When we mention social media networks, we immediately think of Facebook, Twitter and other platforms like them. They’re our virtual playgrounds, places we can catch up with those we know and keep tabs on announcements by friends and family. Social media brings to mind viral videos, selfies and other every day tidbits others share on the internet.

But social media also serves another purpose – it’s fast becoming one of the most common ways people digest news. The Reuters Digital Report for 2014 reveals that more than a third of global Facebook users access the site for news stories. A fifth of users in Spain use Twitter for breaking headlines and 23% use YouTube for news in Italy.

The report also suggests that certain types of news distributors reach different demographics. Media companies such as BuzzFeed, which has a strong presence on various social media networks, are popular with young people, as is The Huffington Post, demonstrating that the internet and social media are revolutionising the way that news is delivered.

The ability to share news stories conveniently makes social media networks popular when seeking out breaking headlines, but this isn’t something limited to the millennial generation. Both young and older readers are likely to share stories of interest, with younger audience members being more likely to comment and generate discussion on articles.

But  media companies shouldn’t just think of social media in terms of news distribution – it’s also an innovative way to curate content.

Videos and photos taken by onlookers at events help headlines to go viral. Articles now often include online links to posts or images made by ordinary people who happen to be on the ground at the time of significant events. From eye witness photos to Tweeting politicians, social media has provided many a social media post as evidence for a story, if not for creating a story in its own right.

Even social commentary is being included in online articles, with Tweets and posts relating to issues of social interest being used to weigh in on controversial discussions. Considering that most people around the world look for articles presenting varied opinions, social media is a good tool to gather public opinion and different perspectives.