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‘Likes’ Offer Increasing Boost to Brand Loyalty

As viewers and readers continue to shift away from network TV and radio news shows, metropolitan newspapers and national magazines – these traditional media outlets are losing a century-old role as “gatekeepers.”

Who are today’s influencers, in a search engine-driven world of digimags and blogs?

According to a new research study commissioned by CNN, an eclectic mix of social media “likes” and the power of peer recommendation have supplanted the New York Times. In a few short years, we’ve gone from a tightly reined world of “all the news that fits” to a universe with limitless gigabytes.

In the simplest terms, we are more likely today to take interest in issues and news recommended by friends, peers and professional colleagues. And, apparently, this evokes a “halo effect” that boosts brand recognition of the advertising that surrounds recommended content.

CNN’s global online survey into the power of news and recommendation (POWNAR) showed that people who received news content from a friend or associate via social media, were 19% more likely to recommend the brand that advertised around that story to others and 27% more likely to favour that brand themselves.

In the halcyon days of the power media – the 1950s, 60s and 70s – a small clique of wire-service editors and broadcast bureau chiefs selected 10 or 20 key stories each day that dominated news content and water cooler discussions on a 24-hour news cycle.

These “gatekeepers” of the news functioned like screeners at the front door of a hot disco, opening the “gate” to the beautiful people, while relegating Joe Sixpack and his homely date to the line of lonely losers outside. America’s gatekeepers were household names like Joseph Pulitzer, Edward R. Murrow, Helen Thomas, William F. Buckley, Woodward & Bernstein, Barbara Walters and Paul Harvey.

With the emergence of CNN in the 1980s, and the subsequent cable and talk-radio information boom, news and commentary became a 24-7 fact of life. The news cycle shifted as quickly as the next guest could be mic’d up to comment on the latest 20-second video clip of reality.

Larry King, Rush Limbaugh, Bernard Shaw, Christiane Amanpour and Bill O’Reilly were among the next generation of opinion leaders.

But their rein is slowly yielding to a Google-driven, Facebook-centered web world in which an unfiltered YouTube posting can spin public opinion in a heartbeat.

Think how often an email from a friend drives you to some quirky or sensational video clip. Decades of brand-building can evaporate in 30 seconds of videotaped embarrassment; a political shoo-in can find himself in the fight of his life over a slip of the lip captured by a cell phone.

That’s not necessarily bad news for companies and agencies looking to get a leg up on building online credibility. With a carefully plotted strategy, the smart marketer can determine what techniques are being used in their target online spaces and develop a peer-based network to leverage the 21st century gatekeeping process.

“Knowing the typology of shared content is significant,” says Didier Mormesse, senior VP for ad sales research, development and audience insight at CNN International. “The information (can) be used by agencies as a guideline to mold creative and therefore make their advertising more effective to consumers.”

Other survey findings include:

  • The 80/20 rule applies to the findings. 27% of all frequent sharers* account for 87% of all news stories shared.
  • The average global user shares 13 stories per week and receives 26 stories through shared social media links or emails.
  • In peer-to-peer communication, 43% of news sharing comes from social media networks and tools (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, etc.) followed by email (30%), SMS (15%) and IM (12%).


One final caution for brand marketers seeking to build affinity online: In an effort to be “hip,” it’s easy to link up with the “wrong” message. Utilize staff members of all ages, consultants and thorough research to determine whether association or recommendation might carry underlying political, sexual or competitive baggage.

Sallie Burnett
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