A recent article from Pew Research described the growing digital native news world, in which an emphasis on social media for audience engagement is deemed critical. At first glance it would appear that social media is driving news. Actually, research confirms that social media is simply another messenger, not a generator of news.

Social is about sharing, whether it is personal experiences, opinions or news stories. Half of social networking site visitors have shared a news story, image or video according to the article. This compares to only 14 percent who have actually posted an original photo of a news event.

Additionally, news sites who receive visitors through social media referrals see less engagement than occurs with direct visitors. According to the findings reported in the article, people who visit news sites through search or social media only spend a third of the time on the site that direct visitors do.

Social media has an obvious place in the public relations tool chest. This study confirms that while social media can be an effective distribution channel for viral news stories, banking on it as a news generator or stand alone strategy for getting news out may not be the best idea.