//Ran Ju /July 6 / 2012
South African journalists should use social media to connect to audiences
As the use of smartphones in South Africa increases and more people are becoming highly active on social media, Twitter and Facebook have become the most frequently quoted news sources in the country. The success of journalists working to attract and engage audiences will depend on understanding the ways that people navigate news and messages on social media.
South African journalists are already using social media to promote and distribute their work, but they also need to tap audiences in social media for their expertise and experiences. It will help journalists reachReach1) unique users that visited the site over the course of the reporting period,…//read more out to new audiences and deepen their relationship with existing viewers and readers.
Recent research conducted by Ipsos GmbH, TNS Infratest and the Mobile Marketing Association found that 63% of South African smartphone users access social networks daily. The most popular social networkSocial networkAn online destination that gives users a chance to connect with one or more…//read more is Facebook, which has about 4.2-million users, followed closely by LinkedIn and Twitter with around 1.1-million South African users. Undoubtedly, the medium plays a crucial role in setting and shaping news agenda.
According to a 2011 report from Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism looking at how people found and engaged with news and information in the US: “If searching for news was the most important development of the last decade, sharing news may be among the most important of the next.” The same could be said for internet users worldwide. Many people use social networks not only to connect with friends but also to filter and find news and information that is of interest to them. Their social networks become an editorial filter through which they see the world, a filter defined not by the editorial voice of a publication but rather shared interests with their friends and other contacts on social networks.
In its 2012 State of the News Media report, Pew suggested that we should keep this activity in perspective. Certainly, social networks are being used as pathways to news, but that doesn’t mean that users are completely foregoing more traditional ways of finding news.
… these social media news consumers have not given up other methods of getting news, such as going directly to websites, using apps or through search. In other words, social media are additional paths to news, not replacements for more traditional ones.
Even so, Facebook pages are now often the most popular pages for the top news sites. Media experts in South Africa have realized that the traditional media have been overtaken by social media outlets. Wadim Schreiner, owner of Media Tenor South Africa, notes:
Standing titles like the Sunday Times, City Press as well as Mail & Guardian were quoted less by other media. While Facebook was quoted around 70 times by traditional media in 2010 and Twitter just over 50 times, Twitter scored 500 mentions and Facebook just over 400 in 2011.
Today, journalism needs to understand audience engagement and participation. A more engaged audience is a more loyal audience, and as the sources of information increase in the digital era, loyalty has to be a key strategic goal for news organisations. News outlets need to realise that their website is the central hub in a network of sites and services that will help them reach new audiences and build a more loyal audience. Audiences are finding news and discussing it with their friends on Facebook and other social media.
“What is concerning about the figures is less the fact that social media is being seen as a news source than that Twitter is itself becoming the news,” said Schreiner. He was worried that small but vocal groups on social networks like Twitter, could distort the news agenda. This isn’t a new phenomenon and as social media increases, journalists will need to understand how political parties, politicians, campaign groups and other interests use social media. Such groups have realised that social media can help them achieve their social and political goals. Rather than bemoaning this new development, journalists simply need to increase their awareness of these activities and the sophistication with which they report them.
Social media also offers a precise way of identifying and reaching out to potential audiences. It not only helps reporters and journalists to build an audience, but also helps to maintain and attract audiences through constant engagement. Many reporters have built up a rapport with key “tweeps”, contacts on Twitter, in areas they focus on. These key tweeps share a lot of news sources with a set of their own followers, which a reporter can count on to listen to and pass on their message. As audiences and political activity move online, journalists need to be at the front of this trend so they can stay relevant, reach new audiences and deepen the loyalty of current audiences.
Article by Ran Ju