News Column

Arab Youth Trust Social Media More

April 11, 2013
social media

Many Arab youth now trust social media more than their local newspaper, a trend raising concerns about transparency online.

The results of the fifth annual ASDA'A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey showed that news companies faced big challenges getting back their readership, with current affairs consumption by youth falling dramatically, particularly in newspapers, radio and magazines.

Jeremy Galbraith, CEO of Burson-Marsteller Europe, Middle East and Africa, said while it was still "incredible" that almost half of the 3,000 respondents checked the news each day, this was decreasing, falling from 52 per cent last year to 46 per cent.

Television was the preferred medium, on 72 per cent, while newspapers fell from 49 per cent in 2011 to 24 per cent, radio to six per cent, and magazines went up slightly to eight per cent.

"If I was a newspaper, magazine or radio owner, I wouldn't be encouraged by these findings," Galbraith said.

And these "dramatic declines" were contributing to a significant increase in the relevance of online, with almost 60 per cent now getting their news there, up from 51 per cent in 2012 and 42 per cent in 2011.

Meanwhile social media -- a platform which certainly helped enable the Arab Spring movement -- was quickly becoming a force of its own, with almost a third now citing this as their primary news source, up from 20 per cent last year and zero the year before, he said.

And despite plenty still turning on the television, only 40 per cent trusted what they saw there -- and even this fared better than newspapers, which only nine per cent trusted.

Youth are looking for facts elsewhere, with 26 per cent believing non-media websites were the most trusted form of news, and 22 per cent trusting social media the most -- almost triple the number the year before.

And this was despite these sites not having the same transparency, editorial policy or accountability expected of news outlets, Galbraith added.

He said it was "pretty staggering" youth trusted websites and social media more than traditional news outlets.

If this continued, there would need to be more transparency in terms of social media, he said.

"I think there will be increasing interest in transparency in general online. Who are these bloggers and tweeters? At the moment, it's just about being received, but I think in the longer term, these people will look at these sources with more concern.

"But let's keep this Internet trend in perspective -- although they use the web to read news, what they're really doing is listening to music, sending emails, downloading music, online gaming..."

In fact, reading news was sixth down the list of the top eight activities done online.

Blogging was also gaining in popularity, with almost half of respondents regularly reading. Fashion was the number one blog interest for almost half of respondents, followed by news on 42 per cent and celebrity news on 34 per cent.

And a "surprising" 20 per cent wrote their own blog, Galbraith said. This vocal-ness continued to Twitter with about 40 per cent of the region's youth using, while Facebook shareholders would be very happy with a "staggering" 64 per cent regularly using their own Facebook page, up from 62 per cent the year before, he said.

And, despite their predilection for reading Fashion blogs, the four top influences on Arab youth remained their parents, religion, family and friends.

ASDA'A Burson-Marsteller CEO Sunil John said it was these four things that defined an Arab, and pop stars, rated the least influential, were no longer calling the shots -- a tip businesses might want to think about when selecting their marketing strategy.

"Brand ambassadors are not relevant anymore."

However, traditional values were slowly being eroded, with a growing number of youth -- 40 per cent -- stating they were ready to look at more modern values, which was a "very interesting finding", John said.

Source: (c)2013 the Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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