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Communications in the 2010s: The Era of Content Overload and Citizen Journalism

This week, Forum One is at ComNet19, celebrating the Communications Network’s forty years of connecting leaders working in communications for good to learn from, inspire, teach, and network with their peers. 

As we celebrate, we’re taking the opportunity to look back on the technologies that have fueled the communications sector over the past forty years and what we may have in store for us in the future! Follow along as each day this week we jump into a new decade, from the 1980s to today.

In our last post, we explored some of the ways in which social media has changed the way we communicators — and how journalists — work.  Social media hasn’t just provided an outlet for professionally-trained journalists to share breaking news; it has also brought about a new era of citizen journalism and the age of influencer marketing. 

Social Media Photography

Citizen journalism has been profoundly affected and fueled by the Internet. It is now easier for members of the general public to collect, disseminate, and analyze news and information. 

American scholar, Jay Ruby, once said that, “so long as the dominant culture’s images of the world continue to be sold to others as the image of the world, image makers are being unethical.”

Before the 2000s, reporters were in control of the news. They were the gatekeepers and the only way to get your message out. The global media market is dominated by a dozen or so transnational corporations. However, with the advent of social media and blogging, the citizen journalist now has the opportunity to present a unique perspective, breath fresh air into topics and issues, and provide invaluable information that can help democratize media, as well as nations. Citizen journalism allows marginalized people to reclaim their voices and tell their otherwise silenced stories firsthand. 

It creates many opportunities for communicators. From a vlogger with millions of YouTube subscribers to an activist with 75,000 Instagram followers, engaging with online “influencers” is now considered a legitimate approach to attract new audiences to your organization and issues and expand your reach. Especially when you consider the fact that over 70 percent of Americans say they are more likely to donate or visit a website based on a social media reference. 

The relationship with these players has become just as important as relationships with reporters, policymakers, and other core stakeholders. Citizen journalists can serve as a key channel to reach your target audiences, help promote your work and get your audiences to engage more deeply with your content, as well as help develop new original content for your organization. 

As traditional newsrooms become more and more constrained by time and resources, the advent of digital user-generated content can strengthen journalism. However, it also creates challenges for communicators. Now, news spreads faster than facts can be verified. Which means that professional communicators now have to be hyper vigilant to conversations taking place online and be ready to jump in with counter messages to address misinformation quickly. 

The sheer volume of content out there now also has made it incredibly challenging to cut through the noise and reach your audiences and motivate them to act! Here are some ways it’s important for communicators to adapt to ensure they are capitalizing on the drastic shift to user-generated content:

  1. Establish online communities where your audiences can share their experiences. Whether you choose to make this an open space or not, members need to have enough freedom to post honest information. 
  2. Encourage and incentivize your community to create content! Reach out to internal experts, “brand advocates,” and your core stakeholders to ask them to share their knowledge and feedback and let them know how their content will be used. 
  3. Grow internal editors that can make the most of this content and repurpose it across all of your digital channels. 

And that concludes our special blog series on technologies that influenced the way we communicated in the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s/today. We hope you enjoyed it and were able to harken back on your own experiences growing as a communicator amidst the technological advances of each decade. Stay tuned later this fall as we delve into what’s ahead in 2020 and beyond.