Social vs. Traditional Media: Has the Battle Already Ended?

April 1, 2016

[gillian blease/ikon images/corbis]
[gillian blease/ikon images/corbis]

To add new and different perspectives on communication research and measurement, for 2016, the “Ask Doc Rock” column is switching to a new format. A variety of Ketchum Global Research and Analytics staff members will author the column, and David B. Rockland, Ph.D., its originator, will serve as the editor.

It’s 2016, and professionals are still claiming social media is “on the rise.” According to a recent PR Newswire release, the worldwide social media analytics market is set to grow from $1.6 billion in 2015 to $5.4 billion by 2020. Are we still defining it as “rising” because we are expecting it to eventually plateau? Or is it because we are still comparing it to traditional media, which did rise and eventually began to decline?

Among traditional PR agencies, where earned media is king, the juxtaposition between social and traditional media is still a constant battle. I believe that this sense of “either/or” is wrong and that we need to look at the two together, from both a measurement and programming perspective.

Here are a few of the reasons that there are immense differences between traditional and social media:

  1. Social media reaches a maximum audience, while traditional media’s audience is generally more targeted.
  2. Social media is versatile (you can make changes once published), whereas traditional media, once published, is set in stone.
  3. Social media is immediate, while traditional can be delayed due to press times.
  4. Social media is a two-way conversation, and traditional is one-way.
  5. Social media often has unreliable demographic data, but traditional media’s is more accurate.

A shift in mentality

When we rely on social media to replace traditional media in scenarios where budgets are tighter or turnaround is shorter, it seems like an unjustified decision. There are places where social media cannot replace traditional — such as developing strategy for regions without strong online presences, or when self-reported demographic data will not suffice.

Therefore, thinking about both as steps within finding, converting and keeping customers seems like a mentality shift we all need to make. This has already proven true.

Take Casper, for example. A mattress company at its core, it can also be used as a model for disruptive businesses understanding this closed-loop mentality. Casper plans to do this by hiring journalists in-house to launch an editorial site focused on the science of sleep, while simultaneously creating word-of-mouth marketing across traditional advertising and social media platforms. Casper’s creation of an in-house content engine is exciting for the storytelling age — which brings the smartest tactics from advertising, public relations, marketing and editorial together, regardless of the type of media. In essence, they are merging social and traditional rather than thinking of them separately.

According to Nielsen, 92 percent of consumers trust earned media such as word-of-mouth. In many brands’ eyes today, a perfect closed loop of mixed media efforts would mean that the content first went viral, and then changed consumer sentiment toward a buying decision. Looking at strategies focusing on the changing consumer rather than the type of media may help us become better content strategists.

Where do we begin to change and shape the way professionals think about this media battle? At the core of it, educational systems are changing the curriculum in marketing programs to focus on social media. To me, this seems silly. A résumé from a candidate that focuses only on social media marketing would likely be too siloed.

Four years ago, U.S. News & World Report published a piece on avoiding social media MBAs. Since as early as 2010, schools have been offering an MBA in social media marketing alone. Closing the loop means focusing on social media marketing as a subset, but layering in other expertise, such as big data analytics, storytelling, viral marketing, data visualization and traditional journalism.

For companies and brands that are disrupting the status quo, this battle is over, and new-age marketing has begun. So why are we still discussing it?

Bailey Roy
Bailey Roy is senior project manager of the Digital Research and Analytics group, a subset of Ketchum Global Research and Analytics and Ketchum Digital. You can reach her at or @BaileyRoy.


Peter M. Smudde, Ph.D., APR says:

I agree with Ms. Roy's points about the silliness of digital/new media VERSUS analog/traditional media. It’s not about the rise (or supremacy) of one media category and the demise of the other. It’s about ethically and strategically taking advantage of the strengths and minimizing the weaknesses of any media combination that makes the most sense — in the service of establishing cooperation between organizations and their publics.

April 13, 2016

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