Has it all gone to the dogs?

Thursday 13th February - Jonathan Sacramento

Our report on two dogs getting married this week throws up a curious paradox about our social media audience.

Mainstream media outlets are still playing catch up with the social media phenomenon. GBC is not alone in this. We’ve attended seminars with representatives from national and international networks where it’s become apparent that everyone’s trying different things to maximise engagement on social media, and no-one’s quite figured out what the best formula is.

The BBC News Instagram feed is a case in point. They steer away from hard news and focus on stories which tug at the heartstrings, such as a 116-year-old nun celebrating her birthday with kids in rural France, or a video of a Down’s Syndrome baby giggling as he rubs spaghetti sauce on his belly. Al Jazeera’s AJ Plus network focuses exclusively on empowering young people, with most of its content in portrait format which maximises phone screen real-estate.

This is a new direction in social media news.

It is no surprise, then, that our story on the dogs wedding generated such a massive amount of interest and engagement. At the time of writing this blog post, the story had reached nearly 12,000 people on Facebook, with more than 4500 engagements, and nearly 200 comments. By comparison, our story on the MONEYVAL report, which has far reaching implications for our finance centre, generated only 207 engagements and four comments.

The paradox lies in the following: some of the comments questioned whether this should have constituted ‘news’ in the first place. Yet these users who challenged the news value of the story watched the report, engaged and commented. They didn’t do that for the MONEYVAL report.

It begs the question though – should social media popularity define news agenda? The answer, predictably, is yes and no. If it generates public interest, then it’s news of some sort. But it shouldn’t be the only factor in deciding what level of prominence the story enjoys in a news programme. Those decisions need editorial evaluation.

After all, you can’t have the tail wagging the dog…