The role of social networking sites in the media

As I’ve said before, I work for a student newspaper, and I was recently asked if our publication utilized social networking sites to our benefit. The following is my response to the questions I was asked:

We are in fact using such social networking sites as Facebook and MySpace for promotional purposes at The Sunflower.

We first started using such sites a little over a year ago, and they are in place simply to inform Internet users about our existence while giving readers another avenue for contacting us.

Results from utilizing such social sites have not been overwhelming. We have several ?friends? in each type of network, but little ?conversation? takes place with our ?friends? via the networking site.

To some, such results would create questions as to why it is even worth the time and effort to maintain such a site. Well, I believe the answer to those types of questions is easy ? in this day and age, not having a profile on the various networking sites is more detrimental than your site not being highly used for networking and communication.

With the target audience our newspaper tries to reach, which is of course college students, social networking sites are easily recognizable. Even if they may not have heard of our publication, we can tell them to check us out on Facebook or MySpace, and then maybe we will be able to better reach those consumers.

Granted, we could direct them to our Web site, but I strongly believe college students will be more likely to test the waters on a social networking site rather than directly going to an actual Web site.

Outside of simply trying to promote our newspaper and reach out readers, social networking sites also play a vital role in news reporting.

People pour their souls out on sites such a Facebook and MySpace, and they usually do so without considering how many people can actually see what they are contributing to their profiles.

This was beneficial to our publication in particular last year when an employee of the university was suspected of providing alcohol to minors. We were able to find pictures showing those alleged actions on the employee?s Facebook account.

Also more recently, the student government president resigned, and I was able to use his Facebook information to begin to confirm the rumor that he was resigning before he announced it himself.

Of course, such examples are the downside of social networking sites. Many people don?t think about what they are putting on their profiles. They have no concept of their Internet reputations.

Employers are just as savvy as the common user, and they can access all your profile information just as easy as anyone else. Therefore, posting pictures of underage drinking or other illegal or distasteful behavior can be detrimental because it could affect one?s job or life in general because you cannot keep any secrets in a social networking site.

Users need to focus on being mindful of what information they are putting out there. Now, if someone is okay with having negative pictures, comments or whatever about themselves out on the Internet, that is fine, but the majority of the people do not even think about that and then wonder why something happened as a result of what was on their profile pages.

Personally, I began utilizing social networking sites a little over a year ago as well. I chose to set up my profiles because I was getting into web design, and I realized I needed to market and brand myself as fully as possible to eventually get a job in the career field of my choice. Again, I saw how easy it was to find people on these networks, and I wanted prospective employers to be able to find me easily as well.

Keeping that in mind, I am very careful about what types of pictures I post, and I watch what I write while on the network because even though I think the photos are the things that really get people in trouble, I do not want to be caught saying something so offensive that I could not justify it if asked.

Basically, if I think my grandmother would be embarrassed, I try not to post it.

In the future, I see MySpace losing ground to Facebook because Facebook, in my opinion, is simply more user friendly. MySpace requires a lot of maintenance to keep in customized, while Facebook keeps things uniform and allows users to focus on the services offered. Granted, some see this as a negative because they cannot stand out in the crowd, but I see it as the biggest advantage. When others visit your profile, they will have an easier time navigating your site due to the fact everything will look normal instead of how some MySpace pages are inundated with customization that alters the location of simple navigation tools.

I do see where Facebook may change this and try to allow more customization, but at the same time, I believe the architects behind the network will see the success of their design and not want to stray too far from what is obviously working for their users.

For our newspaper, I plan on utilizing the social networking sites in a manner we at The Sunflower never have. I intend upon combing through the profiles of the students of our university and finding the interesting things people are doing. Then, on our web site, our staff will be posting such findings under some sort of banner called something like ?What WSU?s doing on Facebook/MySpace.? I believe this will give our readers a larger sense of loyalty to our publication because they will be helping drive the content.

Overall, I am happy to be using social networking sites because of the ease of access to communicating with other individuals, and I believe that is the biggest reason they are so popular.

Like I said, our media outlet has not seen a huge response. However, the option is there, and I believe that is the most important aspect of it all ? ease of access for our readers or my prospective employers.

Either way, the lines of communication are open. Now they just need to be used.

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About toddvogts 830 Articles
Todd R. Vogts, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of media at Sterling College in Kansas. Previously, he taught yearbook, newspaper, newsmagazine, and online journalism in various Kansas high schools, and he ran a weekly newspaper in rural Kansas. He continues to freelance as a professional journalist from time to time. Also, Vogts is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the Journalism Education Association (JEA), and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), among others. He earned his Master Journalism Educator (MJE) certification from JEA in 2022. When he’s not teaching or writing, he runs his mobile disk jockey service and takes part in other entrepreneurial ventures. He can be reached at or via his website at