Image by stevegarfield via Flickr
There's been a lot of coverage of CNN's use of social media, much of it focusing on Rick Sanchez using Twitter (see @ricksanchezcnn). Reading it's one thing. If you haven't already, you need to spend some time watching Rick Sanchez yourself.
At around 3 EST, I was on a Delta flight from Cincinnati to Salt Lake City and caught an hour of Rick. It was amazing. And yet unbearable.
The first real shock was seeing Twitter comments in the ticker on the bottom of the screen. I actually tuned to CNN initially so I could catch the ticker to glance at some headlines while I was multitasking. Then these Twitter comments came in. A few thoughts came to mind in rapid succession:
1. This is awesome.
2. Go Twitter!
3. Are non-Twitter users going to head to Twitter now to check this out?
4. My family and friends who have heard me talking about Twitter probably think I'm a little less of a ranting loon.
5. Will most people have any idea what CNN's doing here or where these comments are coming from?
6. These comments aren't adding anything to the news and analysis.
7. Where are my headlines?
(An aside: Google "Keating Holland" – CNN's polling director. Worst hair I've ever seen.)
Back to Rick…
As Rick's show goes on, he's got his interviews with various pundits and newsmakers, and as likeable as he is, he's got this annoying habit of agreeing with whatever his guests say. He could have a guest come on and go, "I've used a new method of carbon dating to show the world is only 45 years old, and anything we think happened before that has been planted in our brains by a race if intergalactic, time-traveling ninja turtles," and Rick would go, "That makes a lot of sense. And it explains why we like sushi."
What's just as bad though, if not worse, is that Rick reacts the same way when going to the social media comments. First of all, it's hard to take comments seriously when they all start with "I LUV you Rick Sanches!" But then they go on to add these inane comments that add no value to the conversation. And given that these comments are tops a sentence or two (with MySpace and Facebook) or at times a sentence fragment (see Twitter), most people haven't taken the time to fully flesh out a coherent idea in that short a span. And, since it's mostly blather that gets on the air, why should anyone try harder.
It all leaves the impression that these comments really are noise by people who don't have anything better to do and aren't worth paying attention to. It makes social media so trivial. All of these comments come off as the mock man-on-the-street quotes featured in The Onion, except that the Onion quotes are more intelligible. I wonder why anyone would take social media seriously by watching what gets on the air.
Of course, there is a lot of value here:
1. CNN's getting people to talk about its network and programs. Most of these comments are from people who wouldn't do so anyway. This raises awareness of CNN's programming to a much wider array of people – its media exposures are undoubtedly going through the roof, and we'll see if that impacts ratings.
2. CNN can learn so much about its audience's interests online. It can analyze the content and sentiment of Twitter comments. It can get stats on its friends and fans on social networks.
3. CNN's audience gets a bit of fame. They get friends telling them, "I saw your tweet on CNN!" That's a powerful reward, and a great way to build social currency.
4. It shows how social media can cross channels. We're just starting to figure out how that all works. But it's a good understanding that Rick Sanchez as a person and brand is using all these networks, and he's also in the real world. In the same manner, I'll learn something on Twitter that I'll discuss at an event or at the dinner table (if I had an actual dinner table). I'll become connected to someone on LinkedIn and then will have lunch with them. It doesn't all stay in one place.
I still fear how it plays out on CNN though. As a social media strategist, I'm tickled by it. As a student of media, it intrigues me. As a marketing consultant, I'm learning from it. But as a consumer who's on a flight to Salt Lake City half-heartedly tuning into CNN as I get a few things done, I want it all to go away.
Update 1: Rick Sanchez responded on his own blog
Update 2: I then responded in a follow-up post on what Sanchez did right