7. Online media

The future does not fit in the containers of the past Rishad Tobaccowala

CHANGE IS FAST in the online spaces occupied by websites and social media. Platforms come and go, new technology enables doing new things.

Online venues consist mainly of websites and social media. Websites provide a repository for our work or that of the organisation we write/photograph for. There, it is retained over the long term and can be found through search engines and by periodically reposting links to it.

Social media connects readers to our website, provides channels for reposting links to the work of others and for commenting on posts.

Unlike the old media of newspapers, magazines, radio and TV which are one-to-many channels, online media offers many-to-many channels providing a greater diversity of opinion, expertise and voices.

In becoming citizen journalists we find and use the social media and platforms where our target readership gathers.

Social media is important to citizen journalists because, today, it is on social media that the conversation that can influence how people understand and think about the world takes place. This makes online communication important to social movements.

Social media caters to different audiences. The type of content on the most popiular social media varies accordingly:

  • Facebook is used for blogging about people’s lives, to share news with friends and family, to link participants in networks of common interest; Facebook Pages are used by organisations for organisation-related information and for linking to website blogs and event booking pages; Facebook Groups are forums where visitors can post content, they may be public, closed, where we have to apply to join, or secret
  • Twitter links to subscribers via short messages and images; websites can be set to automatically tweet links to new articles; Twitter has proven of value as a first-source of news, such as during the Arab Spring, and consequently is of interest to journalists
  • LinkedIn is used mainly as a professional, work-related social media
  • Instagram is for photoblogging and works best when an informative caption accompanies the photograph, adding an informational/educational component to the image; Instagram is used by both individuals and organisations
  • Flickr, 500px, Google Photos and others allow us to post or archive our photographic work online and to grant access to albums; Facebook also does this, however photographers regard specialist online photography platforms as better presenting their work
  • YouTube and Vimeo are video blogging sites of value to citizen journalist videographers; YouTube carries a huge array of material including product reviews and instructional video; Vimeo caters more to filmmakers
  • podcasting is the production and posting of audio stories, much like radio once did as a one-to-many communication format; Apple has its own podcasting app and others such as Soundcloud serve those interested in audio journalism; podcasting is a way of presenting audio documentaries and reaching specialist listener groups; there is also serialised fiction
  • Pinterest shares web-sourced images; citizen journalists and organisation can post their website blog images to direct traffic back to their website
  • email sends to distribution lists of many people; email newsletters that link to website content, promote products and events are a popular means of doing this and are of value to community organisations and business
  • community-based groups and NGOs make use of polling software to elicit opinion and for voting
  • livecasting enables live broadcast of video; it is useful for broadcasting reports form an event as it happens.

There are many other social media formats such as Tumblr, Reddit and Snapchat, a multimedia mobile application that retains messages and images for only a short time before deleting them. This and similar apps are useful for sending information where leaving a trace is best avoided.

Find where your prospective readers gather

In planning to become citizen journalists we find and use the social media where our target readership gathers. We assess our time availability and set aside time for using social media regularly and effectively.

As citizen journalists we will distribute links to stories on our website on social media and we will post links to the stories of others we think have merit, choosing the channels where readers will find our links of value. This makes social media the ‘connecting’ part of the online ecosystem we build and critical to attracting readers/viewers. Social media can be thought of as media through which people connect.

Effective online communication is important to citizen journalists, bloggers, social movements and business. Online is where people will look for us or our organisation or business. Time spent in crafting the online presence we want is seldom time wasted.

In the early 1960s, computers haunted the American popular imagination. Bleak tools of the cold war, they embodied the rigid organisation and mechanical conformity that made the military-industrial complex possible. But by the 1990s and the dawn of the Internet, computers started to represent a very different kind of world: a collaborative and digital utopia modelled on the communal ideals of the hippies who so vehemently rebelled against the cold war establishment in the first place. …Counterculture to Cyberculture , Fred Turner.

