In today’s digital world, computers, smartphones and tablets consume our technologically advanced society. But why are people so glued to these electronic devices?

It’s 2014, and real-life conversations (you know, the ones where humans actually make eye contact, utilize their vocal chords and open their mouths to speak to each another) are beginning to seem like a thing of the past as people scroll endlessly through their phones while waiting at red lights (dare I say even while driving), lounging in crowded bars and even sitting at the dinner table.

So, who or what is to blame? Enter Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Google+, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Foursquare … and the list goes on. Is your head spinning yet? Let’s sum up these culprits in two words – social media.

According to “Merriam-Webster Dictionary,” the first known use of “social media” occurred in 2004, and the term is defined as “forms of electronic communication (such as Web sites for social networking and micro-blogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos).”

“You can’t hide from social media. It’s happening,” WPMI Local 15 Web Content Specialist Taren Reed said. “People really like to see what other people are doing on the Internet.”

Facebook reigns supreme

While Twitter serves as the most popular social media platform and a go-to outlet when it comes to news in many places, Facebook is, by far, most commonly used in this area, Reed said.

“The first thing we try to do is get it out there on Facebook,” Reed said.

According to Reed, as breaking news happens, a snippet will first be posted to Facebook, informing the audience of what is happening, where it is happening and what reporter is going to the scene. From there, reporters snap photos and/or video.

“It’s so important for Local 15 News as a news outlet to provide our viewers with the most updated news and weather, and now with social media that’s possible,” Reed said. “Whether it’s a tweet or a short one-liner on Facebook when news breaks, our viewers expect the latest information by the minute. And now there’s an outlet, or multiple outlets, to do just that.”

In a new feature implemented by Facebook called “Pages to Watch,” page managers can now compare their performance with similar pages on the social media platform. Facebook states with this new insight, media outlets and businesses can keep tabs on the competition by giving access to the total number of people who like the page, plus statistical information for each week, including percentage increase or decrease of people who like the page, number of times the page posted and amount of engagement the page received.

Therefore, not only does Facebook act as the strongest social media weapon for Mobile and its surrounding areas, but it also provides analytical data that can be used to determine which posts are viewed and shared the most, which is very important in creating innovative social media programs and campaigns geared toward user engagement and experience.

“We’ve really picked up our social media game here at Local 15,” Reed said. “We pull the stats every day to see what folks are clicking on. I personally read viewers’ Facebook comments and Twitter replies, even Instagram and YouTube comments. We use that information in our morning meeting, along with analytics, to decide what news stories to cover for that day. So basically, social media is helping us decide what stories are relevant to our viewers.”

As of June 24, WKRG had the most total Facebook page “likes” among area media outlets with 150,000, followed by WPMI Local 15 with 83,000 and WALA Fox10 with 79,000 respectively.

WKRG News Director Mike Rausch credits the success of WKRG’s Facebook page and overall Page likes to simply posting the most engaging content.

“We jumped on the Facebook opportunity very early,” he said. “But I think a lot of it is based on posting interesting things that people want to share.”

While people used to use Google to search for news, both Rausch and Reed said Facebook now serves as a powerful traffic driver for each of their respectable news websites.

Audience appeal

Despite all of the positives of social media, perhaps the most powerful ammunition is its ability to interact and engage with the audience on a personal level. Readers and viewers can comment and message their favorite anchors or reporters, send suggestions and interact with other members of the audience.

“We want our viewers to feel like they know us, and social media is a way to get that out there,” Reed said. “From behind the scenes videos and photos, to a #TBT (Throwback Thursday) feature we’ve started, our viewers are getting a glimpse at what it’s like on a day-to-day basis behind the cameras. And we have fun here at Local 15, and we want the viewer to have fun too!”

Facebook is unique because it is the first two-way conversation that has been able to take place between reporters and viewers, Rausch said. Because the audience can “like,” “share” and “comment,” the audience becomes more involved and in turn, promotes the media outlet’s content.

“That’s the power of Facebook, when people share things,” Rausch said. “It’s pretty remarkable the reach of Facebook and the way we can connect with people.”

So, what really appeals to the audience? Both WPMI and WKRG said the recent shark congregation in Perdido Pass brought a mass influx of viewers to their Facebook page and other national ‘viral’ videos attract the largest audiences.

“We had over 2.5 million who saw our shark photos and videos through Facebook,” Rausch said. “That stretched way beyond this market. I think that’s the biggest story we’ve ever had on Facebook.”

While we may sometimes love to hate social media and its ability to consume us, and those we love so dearly, we must embrace the beast or be left behind in the dust.

“You can’t get around social media,” Reed said. “I think using social media in a newsroom is positive. Whether the feedback we get is good or bad, we use it and grow from it.”

Eli out at Fox 10

Fox10 News Sports Anchor Simone Eli no longer works at WALA as confirmed by WALA Fox10 General Manager Gary Yoder. At press time, Yoder had no additional comments surrounding the circumstance of Eli’s departure from the station.