Report, Q3 2011.â€ Nielsen indicates that almost 4 in 5 active Internet users visit social networks and blogs, and that Americans spend more time on Facebook than on any other U.S. website.
Another study might be even more telling. Americaâ€™s affluent, defined as those with $100,000-plus household income, are also grabbing the social media brass ring. According to Ipsos Mendelsohnâ€™s 2011 Affluent Survey, which the research firm has been conducting for 35 years, social networking has increased dramatically among this influential group. While print remains â€œhighly relevantâ€ to them and television viewing is significant, over half of this group uses Facebook. Stephen Kraus, chief research and insights officer of Ipsos Mendelsohn, says the affluent have â€œa continued hunger for content and connectivity.â€
The affluent is exactly who the Wall Street Journal is trying to reach with the curated news approach of WSJ Social. I expect this will be just the first of many attempts by media outlets to gain a foothold in that â€œotherâ€ Internet that we call Facebook.
About Barry Silverstein
Barry Silverstein is a freelance writer/marketing consultant. In addition to writing for ReveNews, he is a contributing writer to Brandchannel.com, the worldâ€™s leading online branding forum. He is the author of three marketing books, The Breakaway Brand (co-author, McGraw-Hill, 2005), Business-to-Business Internet Marketing (Maximum Press, 2003) and Internet Marketing for Technology Companies (Maximum Press, 2003). Barry ran his own Internet and direct marketing agency for twenty years. You can find Barry on Twitter @bdsilv.