The first Reuters Institute Digital Report has attracted much coverage in the UK for the finding that 16-24 year olds in this country now use social media as their primary news source. This highlights the changing way that consumers are getting information, and what they are doing with it. But perhaps more interesting for us to learn from is how social media as a new source varies by country – showing not only how consumer behaviour changes by market, but how traditional brands are innovating.

Traditional brands vs aggregators vs social media

The research, conducted by YouGov, compares news consumption in the UK, USA, Germany, France and Denmark, looking at how traditional brands (online news and broadcasters) compares with aggregators (such as Google News) and social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter and the like).

Behaviour in these countries varies, with the USA leading for use of social media as a news source (41% of all consumers), followed by Germany (30%) and Denmark (28%) before the UK (22%) and France (21%). So when compared against these countries, use of social media for news in the UK appears to be less developed than reports are suggesting. However, the truth is probably a little more complex than this.

In the UK, traditional news sources are still very strong – with 86% of consumers having used them in the previous week; and it is striking to compare this with Germany and France where only 69% of consumers have gone to these sources. Perhaps there is a connection between the relatively high use of traditional news sources in the UK, and the relatively low use of social media when compared to the other countries in the study.

The study distinguishes social media sites (Facebook, blogs and Twitter) from traditional brands – focusing on the different places that people get information. However, how social media is changing consumer behaviour is often less about the places people go and more about the changed behaviour itself. And in the UK, the more traditional news brands have been fast to change the way they engage with their audiences – the BBC and Guardian, for example, have been quick to innovate with live blogging, data journalism and other ways to adapt their delivery of information as consumer behaviours change.

So, in the UK at least it is these ‘traditional’ news brands that are offering the new ways of engaging with people and content that better reflect how consumer behaviour itself is changing.

The impact of social media on news, as with any industry, should not just be measured in how many people go to new destinations for content and information. Perhaps even more important is to look at how traditional players in the market innovate and change as consumer behaviour itself changes; how they offer new and engaging services which mean that consumers don’t look elsewhere for their needs.

Read more: UK Social Media Statistics