Americans Heard bin Laden News via Social Media... and Broadcast News, and WOM, and...

Any time there's a big news event nowadays, it seems like we media types go looking for evidence of shifts in the way people get their news, for example away from TV and radio to social media. The death of Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011 was certainly one such occasion: it seems like there were almost as many surveys asking how people heard the news as there were articles about the news itself (I contributed one earlier this week). But too often we try to impose a simplistic, zero-sum perspective -- that is, that gains on one side (social media) must mean losses on another (TV, radio) -- on what are in reality very complex patterns of human behavior.

No question, social media played a big role in disseminating information about bin Laden's death. As noted in my post about bin Laden's death on Monday, I got my first notification via a Facebook update (on a mobile device). And many of the responses to my impromptu survey showed a similar pattern: out of 21 total respondents, eight (38%) said they received their first notification about the news via social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and World of Warcraft forums (I love that last one). Four respondents (19%) said they got their first notification via online media, including three (14%) who received it in the form of a news update from an iPad or smartphone app.

However, this hardly spells the end of traditional media when it comes to news consumption. For one thing, seven respondents (33%) said they found out from TV news, and two (9%) via word-of-mouth through phone calls. Meanwhile it was interesting to see where people went to learn more about the killing of bin Laden by U.S. Navy SEALS: regardless of how they first found out, 13 respondents (62%) said they next went to broadcast or cable TV news to get more information. Even more telling, five respondents (24%) said they watched TV while simultaneously checking online sources including social media.

Of course it's worth noting that the potential pool of respondents for my survey -- and indeed many of the other online surveys -- was highly self-selecting, skewing towards tech-savvy media types. More balanced results should be available from professional polling services, including one survey by the Washington Post and Pew Research Center which found that 58% of U.S. adults found out from TV, compared with 11% for the Internet, including just 6% for social media (equal to radio). 15% said they found out through word-of-mouth.

One of the remarkable results from all these surveys, professional or otherwise, is the very small proportion of U.S. adults who learned about the news from newspapers: just 3% in the Washington Post-Pew poll, and not a single person in my own survey.

1 comment about "Americans Heard bin Laden News via Social Media... and Broadcast News, and WOM, and...".
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  1. Steve Sarner from if(we), May 5, 2011 at 5:53 p.m.

    Thanks again for being a voice of reason in all of the research and social media hoopla over nothing. People stopped getting major news breaks from newspapers long before the internet. I am not sure what it means that I found out about OBL from Twitter and then Facebook about 30 minutes before television, other than I knew something of interest a few minutes before the rest of the world. One thing I do know - to learn more about the situation I am following links through these mediums back to "traditional" news sources and video.

    As long as I am here...not to make light of a serious situation but, I would also like to thank Seal Team 6 for giving us a break from the royal wedding media blitz for a couple days. Although now that the happy couple are going to honeymoon in The U.S. - here comes the onslaught of updates again...what will Kate where in LA Erick? Please do tell!

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