In the beginning of the year, we looked at some key trends that will influence the media industry. We will continue to look at some of them closer over time and share here some insights and thoughts around them. Today we look at Sensationalism in media and how to deal with it.
Media companies – especially in the News and Mainstream Entertainment genre – have over the years based their success on sensationalism. Big surprising events, shows, news, topics are used as the main hook to attract audiences, readers, and subscribers. It is a strategy that translates into hard dollars right away. Attracting large audiences increases ratings and helps to grow advertising sales and subscription income. Sensationalism has become the blood infusion when a media asset was weakening. Sensationalism has become the dope on which media manager thrive.
How far an impact Sensationalism has on a society is to be witnessed now every day: a whole big nation has become the audience to a sensationalist government. It was also the (news) media’s bias towards sensationalist news that helped to sweep this government into power. Had the news media been a bit more reluctant to jump onto each new exaggerated statement of the candidate, the attention and exposure he would have gotten had been much smaller and likely would not have furthered his cause. Now, the News media is in the pickle that it cooked up itself.
There are a few approaches that will help media to get out of that pickle. Obviously, the situation is complex and no single route will get one out of it. It is rather a matter of trial and error on the one side; and a mix of different strategies on the other, that will likely result in success.
Reinventing your Business model
I have written already about how News Media, in particular, can reinvent itself. That approach is basically applicable to all media. The idea is based on the theory of building digital tribes. It will result in creating loyal followers and advocates of that particular tribe – and media platform. So that is certainly an element that must be part of the strategy mix of every media brand these days.
Interaction to build Trust & Loyalty
Furthermore, Media must again start to listen to its audience and bring stories that are relevant. Talk with the people instead of about them. Increase the options and ways to interact. Be careful though with all the bots, trolls, and haters. Be consistent, clear and fast in identifying those and moving them out of your community. You do not want to have any bullies (that job is already managed from the White House). You want to create an environment of openness, inclusiveness, and honesty. Making also minorities part of your communities and ensuring they are being heard.
Finally, you can still bet on Sensationalism. But instead of being hijacked by it or by its source, you rather control the sensation yourself. Use big names to draw attention; invite them to be part of your brand or community. Make them a spokesperson for your cause.
You can also create your own surprise event or news. Especially as a broadcast channel, you should more often try to do Live Events that have a new slant to it and include surprise elements. E.g. sudden turns and twists in the plot, new technology, impressive guests appearing, major announcements, etc. You are creative, be smart about suspense and building it up.
Naturally, there are surprise events that are completely out of your control – and yet, you need to cover them. Such sporadic, unpredictable events require a good network of affiliates, local stations, flexible teams and most of all, a community you can rely on. Hence the importance of a digital tribe. If you have your audience involved and participate in the reporting, you will not only be fast but also create even more loyalty within your community.
Look at the Higher Collective Good you can do
In consequence, when you want to disengage your media asset from the sensationalism drug, you must be willing to try new ways. Most of all, you must be willing to forsake catching quick eyeballs and growth in ratings. You must have also the higher collective good as part of how you measure your performance. It means stepping beyond pure self-interest and rather building communities that are strong to weather any sensationalist storm.