The emerging social media phenomenon and its impact on official news outlets in the UAE was presented during a prestigious conference in the United States by Mansour Al Ameri, a 31-year-old PhD student at the United Arab Emirates University. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Mansour Al Ameri, a 31-year-old PhD student at the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU), tackled the topic of social media and its impact on official news outlets in the UAE at a prestigious conference in the United States.

The young Emirati, a mass communication student, was initially struck by the dominance of non-official news outlets on social media, compared to traditional, leading newspapers. “Social media has now left these official newspapers behind, in the sharing of information,” he said. People in the UAE get their main exposure to news from these three (social media) outlets: UAE Barq, NetAD and 3meed_news.

Al Ameri’s paper, titled ‘Factors influencing user engagement in Instagram news’ producer’s accounts: A case in the UAE’, was one of 50 or so which were presented at the International Association of Mass Communication Research (IAMCR) conference at the University of Oregon, from June 20 to June 24. His research fell under the category Audience, explaining ways in which an audience can be influenced.

it’s very interesting how media shapes the world and how the representation of current events is shaped by the media, so it’s an area I cannot ignore.”

 - Mansour Al Ameri | PhD student, UAEU


“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,” Al Ameri said.

“I presented my paper and the major findings of the research, which are some of the factors that play a role in attracting a social media audience by analysing these three non-official accounts, because they are mainly non-professional journalists who are very familiar with the features of social media,” he added.

His findings revealed some of the main factors that play a role in influencing an audience.

“The more posts an account has, the more it attracts followers per day on Instagram. [Also] Incorporating videos instead of images attracts more followers, likes and interaction. Instagram users are more attracted to soft news; hard news can be modified and crafted to become soft news to attract a larger audience. [And lastly] there is a positive correlation between comments, likes and views,” he explained.

“I am very happy about this research and I want to investigate more … and come up with a strategy of how we can adapt to any social media platform,” Al Ameri said.

“Instagram is gaining popularity now for news outlets in the UAE. But 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,” he added.

Dr Shujun Jiang, Al Ameri’s supervisor and associate professor of Mass Communication at UAEU, 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 of these, checked their posts, type, number and topics, to find the factors influencing user engagement, which means people’s likes, comments and interactions with news accounts,” she said.

“Instagram as a platform has a lot of interactive features for the audience, so it’s something we can measure. In theory, we also found there is a type of news account nowadays called ‘produsers’, because they are new creators in today’s journalism or news industry, but they’re also users,” Dr Jiang added. Such accounts, which are also heavy social media users, are familiar with the audience’s needs.

“Whatever content they create, they are closer to the audience. This concept isn’t just in the news industry but also in business, which has ‘prosumers’ — who are just producers but also consumers. They consume their own product, which is why they know what we need, and they customise products to make them more attractive to their customers,” she said.