Were you lucky enough to get in on the initial public offering of LinkedIn? If you bought it early you might have paid just $45 a share and then found it worth twice that much by the end of the day. Or you might have been even more savvy and bought it for $45 and then sold it at its high point of $122.70.
Or you might have bought it at that price and now wonder if it will ever get back there. Oh well, better luck next time. And it appears there will be a next time as other social media companies, especially Facebook and Groupon, are also contemplating public stock offerings.
Once again: Good luck.
As I wrote in this space almost exactly a year ago (May 26, 2010), the social media seemed to me to be the object of an enthusiasm bubble — media experts, adoring users, and big companies eager to participate in the next big thing, all talking up the boundless opportunities of Facebook, Twitter, et al. A year ago the bubble was hype and enthusiasm. Then AOL bought the online Huffington Post for $315 million. Then AOL launched its national Patch network, which it hopes to grow to more than 800 sites with an investment that is on the order of $40 million per quarter.
And now we have LinkedIn.
Since the enthusiasm bubble now has considerable financial dimensions to it, I decided to revisit the subject, especially in light of the more recent experiences of U.S. 1 and our sister publication, the West Windsor-Plainsboro News, and their online presence.
What’s working in social media? As I said a year ago, even if the attention to social media is a bubble, it doesn’t mean that social media will go away if (or when) the bubble bursts. Some of the social media applications make sense. I don’t use LinkedIn, for example, but if I were unemployed or underemployed I suspect I would be on it close to 24/7. I am not a fan of the Chicago White Sox, but if I were a rabid fan I would probably join the other 143,000 followers of manager Ozzie Guillen’s tweets.
Here at U.S. 1 and at the WW-P News we use Twitter and Facebook to alert followers to our day-by-day calendar listings. The event listings contained in the print issue of this paper are nothing to sneeze at, and for some people the sole reason to pick up the paper and take it home.
But during the course of a week, things happen. The events posted on our website get updated every day, and at 6 a.m. we send out a Tweet and a Facebook alert linking to the latest version of that day’s events. And online we offer some enhancements. If there’s a play listed, for example, the online notice would include a link to our review of the play or feature on one of the actors.
What’s not working in social media? A two-word answer: The news.
Yes, there are exceptions. A year ago when I threw cold water on the enthusiasm bubble, a former colleague of mine — Ezra Fischer — posted a thoughtful comment noting that when the airplane crash-landed in the Hudson River he heard the story unfold first through Twitter, then from the sounds of sirens outside his Manhattan office, and finally from the NYTimes.com. “There’s got to be some value to that.”
I agree. When momentous news is being transmitted you grab at any straw around: The demo television sets in department store windows on November 22, 1963. A puff of white smoke from the Vatican. The tweet from a 20-something computer programmer in Pakistan in the early morning hours of May 2, 2011: “Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event).”
But for the daily and weekly grind of news, the social media outlets are not the answer. The New York Times the other day reported on the transformation of the Hollywood Reporter from a daily trade magazine to a large format weekly, featuring 3,000-word articles. The “breaking news was pushed” to a website. The print edition’s cover “has become prized real estate.”
Closer to home we have the good example of the West Windsor-Plainsboro News. Some background: Back in December, 2001, we had a holiday party for staff and freelancers. One of the freelancers brought her husband, Steve Goldin, who immediately impressed me as a student of the local media. (Goldin is the developer who later became the principal in Intercap, the company hoping to develop the residential-retail enclave at the Princeton Junction train station.) Goldin offered me some advice: The WW-P community is totally wired, he said, far more so than most communities. Whatever you do with the WW-P News, make sure you have an online component.
We did just that, and still do. Last year our reporting reached a critical mass. Should we continue publishing “only” every two weeks or should we come out every week? Mindful of Goldin’s advice and aware of the intense community interest in several issues, we decided to augment our print publication with an E-mail newsletter distributed every other Friday to alternate with the print publication.
We set up the system, and then rolled it out to the print readership. Send us an E-mail with “Sneak Peek” in the subject line and you will then get a weekly dose of community news. A few people responded — very few.
The sad fact is that, contrary to the business plans of Patch and hundreds of community-based bloggers and Huffington Post wannabes, there is not an insatiable demand for what the town council thinks about the local dog catcher (not even if it’s Tweeted “live” from a late-night meeting). Nor are there dozens of people hoping to be “citizen journalists” or aspiring filmmakers seeking to submit Ken Burns-style videos online.
But what about that Osama bin Laden tweeter? Yes, he did record a moment in history. But eight hours later he was tired of it, literally. His last tweet, after being pestered by hundreds of professional journalists: “Bin Laden is dead. I didn’t kill him. Please let me sleep now.”
All of which is a little discouraging. If print is dead, and killed by the “social media,” which have little incentive to do any real reporting, where will we get our news? And how will a person like me make a living?
Maybe I will be active on LinkedIn, after all. But I still won’t buy the stock.