Frenemy mine: The pros and cons of social partnerships for online media companies

1Executive Summary

For media companies in a variety of sectors, including news, music, broadcasting, film, games, and events, developing a coherent social media strategy is paramount to survival in the digital age. Yet partnering with the likes of Facebook can also be a Faustian bargain: Media companies gain a deeper knowledge of their audiences and a broader access to them but simultaneously sacrifice the control and centrality they enjoyed in the era of mass media. The net effect is that content providers can grow their businesses in absolute terms but still are relegated to being tangential players in the eyes of consumers, and subordinate in status compared to the social media giants.

This report will demonstrate how online media companies enter into these bargains, and how they evaluate the strategic dimensions of social media. Key questions include:

  • What are the benefits of partnering with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or Pinterest?
  • What are the “pain points” that characterize these partnerships?
  • What downsides are media companies willing to accept in exchange for the upsides?

The 10 executives interviewed for this report are from a range of media sectors. They offered a fascinating glimpse into the intersection of traditional media and social media, revealing opportunities for innovation and growth as well as a number of risks and threats. Ultimately these interviewees described a situation of turbulence and change in which powerful companies thrive or fail depending. Success depends on how effectively they can predict and accommodate the ever-changing ambitions, whims, and reversals of their social media “partners,” and of the millions of customers who use social media to discover and share the content they love with others in their networks.

Despite the many benefits that accrue from working with social media partners (e.g., customer acquisition, retention, authentication, and analytics), the pain points are numerous. They include:

  • Lack of control over the consumer experience
  • Consumer data and privacy issues
  • Unstable and frequently changing platforms
  • Poor partner relations
  • Mistrust over code
  • Limited research and analytics
Relevant Analyst
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Aram Sinnreich

Assistant Professor, Journalism & Media Studies Rutgers University

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