Influencing Potential of Print and Social Media

Some time ago I posted an article on this blog titled “Are Printed Publications Relevant in an Online World?” wherein I expressed my view that a printed publication like a magazine is far more effective than an online publication like a blog because it manages to get the undivided attention of the reader. This post is my attempt to figure out which kind of media is more effective when you look at the larger picture.

Print publications often brag about the size of their readership, usually a few thousands. My guess is that even the most popular blogs do not come close that those kinds of numbers. Quite simply because I get the feeling that the number of people that read blogs may be only a low multiple of the number that write them. I have no way of knowing for sure, but my feeling is that there are only a few of us who are all crazy about blogs and other forms of social media like Twitter, Facebook, etc. This is not to say that this number will not grow. It definitely will over time. And that’s the reason we often hear people say “social media is not there yet”.

Last night I was Googling for some information regarding some hardware that I needed for the office and went looking for reviews. As I was reading along I happened to notice that some of the stuff I was reading was months and even years old. Google tries to give you the latest information. But other factors such as link popularity, page rank, etc, get in the way and you end up being served all kinds of stuff from different points in time. This means that the stuff people write in cyberspace stays there till kingdom come, or at least till someone replaces the internet with something else.

Now think about this. When a printed magazine lands in your hands, you end up reading it and maybe pass it along to a couple of more people. And after that it ends up in the trash can. That’s how short the life span of a magazine is and the information that resides in it. Now compare an article in a magazine with say an article on a blog on the same topic. The blog post is here to stay. The magazine article dies in a month or two. The blog post is actually indexed by search engines for relevant key words and is kept ready to be served to anyone on the planet with an internet connection. And that too for many years, if not forever.

I do happen to know a bit about the CAD software and where to find unbiased or biased but useful information about it. So that makes me a person who can sniff out the information I need. But I do not really know much about hardware and am not a big fan of hardware related blogs. Neither do I subscribe to hardware magazines. So that makes me the equivalent of a CAD user who simply uses CAD software for his work but really does not bother himself with knowing where to find the right information. So when the times comes for him to actually find information on something, he turns to something like Google. He follows the links on the first page or maybe the second and makes his opinion on whatever was served to him. I did exactly that last night during my quest for information on the hardware that I was interested in.

I said earlier that only a few of us read and write blogs. But almost everyone uses a search engine to find information. So this means that online publications like blogs have the potential of influencing a much larger amount of people over time, not just a few thousand that printed magazines influence for a month or two. I get the feeling that PR and Marketing people have begun to realize this and that is why we are seeing a marked shift in the way they have been treating bloggers.

If you compare a well written article in a magazine using excellent prose and beautiful screenshots with a blog post with spelling mistakes written by someone in a hurry to do something else, I believe the effect of the former maybe greater in the short run (a month or two maximum), but the effect of the blog post only grows over time. Can you imagine how many page views the blog post will get in its entire lifetime? It hard to put a number especially when you don’t know whether the life span has an upper limit. With the magazine article its easy to figure out the number of page views – the number of issues printed multiplied by say a factor of 2 or 3. Or maybe more, I don’t know.

And here is the best part. The more the blog post is viewed, the greater is the chance that it will get viewed again since it moves up the search engine index. The more other people link to it, the more it will be viewed, since its page rank increases and shows higher in search engine listings. On the other hand, the magazine article is gone long before the blog post has even started to make its mark. My point is that the influencing potential of a good blog post only grows with time. The influencing potential of a good magazine article (or a not-so-good one) is reduced to zero on the same day it lands in a trash can.

All this is besides the point that the influence of the printed magazine is restricted to the people in the geographical area to whom it gets mailed. You cannot forward a link to a page on a printed magazine to someone half way across the globe. There is no way to search for information in a printed magazine after it reaches the trash can. This is severely contrasted by the fact that Google even has a Blog Search feature that searches only blogs.

When looking at the big picture, maybe we are grossly underestimating the potential of social media and possibly overestimating that of the print media. I’d like to hear your views on this, especially since at the current moment you are reading a blog.