THE BLOG
09/03/2014 05:56 pm ET Updated Nov 03, 2014

Social Sharing Feeds Our Appetite for News

Paul Taylor via Getty Images

A few years ago when traveling to meet a client, a nice story about his business was published in the local newspaper that very morning. Because we had placed the story, I proudly asked my client if he had seen the morning paper. He handed me a faxed copy of the article -- not an original. I was taken aback.

"You don't get your local paper?" I asked.

"Haven't for awhile," he replied.

"How do you get your news?" I queried.

"Well, I get the Wall Street Journal at my house, but I dropped the local paper a while ago," he said. "If it's important, someone will send it to me."

This happened in 2009 and should have been a clear signal to divest immediately all print media company holdings.

I bring up this story not to discuss the long-studied decline of printed dailies but, rather, the latter part of the statement: "If it's important, someone will send it to me." Back in '09, faxing an article was equivalent to today's social sharing.

If you have ever posted a news link to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, then you have participated in the social sharing ecosystem which is overtaking traditional channels as the most powerful way to distribute information.

Reporter Claire Cain Miller in the New York Times recently wrote that rising news website Buzzfeed now gets more traffic from Facebook than from Google. Popular thinking was that search engines drove the most traffic to news sites, but a shift is on. From Miller's article:

Data from a slice of the Internet -- the 350,000 websites in the Shareaholic network, which gets 400 million unique visitors a month -- illustrates the shift. Last summer, 40 percent of traffic came from search engines, and 14 percent came from social networks. This summer, about 29 percent of traffic comes from each.

This, of course, begs the question: How do you get your news? We know that fewer and fewer folks get a daily printed paper, but we remain informed (I hope), so people still get information somehow. Is it through search engines, frequent visits to news websites, or, as Miller posits, social sharing? Likely, it's an evolving combination.

I decided to ask a few executive-level friends how they get their news. My sample skews "old school," but that's part of my point.

One exec still reads a national newspaper online each day and gets a hard copy on the weekends. He also relies on Twitter for breaking news and Google Alerts for specific topics, as well as trade outlet news briefs for the latest news in his particular industry. He reads articles funneled through social media but doesn't conscientiously share news on a regular basis.

Another exec eschews social media completely, claiming that his Facebook account was "stillborn" (that cracked me up.) His morning ritual includes the New York Times on his tablet, along with a glance at his local daily online. He also reads other online publications and shares content regularly -- but via e-mail not social media. No e-mail news alerts as he finds them intrusive.

I posed the same question to a small business owner. He replied that he hasn't read a newspaper in years. He hit some hard times during the recession and said that all the bad news in the paper, on TV and on the radio depressed him; so he dropped his subscriptions and only listens to satellite radio in his car. Business has recovered, by the way, but he still doesn't get a paper.

I asked all three one simple question: "How did you learn of the death of Robin Williams?" It was a big news story, and most people remember how they heard about it. The first exec said via Twitter, the second said from the CNN website and the third (who said he doesn't follow the news at all) answered Facebook -- which was a bit of a light bulb moment for both of us.

I agree with Times reporter Miller's findings that social sharing is gaining ground. Many folks are spending more time on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter than any one news site. When news breaks, it also breaks on social media sites, and that's when we might gravitate back to traditional media outlets such as television and the big news websites. If you are like me, you are driven to national outlets like CNN or Fox when you hear about major news, such as military actions or the passing of a beloved entertainer. If we can get our general news fix via social media, though, there's very little reason to leave the comfort of our insulated feed. The social sharing ecosystem offers many of us enough information to satiate our appetite for news.

What do you think, and how do you get your news? Are you staying informed via traditional media outlets, or does social sharing have an impact on the news you consume?