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Today’s Note: What is it About Social Media?

March 16, 2012

A few days ago, during the South by Southwest conference in Austin, stories began circulating about a possible acquisition by CNN of Mashable.com. Mashable is an independent internet news outlet that specializes in topics about social media. Numerous news outlets covered the story in pieces like this one in the New York Times. The scenario made for a celebrated story, and rumor mill, during the event: “news of the potential acquisition spread rapidly among attendees at South by Southwest, a technology conference here that celebrates the kind of old-and-new-media combination that CNN and Mashable would represent. Both companies have big groups of employees at the conference and both have been holding parties, sometimes with other media partners.

The acquisition of a company like Mashable by a mainstream news organization like CNN is surely news, and certainly interesting. But the question that most leaps into my mind is why is Mashable so attactive? What makes a relatively small news outlet so desirable for a major news desk like CNN? The article, by Brian Stelter, tries to take on this question. Stelter tells us “Mashable, which specializes in stories about technology and social media, could enhance CNN.com, which is one of the most popular news Web sites in the United States.” [all italics are mine, and denote a quote from the article] The article goes on to explain

Steve Rubel, an executive vice president at Edelman who studies the digital media industry, said that Mashable’s journalists did not just cover social media, they were immersed in it — an appealing quality to a television network like CNN that wants to gradually make a transition to the Web.

“If they buy Mashable and ingest their social smarts, they will ensure their content finds news consumers rather than vice versa,” Mr. Rubel said. Ultimately, he said, an acquisition would be less about page views and ad revenue and more about “increasing their social DNA as more news finds us via social networks.”

It makes some sense that CNN would be interested in adding Mashable’s dimension of social expertise to its organization, although I have to wonder if CNN can really just “ingest” Mashable’s “social DNA.” I”m not convinced that culture can be swallowed like a pill. Certainly, an enhanced web presence would help CNN reach new potential viewers. The real vision for how Mashable fits into CNN is probably yet to be drawn up. But it is certain that together the two organizations have the know-how to define a new model for news delivery. The Times story is a great look at this developing story. I recommend a read.

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