THE BLOG

Social Media Users More Likely to Turn to Traditional Media for 'Important' News Content

03/04/2014 12:06 BST | Updated 02/06/2014 10:59 BST

I'm an avid Twitter user, and I pick up quite a lot of news content from Twitter about things that matter to me that I don't get elsewhere. I also still read the press, both print and digital, and there is no getting away from the fact that many of the top news stories and features comprise significant content generated by Twitter users or Facebook tributes etc.

Other avid Twitter users like myself may well have noticed various promoted tweets (@TwitterAdsUK) in recent weeks commenting that "Twitter not only leads the news cycle but also frames the coverage" with various statistics and journalists cited to back this up.

I am not disputing any of the above; clearly Twitter and other social media platforms have a key role to play when it comes to generating 'news content' in modern day UK.

But do social media users rely on social platforms when it comes to news content? The simple answer is 'no'.

In September 2013, we surveyed a representative sample of 5,500 social media users aged 11+ for our *SocialLife tracking survey and asked them which source they would turn to first of all to get the latest information about a range of topics including general UK and international news as well as more specialist topics: entertainment, sports and financial markets. Survey participants were given five choices including social media sites, online news websites and three more traditional sources: TV, radio and printed newspapers.

The findings are very clear. Television is still the public's first port of call for general UK and international news stories with online news websites coming into play more when it comes to more specialist news content, in particular news about financial markets and celebrity news & gossip.

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What about social media sites? Well these are relatively more likely to be the first choice source for celebrity news & gossip and for entertainment news but they are still only the third choice option for both of these. And when it comes to what the public may perceive as more factual news content, social media sites are the option that the public turns to last.

What about younger consumers and more avid social media users? There are differences, as we might anticipate. For example, social media platforms are on a par with television for entertainment news among 16-24 year olds and social media rises to 10% of first choices for UK and international news stories among heavy Twitter users. But even among these groups, it would appear that social media is not yet the 'go to' option for general news content. 

Lee Langford, Director and author of Harris Interactive's SocialLife report comments: "Our findings point to a lack of trust in social media when it comes to factual news content, perhaps a result of inaccurate early reporting of a number of big news stories in recent years - the 2013 Boston marathon bombings being a good case in point. By contrast, social media is great for 'news' stories that perhaps matter less in the overall scheme of things e.g. the latest goss on Gwyneth and Chris."

*SocialLife is Harris Interactive's regular survey of UK social media usage. For further details see: http://www.harrisinteractive.com/uk/Insights/SocialLife.aspx