Social media vs. traditional media – who’s the winner?

The vast growth of social media has made huge changes how information is consumed – virtually and socially. Traditional media like TV, radio, newspapers have partly moved online where information is easier to find, manage and share. The new generation has already used to consume social media as “traditional media”.

The information consumption has turned more digital and news spread virally. Different studies show that social media is trusted more than traditional media channels. If social media served self-promotional channel at first then now the trend has moved towards daily information consumption channel.

How social media differs from traditional media?

Social media differs from traditional media in many ways. Morgan and Jones have listed 7 key differences:

  • Quality – The news quality in traditional media channels is controlled by publisher. The major challenge of social media is the variety of the information – from very weak to very professional content. There is also deliberate false information.
  • Scope – Both traditional media and social media give opportunity to communicate their message to the world. When traditional media is using a centralized approach and production to distribute the information, then social media is by its nature more decentralized which provides the opportunity to research and produce information in several different places at the same time.
  • Frequency – The time of advertising and information display is longer in social media channels than in traditional media.
  • Accessibility – Traditional media requires large initial capital investment to start the campaign but social media is generally free or at low cost.
  • Usability – Traditional media production typically requires a good knowledge, skills and training. By contrast social media requires a slight increase of the skill level you already have. You can say that everyone who has access to social media can produce social media.
  • Immediacy – The time that is spent on information research and publishing the article is very long (days, weeks or even months) in traditional media channels. On the other hand social media is essentially direct communication of people that allows sending news, asking questions or rising discussions immediately.
  • Permanence – You cannot chance a newspaper article or an ad once it’s published. To compare with social media where you can chance or improve news by comments.

Social media as a new information distribution channel

The amount of internet users who spend more time on social media than any other sites is continuously growing. People like interactive communication and collecting information, learning experiences and exchange knowledge. A social media report by Nielsen states that Americans spent 121 000 000 000 minutes on different social media channels in June 2012 which is a 37% growth compared with June 2011. The figures show that consumers have embraced social media as a new information consumption channel.

The trends of using social media

Nowadays you can occasionally meet the opinion that 10 years ago social media didn’t exist. The truth is that social media was already there but not the same way we are used to it now. In Estonia we had and the most popular foreign channel was Orkut. The social media channels that day were oriented on self-promotion of users and the focus was on commenting and rating the pictures.

For today both Rate and Orkut have lost their popularity. Google as an owner of Orkut has distributed a new social media environment called Google+ that has totally different functionality than Orkut had. The focus has moved from self-promotion to information distribution and consumption. Williamson D.A, the author of social media report have stated that: “The strength of social networking as a worldwide online activity cannot be understated”. In 2012, 63,2% of internet users visited a social network at least once a month. It’s estimated that in 2013 the number will rise to 67,6% and in 2014 up to 70,7%. One in every four people on earth will be using social networks in 2014.

The picture below states the report of where social network user penetration worldwide in 2011-2014 is displayed. When the number was 17,3% in 2011 it is estimated that by 2014 social media usage will grow 50% up to 25,8% of the population.

According to another social media report 65% of internet users in America used social networks in 2012. A year earlier the same indicator was 61% which makes a yoy growth of 6,5%. The same report states that the social media usage among elderly group of people aged 50-64 raised to 32% in 2011.

The highest internet penetration of developing countries come from China where by the end of 2011 the amount of internet users were 500 000 000 people. Although Facebook is banned in China it hasn’t stopped the distribution of social media. Slightly more than half of internet users have joined Weibo or some other local social environments. Emarketer predicts that 763% of internet users which is 30,6% of China population has a social media account by 2014.


Social media is an important channel for news and information distribution and consumption that has taken over the functions of traditional media. Social media is no longer a place to show off, where you post edited pictures to score points. Instead social media presents an information consumption and distribution channel that replaces significantly traditional media. The trends show that the popularity of social media has grown over the years and the growth remains the same trend. Here comes the golden conclusion: where the consumers are there are businesses. Think about your social media strategy. Is it a self-promotion or information distribution channel?