Melding Media Spawns Fragmented Communications Landscape

January 14, 2009

This article is included in these additional categories:

Analytics, Automated & MarTech | Newspapers | Radio | Retail & E-Commerce | Social Media | Technology | Television

As Americans buy products, seek information, plan their social lives, and make personal and business decisions, the lines between media channels in the 21st century are becoming increasingly blurred, according to a survey from Ketchum and the USC Annenberg Strategic Public Relations Center.

The third annual US Media Myths & Realities survey, was conducted in the US, the UK and Brazil, and examines consumers’ use of more than 40 media channels, reveals that deliverables that were once owned by a specific communications medium are now found on nearly all platforms. This is causing a shift toward an increasingly participatory and fragmented communications experience.

Melding Media Means More Fragmented Use

Consumers are using a wider variety of channels than ever before, the survey found.? Newer channels, such as blogs and social networking sites, are gaining increasing traction. Results indicate that 26% of consumers use social networking sites, compared with 17% who used them in 2006. The usage of blogs nearly doubled (24% in 2008 compared with 13% in 2006).


Use of new media is especially intense among influential consumers – the 10-15% of the population who initiate change in their communities.? Among influencers, 43% read blogs by non-journalists (vs. 16% of the general population) and 32% read blogs written by journalists (vs. 8% of the general population).


On the other hand, the use of traditional, more established media channels continues to wane. The survey revealed that 65% of consumers use major network television news as a source of information (down from 71% in 2006). Local television news saw a sharper drop – 62% in 2008 compared with 74% in 2006.


“As we’ve watched traditional mass communications give way to communications controlled by the masses, one of the greatest impacts of newer media formats, such as blogs and news feeds, is that they’ve given people additional channels through which to access established sources,” said Jerry Swerling, founder and director of the USC Annenberg Strategic Public Relations Center.

“All channels can now link with one another, allowing more collaboration and participation than ever,” Swerling said. “The melding of media is also demonstrated in the actions of legacy media, which are continuing to embrace and implement the principles of new media. Conversely, the journalistic principles that underline news organizations – accuracy, timeliness, objectivity and so forth – will move to other delivery channels. Regardless of where we get our information, we want the source to be credible.”

Search Engines Critical in Melded Media Landscape

The survey also found that search engines are maturing as a medium, becoming a ubiquitous information-gathering source among consumers of all ages, including younger generations, to early adopters, to “surfing seniors.”

“The more media melds, the more search engines will continue playing a prominent role in our daily lives,” said Gur Tsabar, Ketchum’s VP for interactive strategies. “That’s why we’re now viewing Google as not just a search engine, but rather as one of the world’s largest publications. In a highly blurred media environment, search engines are consistently proving themselves as one of the most reliable forms of media for the masses.”

The use of search engines has remained steady over the last year, Ketchum found. Some 59% of consumers use them regularly (vs. 60% in 2007). In addition, consumers rated search engines with a credibility score of 7.0 (on a 10-point scale), which was a step forward from 2007, when they scored 6.5.

The research suggests that companies that do not have a search strategy are missing a great opportunity to reach consumers quickly and efficiently. In the US, for instance, 70% of influencers use search engines to gather information, which gives them a #3 rank in a list of most-used sources of information, after local newspapers (74% of influencers) and major network television news (72% of influencers).

Steep Rise in Online Shopping, Consumer Reviews

The study revealed a steep rise in the use of shopping websites among consumers, doubling from 2006 to 2008 (17% to 35 %). Moreover, nearly half of those (44%) who visit shopping websites read consumer reviews and comments found on the site, demonstrating that these sites have transformed into virtual social gathering places and information destinations, rather than merely places to purchase goods.

Consumers are placing more trust in the experiences of their online peers than they are on the retailer’s product descriptions, which is one example of the broadening definition of a social networking site, Ketchum said.

Media Audiences Have Growing Consumer Influence

The research also found that this burgeoning participatory media landscape means media audiences are having just as much influence on consumers, if not more, than the content providers themselves.

“If you look at sites like Amazon, for instance, and read through the product reviews, what you’ll find is not only are people posting their thoughts via consumer-generated reviews, but they are also responding to each other’s comments. The effect is the creation of pockets of social networks found all over the web,” said Nicholas Scibetta, Ketchum partner and director of the agency’s Global Media Network.

“These networks extend beyond consumer-generated reviews on shopping websites,” Scibetta said. “Conversations among readers, information seekers, and reviewers can be found on sites from established outlets such as The New York Times and The Huffington Post, to YouTube, to the neighborhood blogger.”

Word-of-Mouth Is Critical

Advice from family and friends – both in person and online – is a significant source of information, with 47% of US respondents saying they rely on it. Furthermore, when it comes to making critical decisions, the survey found consumers routinely turn to family and friends first for information on products and services.

“Knowing that advice from family and friends is perceived as authentic and credible, companies that can effectively tap into a word-of-mouth network in an organic and transparent way can reap great benefits for their brands,” Scibetta said.

Influencers More Intense Online than General Population

The survey also highlighted several key differences in media consumption between the general population and influencers. These include:

  • Use of search engines: Influencers 70%, general population 57%
  • Use of nonjournalist blogs: Influencers 43% , general population 16%.
  • Use of video-sharing websites (e.g., YouTube): Influencers 43%, general population 25%.
  • Use of specialty information portals (e.g., WebMD): Influencers 29%, general population 16%.
  • Influencers also use more new media such as videocasts (19%), RSS news feeds (15%), podcasts (12%), and mobile media (9%).

Additionally, the survey differences in the ways people consume media in the US compared with the UK and Brazil. For instance, consumers in the UK read national newspapers at nearly three times the rate of US consumers in the (53% vs. 18%). Brazilians have even higher readership, at 62%.

“The results of this survey confirm that it’s an exciting time to be a part of media in the 21st century,” said Jerry Swerling, founder and director of the USC Annenberg Strategic Public Relations Center. “It’s a transformative time in which we are seeing outlets move from single-media to multi-media. The ones that adapt most effectively will inevitably win out in this rapidly changing landscape.”

About the survey: The survey compares the media usage habits of 1,000 adult Americans (including 200 influential citizens, or “influencers” (the 10-15% of the population who initiate changes in their community or society through a variety of activities), and 500 communications industry professionals. In the UK and Brazil, 300 consumers and 200 influencers were surveyed in each country for a total of 500 consumers. The survey was conducted through online distribution at various times between Sept. 30 and Oct. 18, 2008.


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