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Social Media Lessons Learned from CNN: Getting a Head Start or Getting it Right?

shared from Third Team Media | by Fleire Castro

CNN just learned a few really harsh lessons in the social media space in the past week. First, the embarrassingly erroneous reporting on the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare. Second, the abuse of CNN’s iReport system to erroneously report the death of Gotye. Here are some social media lessons learned from CNN.

Supreme Court ruling and Obamacare

The story on the Supreme Court ruling and Obamacare is fascinating but thanklessly long, so I’ll try to be brief. The event in question was a pivotal moment in history, as the US Supreme Court was to decide on the constitutionality of Obama’s healthcare law. As it turned out, the Supreme Court decided to uphold the entirety of the law, but because CNN initially misinterpreted the decision, erroneous news spread to the CNN viewers, across Twitter and even to the Oval Office that the healthcare bill (particularly provisions mandating all citizens to apply for healthcare) had been struck down.

The retraction occurred almost as immediately as the mistake was made, as every other news outlet, save CNN and Fox News, is correctly reporting the healthcare bill ruling. Watching the live coverage reveals how uncomfortable and awkward they had to take it all back.


So how, pray tell, did they find themselves in this perfect storm of getting it wrong? Sadly, they failed to turn a page.

On the 1st page of the Supreme Court decision, they decide that the individual mandate provision cannot be sustained based on the Commerce Clause. Based on this reading, they decide it is safe to report that the mandate has been struck down. However, the very next page shows that they decided the mandate is constitutional based on Congress’ tax power.

Even without understanding the minor details, it should be plain that CNN rushed to get the news story first. It’s been speculated here that CNN had been reacting to increasing competitiveness among other news networks, particularly MSNBC, as well as wanting to break the story first in the web. However, even if these had not been factors, the fact remains that CNN was in a serious authoritative position, and the first news source for many, by choice or not.

What was noteworthy about the faux Gotye news report was that it was not one they were directly responsible for. Rather, it was an abuse of the CNN iReport platform, which allows anyone to post breaking news stories in their neighborhoods, including media such as video and pictures. iReport has real value as a way to document and get news in situations where traditional news outlets can’t get in, such as earthquakes, bombings, tsunamis, etc.

Viral Faux Internet Death of Gotye

The fake Gotye news report is genuinely an anomaly. An anonymous user just made an account on the fly, posted the fake news item, and immediately backed out. It took a tweet from Gotye himself a few hours later to prove the rumor wrong.

Although the fake Gotye news report was not entirely CNN’s fault, it pointed to vulnerabilities in their iReport platform, which some would say might have been the intention of the anonymous poster all along. The difference between a person posting their news item on their own blog and on iReport is based on exclusivity, and once again, CNN’s deliberateness in getting the new first.

Thought Leadership & Social Media Lessons Learned from CNN

In both situations, CNN’s position as a thought leader was compromised and as a result, wrong information was spread. Lest we be mixed up, this is about more than protecting CNN’s reputation. Obama himself initially got the news wrong, having been following CNN first. Bloomberg’s report having come out to the business community, stocks in hospitals rise and insurance companies fall, reacting appropriately to the news. The fake Gotye news report unnecessarily upset many of his fans, and may have led to even more adverse real world effects if Gotye had not stepped in himself.

We don’t want to take CNN to task too hard on this, but as the progenitor of the 24 hour news cycle, it’s a necessity. CNN operates as a well-oiled machine, often the first and/or exclusive news source on the breaking story of the day. It’s often been criticized that the immediacy of the 24 hour news cycle is detrimental to a proper understanding of current events, and these instances may have proven those concerns as warranted.

Social media practitioners need to take this lesson to heart as well. Maybe you think you need to be the first to come out with a story. This does not necessarily have to be a news story. Maybe you’ve found a little trick in making Facebook ads that you can’t wait to share to the world.

You might think that being the first to come out with the story will get your website more hits, your Facebook page more likes. However, it’s more important to get your stories right.

As Tom Goldstein from SCOTUSblog recounts in a conversation leading to the event:

“No one will remember if you move this story first or we do… the only thing anyone will ever remember is if we (expletive) it up.”

These social media lessons learned from CNN can be examples for our own small and medium businesses. Long term relationships mean more and are more likely to translate to ROI than a rush for instant likes and follows. Building those long term relationships means building and keeping that trust, not just with the content of your posts but in how you post them. Be a responsible thought leader.

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