18/07/2011

Did Social Networks bring about the end of the World?

By Andy Lopata, Business Networking Strategist

On 7th July, shortly after I finished presenting at a B2B Marketing Symposium, news filtered through of the demise of The News of the World. Following the phone hacking scandal that has dominated news in the UK this month, the decision had been taken to close the doors of the newspaper, which has been published since 1843.

There are countless theories as to the reasons for the paper closing down, what will happen next and the politics that lie behind the decision. I share a number of them. But that is not what interests me the most. The question I keep asking is whether a scandal of this nature would have led to the closure of Britain's bestselling Sunday newspaper a few years ago.

After all, there was outrage on a very similar scale about the behaviour of newspapers and the papparazzi photographers associated with them after the car crash that led to the death of Princess Diana fourteen years ago. Despite promises of new ethics and a change of behaviour in the industry, no major change seems to have taken place in the long-term.

What is so different this time? One key factor is News International owner Rupert Murdoch's desire to take over the broadcaster BSkyB. One theory is that the closure of the News of the World will remove the pressure on that takeover.
But the game changer is, I believe, the role social networks have had to play. Particularly Facebook and Twitter.

At the time of Princess Diana's death, and indeed at any time in the past, the only channel for mass discussion and news has been broadcast and print media. If it was not in their own interests to pursue an issue with all of their power, they wouldn't do so. Yes, they would give voice to public opinion, they had to. But would they really keep pressing, particularly if doing so could rebound on them?

In the case of Princess Diana's death, many papers, even the more respectable titles, relied on sensational shots from the paparazzi to sell more copies. This time around, how many have benefited in some degree or another from information obtained through less than ethical means? If left to the media, how much pressure would they really exert for reform and more control of the media?

But they simply can't ignore the noise now present on social media. Messages and tweets filled up Facebook and Twitter urging people to boycott The News of the World and other News International titles. Messages were publicly sent through these channels to advertisers in the paper asking them if they would withdraw their advertising....which many duly did. A phrase repeated time and again over the course of the scandal is 'who is watching the watchers?'. The answer now is everyone.

Social networks have allowed people to aggregate their frustrations, opinions and anger and collaborate to make a noise. Much has been made of how the blogosphere and YouTube have diluted the role of the traditional media, we can now add tweets and other status updates to the mix.

Power no longer resides simply in the hands of the establishment. Individuals now have the opportunity to decide where the debate should lie, frame that debate and precipitate change. Social media was widely credited for its role in the Arab Spring, changing the face of politics in much of the Middle East. Perhaps now it can also lay claim to changing the World.

To find out more about how to pick the right networks, implement a successful networking strategy or how to generate more referrals, please visit our website www.lopata.co.uk or contact us at harvey@lopata.co.uk / 01992 450488.

Check out Andy Lopata lastest books on Networking

- Brush up on your networking and presentation skills - '...and Death Came Third!' Second Edition

- Develop an effective referrals strategy - 'Recommended: How to Sell Through Networking and Referrals'

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