Personal traits and psychological circumstances aside, it has become common knowledge that we, humans, are social creatures. No matter how much we would rather stay quiet on our way to work on a cold and cloudy winter Monday morning, most of us would probably still respond to a “good morning” from the receptionist or security guard when entering the office building. I recall one day, many years ago, when a friend of mine was telling me about how technology had been stopping people from interacting with others, and essentially turning us into anti-social creatures since the introduction of Sony’s Walkman, which he saw as a machine that isolated the individual using it into his or her own “bubble”. Although I disagreed with him, I realize now that he was not completely wrong. That is not to say I believe technology was killing social interactions, but rather that perhaps it was not considering our social needs as much as it should. Nevertheless, we demanded interaction, and technology took note and served us a myriad of new tools that enable us to do just that, interact. Today, not only do we interact with our colleagues, friends, and family, we also have interactions with mass media organizations.
It used to be we passively received one-way communications from mass media channels, such as radio, television, and even the early websites; now, we have new media, which enables us to do more than just receive information. For example, today we can voice our opinions through comments in which we directly address organizations, and these comments have the potential of becoming viral. Consequently, organizations now interact with audiences rather than just deliver one-way messages. Today, we can play a role in the mass communication process, if we choose to.
You may wonder what was it, then—if not playing a role in the mass communication process—when people would call a TV or radio show and be on air to voice their opinions, all before social media even existed. Those were exceptions, and anybody who tried to interact with mass media a few years ago would agree that it was extremely difficult to even have your call answered. Believe me, I tried to call the Bozo Show so many times that my mother decided to put a padlock on the phone dial—which did not stop me from doing it, but that is another story.
The point is, new media takes into consideration our interactive nature, enabling people and organizations to interact more naturally. On the other hand, it is important to note that while new media provides us with a multidimensional and interactive experience, it does not mean that traditional mass media (e.g.: radio and television) has not evolved to meet the modern audience’s expectations. In fact, virtually every TV or radio show today includes calls to action encouraging the audience to voice their opinions via social media. Such a trend comes to show that the notion that traditional media only addresses passive audiences is not sustainable. A study conducted by the Hezikom research group concluded that the patterns of online interactivity among audiences of traditional and new media is rather multifaceted; people can generally use both types of media and make choices about whether to have an interaction with them, and at what level, according to their own needs and intentions (Agirre, Arrizabalaga, & Espilla, 2016).
From the perspective of mass media organizations, as Kevin Backhurst suggests in an article about the influence of social media on newsrooms, these interactions represent an excellent opportunity for journalists to engage their audiences and provide material that meet their expectations. However, it is important to carefully analyze such interactions before making decisions based on them. Although it is important in today’s interactive world to listen to the audience and address their concerns, taking a group of social media comments as the opinion of the entire audience can lead to poor editorial judgement (Bakhurst, 2011).
Whether we choose to use new media channels to directly address organizations, or prefer not to interact with them at all, we can rest assured that today we have the option to, which gives us more power to influence public opinion and makes engagement such an important concept in the daily life of professionals in the modern mass media industry.
Agirre, I. A., Arrizabalaga, A. P., & Espilla, A. Z. (2016). Active audience?: interaction of young people with television and online video content. Communication & Society, 29(3), 133-147. doi:10.15581/003.29.3.133-147
Bakhurst, K. (2011). How has social media changed the way newsrooms work? Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2011/09/ibc_in_amsterdam.html
Boyd, B. (2011). New meaning to the word “engagement”. Retrieved from http://mediafirst.net/blog/new-meaning-word-engagement#sthash.lOOoniuV.W9fFg8H3.dpbs