Emirati reveals the impact of social media on local news outlets


Saudi Gazette report

Social media drew back official newspapers behind while informal social media accounts have attracted more readers looking for news, an Emirati research found.

This led Mansour Al Ameri, a 31-year-old PhD student at the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU), to study the emerging social media phenomenon and its impact on official news outlets in the UAE.

Al Ameri, who is currently studying mass communication, was initially struck by the dominance of non-official news outlets on social media, compared to traditional leading newspapers such as Al Bayan, Al Khaleej and Al Ittihad.

“Social media itself led these official newspapers to be behind in sharing news, and news articles don’t come from official newspapers but from non-professional social media accounts,” he said. “It’s very interesting to me why they are dominant in social media and probably, the main exposure of news is from these three outlets, which are UAE Barq, NetAD and 3meed_news.”

Al Ameri presented his research paper “Factors influencing User Engagement in Instagram News’ Producer’s Accounts: A case in the UAE” at the International Association of Mass Communication Research (IAMCR) conference that was held at the University of Oregon last month.

The theme of his research was that of ways in which audiences are influenced. “Nowadays, it’s very interesting to see how media shapes the world and how the representation of current events, whatever they may be, is shaped by media, so it’s an area I cannot ignore,” he said. “I presented my paper and the major findings of the research, which are some of the factors that play a role in attracting an audience in social media, by analyzing these three non-official accounts, because they are mainly non-professional journalists who are very familiar with social media features.”

His findings revealed four factors that play a role in influencing an audience:

  • The more posts an account has, the more it attracts followers per day on Instagram
  • Posts with videos attract more followers, likes and interaction than those with images
  • Instagram users are more attracted to soft news while hard news can be modified and crafted to become soft news to attract a larger audience
  • There is a positive correlation between comments, likes and views

“I am very happy about this research and I want to investigate more on social media itself in the future and come up with a strategy of how we can adapt to any social media platform,” Al Ameri said. “Instagram in the UAE is gaining popularity now for news outlets but somehow I want to find a common factor that can suit every social media platform so that, whatever comes up, there is a rule of thumb for how news officials can incorporate or employ these factors to gain popularity.”

Associate Professor of Mass Communication Dr Shujun Jiang spoke of the large gap between official and non-official news accounts on Instagram.

“People are more exposed to those non-official news channels, so we did a content analysis for those non-official news accounts, checked their posts, their type, number, and topics, to find some factors that will influence the user engagement, which means people’s likes, comments and interactions with news accounts,” she said. “Instagram as a platform gives a lot of interactive features for the audience so it’s something we can measure. So, in theory, we also found there is a type of news accounts nowadays called ‘produsers’, because they are new creators in today’s journalism or news industry, and they’re also users.”

Such accounts of heavy social media users were well-versed according to the audience’s needs. “Whatever content they create, they are closer to the audience,” Dr Jiang said. “This concept isn’t just in the news industry but also in business with ‘prosumers’, which are not just producers but also consumers – they consume their own product which is why they know what we need, and they customize products to make them more attractive to their customers. We want to improve the performance of official news media in the UAE and our research will benefit the news industry in the UAE and contribute to the country’s society.”