Social Media Lessons From The Publishing Industry


Ok, I have to admit: I added a 5 to this title. Why? Because people dig lists – titles with a number in it usually work quite well to catch people’s attention. That’s why, according to Buffer’s recent analysis, 19% of viral news headlines contained a number. It’s one of the effects of social media on digital publishing: writing compelling headlines to make sure people notice it in their timeline, click it and visit your website. But there are more ways social media has impacted digital publishing; we’ve pulled together 5 here for you:

1) The death of the homepage

Not long ago, the homepage was the digital front door of a newspaper. That’s where all visitors came in, very neatly and predictably. However, two years ago, The New York Times declared the “Death of the Homepage”. Social media was reported as the “killer” as it enabled people to discover news articles in their social feeds instead, sending them straight to the article, bypassing the home page. In 2016, this story continues. Pew research found that even though younger adults are more likely to name social media as a main source for news, 62% of US ‘older adults’ now get news on social media sites. Social media enables publishers to spread their content far wider than used to be possible. Subsequently, internal article pages that go viral on social receive many more pageviews than the homepage. So also in 2016, the homepage is still dying. People now visit a publishers’ website through all doors but entering via the back door is more popular, after a walk in a social network’s “walled garden”.

Information that engages readers and makes them click-through, for example by providing links to other relevant articles and adding social media comments from readers or industry leaders. Despite the fact that many readers arrive from social media, most article pages are notoriously social-light however.

2) Compelling headlines

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  2. Social Media has a stronger impact to books than the movable type had, launched six centuries ago. Social Media makes information producible, accessible and spreads it easily, quickly and without barriers of entry. Is Social Media the paradigm shift which will the publishing industry alive? In any case changes will come.
  3. A platform does not discriminate against those who might stand on it. T his is a new era of communication. A 2018 survey showed that teenagers prefer conversing via social media platforms over talking on the phone at a rate of 3 to 1, making it the third most popular form of communication behind texting and talking face-to-face.

The fact that more and more people use social media to discover news online made the quality of the headline extremely important. Of course, writing persuasive headlines has always been important. Because based on the title, people decide to continue reading or skip the post. On social media, people base their decision on the headline whether or not they click over to your site – and you’re competing with lots of other fancy headings. Or, if they find the headline compelling enough, they might just share it without even reading it (yes people do that!). Which then of course reaches a broader audience of potential clicks over to your site. Clearly, an attracting headline is more important than ever to driving readers to your site.

3) Shorter visits

Social media lessons from the publishing industry group

So let’s assume you just published the perfect headline that made people actually visit the article page. Hurray! Don’t cheer too early though: most social visitors are notorious for quickly scanning the article and returning back to where they came from – from social media. Pew Research found that visitors who arrive directly spend on average 4:36 minutes on a site and visit 24.8 pages per visit, while visitors from Facebook only spend 1:41 on a site and visit 4.2 pages per visit on average. Longer visits and more pageviews per session are important because they increase brand awareness and in the end conversions. And, as Digital Content Next recently revealed in their research: 43% of social media users don’t recall the source of the article they read. This struggle to keep visitors from social media on a publisher’s site is ongoing. The best landing pages in terms of reader engagement match the environment the reader came from and provide relevant information. Information that engages readers and makes them click-through, for example by providing links to other relevant articles and adding social media comments from readers or industry leaders. Despite the fact that many readers arrive from social media, most article pages are notoriously social-light however.

4) Algorithms

Being able to use social media as a distribution platform to reach more people than ever before is a great opportunity. An increasing number of visits from social media to your website is great as well, but it also means a greater dependency upon Facebook and other social media platforms as traffic drivers. Moreover, they get to decide what people see: with their recent change in the algorithm, Facebook de-emphasized posts from publishers in favor of posts from their users’ friends and family.Many publishers have feared the role of social media platforms in the editorial process, because they often feel they need to adjust their editorial content to what the algorithm of a social media platform likes best.

