The broadcasting world owes much of its development to a parallel development in technological innovation such as the satellite industry which has enabled it to become the most significant mean of broadcasting in the last decades of the twentieth century, and the beginnings of the twenty-first century. Just as the press owe much to the invention of the printing machines and the spurt in audio-visual media is strongly supported by developments in social media.
Hence, ‘al Sawt al Hurr – the Arab Network for Media Support’ – in this study turns the spotlight on social media and its impact on online-journalism, without which its current stunning development would not have been possible. Social media pages of news sites have replaced newsstands as arenas of competition. These pages themselves may soon become longer than print editions that always feel pressured to limit pages because of costs. Social media, and in Egypt especially the social media used by public figures and celebrities, have become sources of news in their own right, with a wide reach, that are starting to break the news monopoly of existing news sites.
Therefore, news sites find themselves facing a challenge that requires permanent study, analysis and development on how to make maximum use of the possibilities of social media networks. Given to the pivotal role of social media that emerged in the aftermath of the January 25 uprising, a new job position came into view inside print and electronic media, reflection this development: “social media practitioner or social media editor”. This study sheds the light on the most important features of their work, their experiences so far and their ideas on how this position will develop in the coming years.
The practitioners who contributed to this study are widely credited with enriching it with much information on the use of social networking sites generally, and in helping the research team to review the general attitude of the Egyptian electronic and press institutions towards using social media.
The study team would like to express its sincere gratitude to the online marketing specialist Mr. Ibrahim Hazem for sharing his valuable experience and advice.
Main findings of the study
The study shows that all eight news sites make frequent use of social media and see this as important, especially to promote their own news content. To a lesser extent social media are used as a source of news, opinions, and reactions on current issues. Other functions such as measuring audience interests, interaction with audience and soliciting feedback on the content are used much less.
Similarities in the way news sites make use of social media is striking, In addition to the preferred aims of social media, news sites organize their social media work in the same way, use similar same tools and techniques in practice and make use of the same social media networks.
These similarities indicate that the use of social media is not influenced by patterns of ownership (state-or privately owned), experience of social media staff or type of operations (single or multimedia combination with print edition)
News sites in this survey see ‘Facebook’ as especially suitable for pursuing their priority aims when using social media. The great number of Facebook users in the country and the site’s continuous development in design and options (reactions, likes, shares, etc.) and its user-friendliness make it attractive to social media editors. ‘Facebook’ has become the most important and most used social media for electronic journalism in the country, at a distance followed by ‘Twitter’. ‘Google+’, ‘Instagram’ and ‘Disqus’ are hardly used and their utility not widely known.
5- While tasks and activities of social media departments are clear, the division of responsibilities is less so and workers at these departments strongly feel that their experience is underused. The mandate of most social media editors participating in this study to take decisions is very limited, even their authority to spot news originating from social media. Their expertise to write news or rephrase it for specific groups or to effectively respond to negative feedback is not often recognized. Their professional experience as journalists could be turned to better use, especially in this time of financial problems.
6- A comparison in the use of social media between an Egyptian and an international news site showed that the ’Huffington Post Arabic’ makes better use of social media, especially to promote own news because it supported its story with hyperlinks, enhancing credibility in the eyes of its users, who could easily check the news and context. The news site also made use of ‘Facebook’ paid services to focus on specific target groups. In the case study ‘al Masry al Youm’, just as the other news sites in this study would do, only published a link.
7- Experts believe that the use of Facebook’s paid services opens market opportunities, because it can direct types of content to the most interested target users, categorized by age, location, or even interests. Such a technique is only useful if news sites invest in “Social Media Optimization” (SMO): learning to better understand the interests, e.g. preferred hashtags, of news site users.
8- Egyptian news sites reviewed in this study are well aware of the ever growing importance of social media but do not seem to engage in monitoring this development. A comparison with international media organizations or even corporate enterprise inside the country shows that more can be done to exploit opportunities and build competitive advantages.
Aims, focus and organization of the study
The study aims to assess role and importance of social media to selected news media
It also looked into the following
The way selected news media organize their attention for social media
The relative importance news sites attribute to various types of social media
The influence of organizational efficiency, ownership and multi-media experience on social media use
The study is based on a survey and a case study. The research team designed a questionnaire around the aforementioned aims with a combination of open-ended and closed questions to boost accuracy and reliability of the answers received from the respondents.
The case study was designed to monitor and analyze the experience with social media of one particular news site during a limited period of time. This method will enable us to compare its experience with that of another regional or international news site, so that similarities and differences can be identified.
The case study was also used to make use of the knowledge of social media experts on specific aspects of the ways (inter-)national news sites make use of social media and on the impact of their choices and actions.
Sample of the Study
The study targeted eight press institutions, each one with a specialized department for managing news site pages and social media accounts with special social media editors. The news sites under study were chosen to represent two contemporary journalistic models, namely a single press edition model and a ‘multi-media’ model with both a print and an electronic edition.
The research team also took into account that the media organizations included in the sample represent the two most common forms of ownership namely: state owned and privately (commercially) owned.
The study included the following press media:
Privately owned news websites:
‘Masr al Arabia’
Privately owned press media with electronic and print editions:
‘al Masry al Youm’
State owned press media with electronic and print editions:
‘al Ahram’ was chosen as the preferred state-owned news media because its website ranks in 86th place in Egypt’s top 100 news sites, according to ‘Alexa’ the company that provides website traffic statistics. The other two major state owned news sites rank considerably lower: ‘Akhbar al Youm’s site in 124th and ‘al Gomhurriya’s site in 2363th position. There are no state owned ‘single electronic’ news sites, such as the privately owned news sites ‘Masrawy’, ‘Masr al Arabia’, and ‘Dot Masr’ included in this study.
Interviews were held with 16 journalists working with social media as editors, coordinators or section staff, selected on the basis of long experience both with the use of social media in general and with social media networks coordination for their sites.
To read the full study click here