Editorial: Liking Social Media

This page is frequently devoted to regulation, responsible journalism and challenges to the First Amendment, and it remains dedicated to preserving, protecting and defending the media industry from those threats. But there won’t be any industry to defend unless it reinvents itself through
innovation and the risk capital of new ideas.

In our cover story this week, B&C Business Editor Jon Lafayette
looks at some television companies that are increasingly focusing their
time and resources on social media. And like every media company doing
pretty much anything, they do so in an effort to grow audiences and—they
hope one day—significant revenue.

But in the short term, they are operating a little bit on blind faith. While
social media has been part of some ad buys for media companies, it tends to
fall in the value-added portion as opposed to generating hard dollars. And
like the old saying about knowing half of your advertising works—but not
knowing which half—it is virtually impossible to draw a hard line between
social media chatter and ratings.

Nevertheless, many media companies are putting a lot of emphasis
(and more money) toward social media, sensing the potential for a breakthrough,
especially on the revenue side. And it is that push toward innovation
that we cheer.

There is plenty that has troubled us through this recession about the
media industry, from the evisceration of revenue to the terrible loss of jobs
across the board. But perhaps the most disconcerting thing we heard during
the downturn was when executives would talk about shedding R&D
to focus on core business.

Now of course it is easy for us to thumb a nose at that and remind everyone
of the old adage that R&D is the cheapest money you can spend.
But when times are tough and you have to cut somewhere, it is natural to
assume the fetal position and stick with what (you think) works.

That said, when a business stops evolving, you can start to write its obit.
And the recipe for evolution usually calls for a good helping of the aforementioned
blind faith. Which is why we both profiled the increasing business
strategies behind social media in our cover story this week, and at the same
time cheer on both these and other innovations in the face of tough times.

To summarize, while putting money into social media may seem soft in that
the ROI isn’t there (yet), if investing in it were a Facebook update, we would
click the “like” button. And we’ll continue to “retweet” every sign we see of
gutsy evolution as this recession (in technical terms or not) drags on.