5) The rise of the citizen journalist

Now that almost every human being on the planet owns a smartphone, everyone can shoot photos or videos or post commentary, anytime, anywhere. When people, who are not professional journalists, report information, they are called a “citizen journalist”. As we described in one of our previous blog posts, citizen journalists can augment traditional journalism in speed of reporting and increasing credibility by providing eyewitness reports. When news breaks, social media enables people to see directly what’s real, from myriad sources, who are at the scene of the event. However, these posts are made public with just one click on the button. Therefore, it’s crucial for publishers to filter out the noise and monitor and publish only what’s real.

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Taking back control

Needless to say, social media has drastically changed the rules of the game for each digital publisher in terms of content distribution and creation. The ability to use social media platforms for content distribution provides them with a fantastic opportunity to reach a far broader audience. However, the increasing dependency upon social platforms reveals the need to regain power and capture readers on a publisher’s own domains. And that’s where using relevant social media to amplify editorial articles plays a huge role. From citizen journalists, to opinion leaders, to the average man on the street – they all post observations and opinions on social media.

Publishers can take control back into their own hands by bringing the power of social media to their site. By adding relevant social media posts to your editorial articles, you provide your audience with a more complete story. Also, adding social content to editorial content gives visitors from social media a warm landing –they don’t need to go back to the social platform they came from to stay in the ‘social media’ mode.

Want to see how it works? You can book a demo here:

This is a new era of communication. A 2018 survey showed that teenagers prefer conversing via social media platforms over talking on the phone at a rate of 3 to 1, making it the third most popular form of communication behind texting and talking face-to-face. Over 69% of American adults have social media accounts, and nearly all who do use it as a source of news. Social media is no longer a game played by a small niche of people; it is a primary form of communication.

However, social media differs from the rest of the above mentioned methods in a particularly crucial way. While the U.S. requires that each citizen have access to at least one of the local phone services so long as he or she can afford to pay for it, and its laws concerning free speech are clear; Twitter and Facebook users are subject to the whims of the companies’ employees who may censor any post or poster they choose.

If someone at Twitter disagrees with journalist Meghan Murphy’s statement that “men aren’t women,” they delete her account. If someone at Facebook feels that an excerpt from America’s Declaration of Independence constitutes hate speech, then they will delete that as well.

Instead of being the hubs of free speech that they should have been, social media companies have chosen to monitor, police, and censor their sites in a way that would be considered unthinkable for any other method of communication. Can you imagine being told that you could no longer make a call because Apple disagreed with your politics?

This is the reality of social media. By selectively censoring and banning people from their sites, they have assumed control over a prominent means of modern communication. They have declared ownership of their customers’ words. And by doing so, they have also assumed the blame for each and every awful word spoken by their users.

Social media: Platforms or publishers?

Thus far in America, social media companies have been shielded against repercussions for content posted on their sites by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects “interactive computer service(s)” from being treated as publishers. This decision was based on Congress’s initial findings that “the Internet and other interactive computer services offer a forum for a true diversity of political discourse, unique opportunities for cultural development, and myriad avenues for intellectual activity.”

But a lot has changed since 1998. Twitter is now openly banning people based on their political beliefs, something which is arguably prohibited by law in several U.S. states. YouTube and Google are censoring and demonetizing conservative videos. Facebook is being accused not only of allowing “fake news,” but of knowingly creating it. These are no longer the impartial forums once envisioned by Congress.

Some, like Google CEO Sundar Pichai, shrug these things off as glitches in the system, free from human influence. In an interview with the House Judiciary Committee about allegations of political bias in Google’s search results, Pichai blamed the algorithm, saying that “It is not possible for an individual employee or groups of employees to manipulate our search results.” One must wonder who creates and maintains these algorithms if not groups of Google employees.


Other companies are more forthcoming about policing their sites. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently went so far as to say that it would be “a sin” for tech companies not to censor their content, which led to this response from a prominent First Amendment lawyer:

Here is a message for big tech & our government: tech companies that discriminate based on viewpoint, should have no protection under the Communications Decency Act, Sec. 230. They are publishers, not neutral platforms. And they violate civil rights laws, e.g. CA Unruh Act.

