Getting attention and creating awareness is vital to influencers and journalists since both compete in the same attention economy. As part of her Polis Newsroom Fellowship at the London School of Economics, Salla-Rosa Leinonen explores the idea of adopting an influencer style of journalism to bring the audience closer to the newsroom. In her new report Can Journalists be Influencers? she makes the case for newsrooms to support staff who want to experiment with a journo-influencer role to help build credibility among a younger target audience.
A vehicle to reach a younger audience
Influencers create original content with a distinct and authentic voice. Building creditability among a younger audience is an effective tool for marketing, branded content, and endorsements. Effective influencers attract a lot of attention on social channels like TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram. Leinonen suggests that journalists who want to reach a younger audience implement influencer practices on social media.
Notably, a new study from UK communications regulator Ofcam shows that for the first time, Instagram is the most popular news source among younger people (22%) of teens, with TikTok and YouTube close behind. Further, TikTok users participating in the study said they get more of their news from “other people they follow” (47%) than from news organizations’ accounts (24%). Another study, Reuters Digital News Report, also shows that 40% of young adults, 18- 24, report using social media as their main news source. Therefore, social media provides a critical point of connection for younger news consumers.
As part of her research, Leinonen interviewed Olivia Le Poidevin, a BBC reporter, to discuss the similarities between the journalists and influences. Poidevin noted that journalists use the news as a vehicle to connect to the audience, while influencers use their content. However, Poidevin concludes that there is a convergence between news and content. She states, “Up to now; there has been a clear division between ‘content’ and ‘news,’ in many media organizations as if they were two separate worlds. From the audience’s point of view, they are not separate; they are the same.”
Benefits of being an influential journalist
The report defines the role of an “influential journalist” as someone who gains awareness or fame through more traditional modes of journalism but also uses social media to build their following. Only pieces of their content like article excerpts, snippets, and clips are usually available on social media. They use social media to market, share, and showcase their work with new audiences who are not spending their time on traditional media platforms.
Leinonen cites Sandra Banjac and Folker Hanusch’s research on audiences’ expectations of content creators on Instagram, YouTube, and blogs, compared to journalists. The research finds that both content creators and journalists share many of the same values. These include likeability, the feeling of being directly spoken to, sharing valuable information, and expertise, which all drive followers to seek more information.
Importantly, “journo-influencers” can learn to leverage new storytelling formats without sacrificing the skills and integrity of journalism. They can also connect their journalistic style to their personality to build trust with their followers. This report suggests that journalists rethink their news reporting process as content creation to generate an authentic voice to connect to younger audiences.