The Power of Hashtag: Close Connection of Social Media, Traditional Media and News Content

Old vs New

Social media had change the world. Period. This undeniable truth is proved in every second of our daily lives: how you open Twitter, instead of fresh newspapers in the morning in the subway; how you turn on YouTube instead CNN after a hard day; how you click on the link in Facebook instead of straightly going to New York Times website. This effect is in the air, changes in the minds and habits of millions people. You still need a prove? Then, glance at the amazing power of social media when it comes to setting trends.

No matter what – another charity campaign, hashtag for the victims of a terrorist attack or a meme from Grumpy Cat – it will again conquer every corner of the world where internet cable reaches. But does it mean that social media set trends for even the mainstream media? Well, this question is harder to answer briefly.

When it comes to tragedy…

social media appears to be the most fast and efficient way in spreading the news. It also applies for setting the trend over the event almost immediately. The Paris terrorist attack, that took lives of at least 129 civilians, resulted also a new social media trend. By Nov. 14, day after the shootings, over 8 millions of people twitted over the issue, mentioning #PrayforParis.  Jean Jullien‘s, a French artist, version of peace symbol, supported the trend and was re-twitted or shared by over 68,000 Twitter and Facebook users by Nov.14.


However, #PrayforParis is not the only one. Kenyans, offended by Western media disregard to massacre at Garissa University College in eastern Kenya on April 2, 2015, launched the #147notjustanumber hashtag. Honoring 148 people, mostly students of young age, killed by terrorist al-Shabaab gunmen, the hashtag was mentioned 52,000 times by April, 8.

Picture: AFP

But the biggest impact of the social campaign was attracting attention of world media, such as the TIME, the Independent and CNN. And that proved one more time – social media sometimes may set trends not only for online society.

It sets news trends for traditional media.

Such as phenomena, when media decided what stories will be on top and which will not, is called “agenda building”. And it is commonly used in traditional media. Reasons to put story on the top can vary: from audience interest to the issue, to the importance of the event worldwide and opinion on it of single “political actors”. These “actors” usually represent the interest of their voters, and by this, of society in total. However, in the past decade the role of them reduced, as society became able to talk for itself in social media. And that’s where the new question rises, as Grzywiska and Borden say in their article on agenda setting theory:

«Can social media ‘build the agenda’ for the traditional media?»

Not yet. Pew Reseasch Center conducted a study (2010) that showed, that “the stories and issues that gain traction in social media differ substantially from those that lead in the mainstream press”. However, they traced the main trends for each social platform and stated that they differ mostly. For example, Twitter is mainly focused on technological inventions and events, while 21% (and that’s a biggest part) of the top stories on YouTube are politically-related. The study also found, that Twitter is fastest in forgetting it’s own top stories – only 5% of them stayed on the top for the whole week, compare to 13% on blogs and 9% on YouTube.

Controversially, in 2010 almost 99% of the blog stories were originated in mainstream press, with 80% of them coming from the BBC, CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

In other words, the study proved that in 2010 social media not only did not produced news for traditional media, but even took the stories from there.

Is it different in 2015?

Undoubtedly, yes. And although it may be not proved by studies, the following fact shows how the importance of social media for mainstream media grew: more and more newspapers push their stuff to be active on the social platforms. As Mary Clare Fischer writes for American Journalism Review (2014), some newspapers, such as  Los Angeles Times, require or recommend their stuff to be on Google+ and Twitter. It makes sense: in 2014, half of Facebook and Twitter users obtain news directly from the social platform, according to Pew Research Center.

In other words, even that social media in 2014-2015 is not directly define top topics for mainstream media, it is still should not be underestimated. Social media helps ordinary people to talk of their needs and worries, and if it becomes a trend, it cannot be ignored. As well as in case of #147notjustanumber, Twitter, Facebook and Instargram bring on a porcelain platter something really important and needed to be publicized to world top media. The only thing journalist should do is to be aware not to miss such a golden piece. To let the story find them itself, they need to be just online.


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