Social Media Lessons From The Publishing Industry Pdf

— Harmeet K. Dhillon (@pnjaban) December 4, 2018

You don’t blame the paper manufacturer for the words that someone prints on their pages. You don’t blame the telephone company for an annoying call from a telemarketer. And you don’t blame a platform for the person who chooses to stand on it. If social media companies had played their cards right, they might have been awarded this same privilege.

But platforms do not discriminate against those who might stand on them. The CEOs of Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc. have made it clear that they are not platforms, but publishers. The European Union has acted in kind.

The EU social media directives

In 2016, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube (Google), and Microsoft signed a code of conduct with the EU requiring them to remove all instances of “hate speech” within 24 hours of their being reported. The EU was unsatisfied with the results, and so in 2017, they drew up a plan to force them to do this under penalty of law.

Approved in October of this year, the EU directive aims to, among other things, “protect (…) all citizens from incitement to hatred.” Of note is the word “incitement,” which allows for the censoring not only of things deemed to be hate speech, but also of anything that could maybe, possibly lead to hate speech. This one sentence gives EU Member States the power to shut down any number of difficult conversations before they’ve even begun. This in the name of “the right to freedom of expression.”

It has yet to be seen what kind of penalties each Member State will choose to enforce on social media platforms who fail to comply with the rules of the directive, but if Germany’s newly enacted NetzDG is any indication, the penalties will be severe. On January 1st of this year, Germany began enforcing its new law which requires all “obviously illegal” posts – including hate speech, fake news, etc. – to be removed within 24 hours. The law states that a failure to do this will result in a fine of up to 50 million euro.

Interestingly, this punishment is not to be administered to the posters of the illegal material, but only to the hosts. The U.S. may have only begun the “platforms vs. publishers” debate, but the EU has long since made up its mind on the matter. Clearly, its laws attribute to them the role of publisher.

Right and wrong

In some ways, laws like the EU’s only exasperate the problem. They not only discourage social media companies from allowing free and open discussion; they require that they do not. Allowing, and in fact forcing them to police their sites reflects the condescending belief that average people must be protected from themselves. And it reinforces the companies’ claim to ownership of their users’ words.

But these companies do not control the thoughts and ideas of the people who post on them. They deserve neither credit nor blame for them. If speech on social media is ever to be as free as it is in every other form of communication, the law will have to reflect this.

Social Media Lessons From The Publishing Industry History

Neither Jack Dorsey nor Mark Zuckerberg carry a gavel. Susan Wojcicki does not wear a badge. Not one of these people has the right to determine whether a person’s words are “obviously illegal.” They certainly do not have the right to determine what constitutes an appropriate political stance.

As said by Tim Cook of Apple, (evidently unaware of the irony of his statement), “The most sacred thing that each of us is given is our judgment, our morality, our own innate desire to separate right from wrong.”

Should Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. be able to take that “sacred” right of judgment from you? Should they be allowed to separate right and wrong for you?

“Are America’s technology companies serving as instruments of freedom, or instruments of control?” – Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), House Judiciary Committee, Google Hearing

The future of free speech on social media

The average citizen may talk to dozens of people per day in person, but they can reach thousands via Twitter or Instagram. Never before has the common man had the potential to be heard in this way. Never before has there been such a bridge between the different peoples and classes of the world.

To allow such a significant aspect of modern communication to be monitored and censored by a handful of CEOs is to once again relegate significance to the “elite.” It is to create the kind of ideological echo chamber that free speech laws were specifically designed to prevent. Controversial opinions cannot be relegated to those in power, as great ideas most certainly are not. But these ideas will never be heard without free platforms to elevate those that hold them.

Social Media Lessons From The Publishing Industry Group

Some will speak falsehoods. Some will speak hate. Some will even speak “violence.” But the dangers of free speech are greatly outweighed by the consequences of censorship. There is no such thing as an “objective” censor; it is too difficult for any person or group to escape their own biases enough to discern between an opinion that is “wrong” and one that is simply “different.”

Social Media Lessons From The Publishing Industry Analysis

Social media companies are not the exception to this rule. They are not the arbiters of right and wrong. They are a megaphone, amplifying the voice of the worker who fights for better conditions. They are the convention center in which people may debate their ideas from opposite ends of the globe. They are, or should be, the platform on which the average citizen stands. It’s time for them to start acting the part.