World big enough for both Facebook and community newspaper
Wednesday, August 08, 2012 8:43 AM
Shares of Facebook dropped again last week, leaving the price at about half of its value when it debuted in May during its initial public offering.
Analysts point to many reasons, including the revelation that 83 million, or nearly 9 percent, of all Facebook accounts are fake, some that are duplicate accounts and a small percentage that are "undesirable," meaning they are set up for spamming or other unauthorized uses. There are also rumors that some companies are pulling their advertising because of false ad clicks.
The real problem may be that expectations were too high for a new form of media - social networking - that was supposed to redefine the Internet, change human relations, create a new marketing landscape and even alter the economy itself.
There is no denying that Facebook has had a huge influence on life, but exactly what influence is still up for debate. Some see Facebook as a mere fad, which will soon be replaced by the next best thing, but others see it as the wave of the future.
A couple years ago, someone told me that Facebook is the new community newspaper with its hyperlocal emphasis on a community of people talking to each other. That was a scary thought, being a community newspaper publisher, and I had my fears this person was right.
Now, like the investors, I have my doubts.
Don't get me wrong, I have a Facebook account, our newspaper has a page and I regularly participate in the social media fun. It has even been useful for work, as we have discovered stories to dig into that originated from posts on Facebook.
But, it has limitations as far as a community news site. My column last week highlighted community members helping a public school enrichment program, a public swimming pool and even a stranger with some fresh produce after reading stories in one of our newspapers. Something unexpected in the local newspaper spurred them to take action.
Facebook communities are exclusive; you have to be a Facebook friend or fan to follow the activities of members. That is great for family, friends, relatives, former schoolmates and other people to which you have some kind of tie. In some ways, you really do get to know them better than before as their beliefs, interests and activities are exposed for all their "friends" to see.
But, it's not the same as picking up a community newspaper and finding out what is happening in the life of someone you would never think to "friend" on Facebook. Those glimpses into the lives of people that may be strangers can lead to random acts of kindness, such as the person offering fresh produce to someone he didn't know, but found out about by reading her story in the newspaper.
A community newspaper can also lead to better citizens. Even if the city council had a Facebook page, I doubt many people would choose to "like" it on Facebook. Yet, not all the work of local government is dry or boring. When discussion centers on something such as a pool leaking, affecting many youth in the community, several local business owners will spring into action.
The same goes for marketing. I have sat through several meetings where someone chirps "we have to post that on Facebook - get the free advertising." I remain silent - I do have a bias when advertising is brought up - but as I look around the room, I know several of the board members of the group don't have Facebook accounts and even the ones who do, I wonder if they are even Facebook friends since they come from disparate backgrounds.
After all, any Facebook post is only going to be seen by someone who is already a "friend" of the person or a "fan" of the company. Isn't that preaching to the choir?
Now getting the word out on Facebook is a good start because groups want their faithful to participate in whatever they are doing, but they need to reach out to others as well. In other words, again, Facebook can't replace a medium that reaches strangers, people new to the community and others who aren't tied into an already existing network.
Newspapers have a certain randomness, a certain unpredictability, about what - or who - will be in the pages in the next issue that can enrich lives by expanding people's consciousness.
I don't root against Facebook, for it has many interesting, and beneficial, qualities. I also don't see Facebook as the devil, as I realize its popularity doesn't mean the demise of newspapers. It's just another medium in a world full of media.
I'm sure we'll be seeing the social medium of Facebook for a while longer, whatever happens to its stock or its successes and failures in marketing, just as we will be seeing for many years the mass medium of newspapers, which have also changed - and adapted - with the introduction of radio and television in the past.