In my interviews with news sharers on social networking and bookmarking sites, almost all of them reported juxtaposing frivolous, humorous and lighthearted items news with more newsworthy, political and breaking news items. Nearly every user who reported this juxtaposition said that they do it because it humanizes their news sharing. Predictably, these users also reported wanting to seem as human as possible when sharing news and, although it is essentially what they’re doing, not as if they were regurgitating pre-packaged news. This need for humanization has not gone unnoticed, even by Google. When Google News was launched in 2002, every page boasted that “This page was generated entirely by computer algorithms without human editors. No humans were harmed or even used in the creation of this page.” Eight years later, the algorithmic gatekeeper issued the following statement: “At Google, we run anywhere from 50 to 200 experiments at any given time on our websites all over the world. Right now, we are running a very small experiment in Google News called Editors’ Picks. For this limited test, we’re allowing a small set of publishers to promote their original news articles through the Editors’ Picks section.” Although on a “limited” and “very small” scale, the company has recognized the paradoxical importance of individuality on social networks, a concept especially applicable to the marketing of academic monographs.
In the context of social media marketing, there has been a debate in the academic literature over whether it is better for companies to simply post ads on social networks or create profiles and interact closely with users. Most of the practice, for logistical reasons, has leaned toward posting ads. There is also considerable ambiguity over what exactly constitutes interacting with readers or consumers. Most media companies, newspapers, magazines and university presses simply post alerts about stories or issues and allow followers of the site to talk amongst themselves. This is interacting with, but not engaging an audience. It may be years down the road before companies commit to paying someone specifically to engage with readers on social networks but, with newspapers such as the New York Times hiring journalists to do no more than read through reader comments, it’s not incomprehensible. It may even be a sound marketing strategy.