By: Forrest R. Church, Publisher
THE VILLAGE REPORTER
This is my final column in which I wanted to address concerns that I have had with social media. Many of these concerns come from a first-person testimonial perspective, while some are from simple observation and/or reading about what others have experienced themselves.
Three columns ago, I addressed social media Event Invitation issues which destroy true invites to important professional and personal activities if not properly seen. I shared how community organizers invited the newspaper to events via my personal account, yet I never received a notice of the invite, along with also missing important personal invites such as birthday parties and graduations. Those sending invites were depending on the belief social media invites were good enough, clearly they are not.
Two weeks ago, I addressed the potential loss of precious memories/photos if only saving them on social media platforms. I shared how our newspaper’s past posts have come up missing (tons of community comments), along with how it is now being reported that Facebook personal users are having their photos from past years (their virtual scrapbooks) come up missing as well.
Last week, I shared how our newspaper was hurt when both Meta/Facebook and Twitter took our accounts down with next to no explanation and no human interaction to solve the problem, all in less than a year from companies that are supposedly not connected and competing with one another. I warned of how in a blink of an eye, these platforms that too many of us spend the majority of our lives buried in can rip our efforts away from us and not even provide human support when such an unfortunate event occurs.
All of these concerns were addressed with the hope that maybe I could warn individuals and/or organizations of major problems when handing our lives/businesses over to these giant platforms, more or less being run by Artificial Intelligence at this point.
I can remember a few decades ago when I started publishing local news that I would become completely overwhelmed with local churches, organizations, schools, etc., who constantly communicated with us about events and press releases. I was overwhelmed, not because I ever wanted them to back off on strong communication, but because when I started, I was the only one running the newspaper, eventually adding staff as the newspaper grew. I would end one phone call from a church with a special guest speaker wanting an announcement in the newspaper to someone walking in the front door about a community garage sale effort.
A lot has changed with communication between these entities and the newspaper since the early 2000s. Actually, to be more accurate, communication has severely declined not only with newspaper communication but also with residents and organizations in general. I have mentioned before that communication is easier than at any time in human history, yet I think it is as bad as it has ever been.
As mentioned in my prior columns, individuals and organizations have become way too comfortable with the “ease” of posting something on social media and assuming the multitudes will see it. My prior column mentioned that only a percentage of Americans have social media accounts, many of those that do only occasionally check in. Add in that algorithms on social media determine what shows up on your social media wall. All of this leads to the multitudes NOT seeing your important information.
Those making the post are thinking, “I have 2,000 followers, they will see this important post.” The truth? Often less than 10% of your followers will see your posts. Do a little research if you do not believe me, plenty of search engines can provide thousands of articles on the topic. Even if these numbers are half wrong, is it a good idea to only communicate on social media, knowing full well most of those you desire to see your post will not?
Our newspaper social media pages are followed by 26,000 locally yet sometimes I see as little as 800-900 viewing our post. Why? Users are not online all day/every day and again algorithms determine if you will or will not see the post if you are online. Social media is designed to encourage entities to pay to have their posts seen by the multitudes, it is part of their business plan to only show part of an organizations “followers” their postings.
I cannot tell you the number of events I have been to locally in which attendance was not good. In the days following, all I heard was that community members never knew of the event in the first place. AKA – organizers/individuals did a poor job promoting the event – spreading the word.
Want to know something, and I’ll be really transparent? The newspaper should know about them too, but often we are left in the dark as well, as organizers/individuals never even contacted us.
It is a problem for us at the paper as we desire to provide as much community news coverage as possible. Yet just about every day as I scroll through social media, I see things like a police officer being sworn in (traditional media not contacted – only on social media), a water advisory (traditional media not contacted – only on social media), a special band at a local church (traditional media not contacted – only on social media), and so on. Some, not all, that are running local towns, schools, and key entities simply toss a post on a Facebook page and they call the effort done.
One instance I can recall in which a dangerous individual was loose in one of our communities. The local Police Department put a social media post out which I think was wise. I am not against using social media, it is a great way to communicate in part. But like I said above, if you know a large percentage, maybe even the majority of the community will not see your warning of pending danger, do you think that is good enough? Why was the media not contacted?
People are following the newspaper to stay informed. These are people who want local information, yet it was not provided by the PD who depended on local residents to see their social media page. When contacting them about the absence of keeping the community informed via the traditional media, their response was more or less “do not be offended, they did not contact any traditional media.”
Fortunately the suspect never harmed anyone locally. But the thought comes to mind what if grandma who logs into Facebook once a week to see photos of her grandchildren was harmed because she did not receive proper notification that danger was in the area? Clearly a social media post is not good enough in this type of instance. Fortunately most of our local law enforcement agencies do a tremendous job in communicating with us, thus that communication is shared with you, our readers on our website, in print and via our social media pages heavily followed locally.
Communication is a key element to success in life. Frankly, and I am not going to sugarcoat words, it is lazy to not copy/paste a social media post and not send it to the local media. In the PD example listed above, it is outright dangerous. And the above examples are not isolated events. What is frustrating is that in a world where you can copy/paste your information, sending it to different entities, something that takes seconds simply does not occur.
Another example? Sure, I can go all day. I have written before in columns that sports reporting is at an alltime low. Stats are kept. Coaches know the results. Many use apps specifically designed to easily shared stats/results to anybody wanting them.
Via a few clicks on a computer or phone, student athletes can receive recognition by the media by sending this information our way. Yet it does not happen constantly. We have talked to coaches, athletic directors, and school leadership, and sometimes we start obtaining the information, but generally, it is a frustrating losing battle. Again, how hard is it to copy/paste to forward information to the multitudes?
WHAT CAN WE DO TO IMPROVE?
As stated, organize then copy/paste. If you are a member of a church and you have a special speaker, I would suggest indeed using social media. But then send the invite out via your email list. Contact the local traditional media. Encourage word of mouth by congregation members. Make a flyer and put them up at local restaurants and grocery stores. Any radio calendar announcements?
Long story short, spread out your efforts, and more people will receive proper notification. You often have made a tremendous effort in organizing your event but then poorly promote it. Social media has made communication effective and easy to pull off. Yet social media is guilty of doing its part to destroy communication itself.
I’ve done my part in this fourcolumn series to share my thoughts, observations, and experiences. We will see if my efforts opened the eyes for anyone reading my ramblings.
I’d love to hear from you. As always, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or via mail at 115 Broad Street, Montpelier, Ohio 43543.