Think you can put social media in a box? Taylor Swift proves otherwise

patrick baumeThe Prime Minister might be prepared to shake off social media as ‘electonic graffiti’, but the traditional media impressions gained by the Taylor Swift Hottest 100 campaign tell a different story, argues Patrick Baume. 

The P.M. again called social media ‘electronic graffiti’ over the weekend, after he faced extensive social and traditional media criticism over his decision to award Prince Philip an Australian knighthood, on the same day Triple J shot down the #Tay4Hottest100 campaign. So if both ends of the cultural spectrum are saying it’s ok to ‘ignore’ social media, there must be some truth there, right?

The front page of this morning's Courier Mail summed up a lot of sentiment around the decision to knight Prince Philip

The front page of this morning’s Courier Mail summed up a lot of sentiment around the decision to knight Prince Philip

Tony Abbott may have actually come up with a good metaphor for social media with his ‘electronic graffiti’ comment. Graffiti is loathed by some and loved by others, with most people relatively ambivalent, liking some but not all of it. Nevertheless, it undoubtedly changes the public space for everyone and its existence can create debate far beyond its original platform.

Social media is, of course, far more participatory than graffiti. Two-thirds of Australians have a Facebook account and millions of us are active on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and other post and comment platforms.

It takes a powerful act of tunnel vision for anyone who needs to appeal to a large audience to ignore what is undoubtedly a very mainstream method of communication in 2015. But is that what Triple J did? Or was their response based on a better understanding of how social media works, and how it interacts with other media?

It certainly appears that the Jays refusal of Tay was primarily because of the power of social media, not because it doesn’t matter, and because it was a chance for them to actively restate their cultural position while everyone was watching, not just on social media, but across traditional platforms as well.

We all know the professional journalist who seeded the Taylor Swift campaign (Buzzfeed’s Mark DiStefano) got plenty of traction on Twitter, in fact from our Mediaportal tracking over 70,000 posts just in the last week.

But it also achieved a TV cumulative audience of 13.8m across all three commercial networks and the ABC itself, a radio cumulative audience of over 3m including the top rating stations in five capitals, and a whopping print cumulative circulation of 46m including every metro masthead in Australia and plenty of regionals.

A chart showing media mentions to Twitter activity: Source, iSentia

A chart showing media mentions to Twitter activity: Source, iSentia

You didn’t need to be anywhere near a tablet, smartphone or even your old fashioned PC to be fully aware of the campaign. Just like a talkback compere hoeing into some ‘appalling bit of public vandalism’ sprayed across a wall on Centre Street, you didn’t need to have been anywhere near the actual source to be aware of it and even to form an opinion on its merits.

Triple J's response took a swing at KFC's attempt to hijack the #tay4hottest100 hashtag

Triple J’s response took a swing at KFC’s attempt to hijack the #tay4hottest100 hashtag

Ultimately Triple J received a massive amount of free publicity for the Hottest 100 across a vast array of professional media outlets reaching pretty much every community across Australia, and at the end of it all, it got to send out a warning that it was going to keep control of its own event, make fun of Buzzfeed and corporate sponsors that it doesn’t need and isn’t allowed to take, and restate that while it’s charter is to appeal to a young audience, it will choose what type of music it thinks young people should be listening to, thank you very much.

You can certainly argue the merits of Triple J’s ultimate position, but you can’t argue that they didn’t know exactly what they were doing, and what the flow on effects might be.

And meanwhile, for those who think they can put social media into a box as some strange little cabal of people ranting at each other with no connection to the rest of the universe, well they just need to smell the coffee and open their morning newspaper.

Patrick Baume is group communications manager for media monitoring firm iSentia.


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