Origin of social media

Social media is part of that ‘new media’ menagerie, but what makes it new?

It is new because it evolved from the comingling of the personal computer — first the desktop, then the laptop, now the mobile device — from developments in telecommunications and a young demographic. That came through the social turmoil of the late sixties and seventies where it had learned about social change and was ready for something new and revolutionary (for a history of how this happened, see Fred Turner’s From Counterculture to Cyberculture).

We can trace the origins of social media back to the eighties when America Online (AOL) linked people through dial-up connections using modems connected to the telephone network. Compuserve arrived a few years earlier. It was followed by Usenet, bulletin boards and, in 1992, Friendster, the Worldwide Web and Mosaic — the first graphical user interface which made the evolving online world more accessible — in 1993. Myspace arrived in 2003 and Facebook a year later, moving out of the university and into the public realm in 2006.

But if there is a true precursor to today’s social networking sites, it was likely spawned under the AOL (America Online) umbrella. In many ways, and for many people, AOL was the Internet before the Internet, and its member-created communities (complete with searchable Member Profiles in which users would list pertinent details about themselves), were arguably the service’s most fascinating, forward-thinking feature. …The History of Social Networking

Facebook with its estimated two billion active monthly users in late-2017 (17,000,000 monthly active users in Australia) dominates the social media space. It is not alone but it is the biggest in global distribution and population. It is not fully global, however, as authoritarian regimes in China, Russia, North Korea and Iran (and periodically in other authoritarian regimes such as Turkey when they want to keep information from their people) prevent their citizens accessing Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. Some, like China, set up their own social media where they can control what their citizens see and read.

Trends in accessing online channels

The trend in internet usage continues upwards, making online venues the main sources of news and information for an increasing portion of the world’s population. This is true of Australia too, where the greater majority of the population access online communications of some kind, especially Facebook. Irrespective of whether citizen journalists like particular social media companies, the scale of use makes our using them imperative.

Media and device usage 2014

A total of 85% of Australians access the internet. Mobile devices such as smartphones and internet-connected tablets are the technologies through which increasing numbers of people access the internet and social media. Sensis, publisher of Australia’s Yellow Pages telephone directory, reported that in 2014:

  • 69% of Australians accessed social media with 58% of them using it in the evenings and after work, 42% first thing in the morning, 30% at lunchtime, 21% during work and 17% while commuting
  • 45% of Australian social media users access social media a minimum of once a day
  • 95% of Australian social media users make use of Facebook, typically spending more than eight and a half hours a week on the site

Other platforms’ share of social media includes:

  • Instagram 21%
  • Twitter 19%
  • Snapchat 16%
  • Pinterest 12
  • Tumblr 6
  • Google+ 19
  • LinkedIn 24%.

Hardware platforms used to access social media include :

  • smartphones 71%
  • laptop computers 55%
  • tablets 39%
  • desktop computers 38%
  • iPod Touch 6%
  • internet-enabled TV 2%.

Global sales figures for devices show declining sales of desktop and laptop computers and increasing sales of tablets and smartphones, indicating that mobile devices are becoming the preferred platform.

Small and medium businesses embracing social media were more likely to report better business performance. A total of 36% of Australian small businesses make use of social media while only 24% of them had a social media strategy in 2014.

Source: Sensis

Update 2017

In 2017, Sensis issued updated statistics on social media users and the devices they access the media on. This disclosed a dramatic increase in the use of mobile phones with a declining use of tablet computers, laptops and desktops.

How much the decline in access via tablets is due to the availability of large screen mobile phones remains conjecture.

A comparison of social media use in 2014 and 2017 shows changes:

  • Facebook maintains its dominant position as the social media of choice
  • a substantial increase in the use of Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat
  • declining use of LinkedIn, the social network for professionals and work-based posts; LinkedIn is reportedly used by recruiters to assess applicants for jobs and contracts, and serves as a type on online resume
  • YouTube usage is also significant, signifying the importance of video in social.

The realisation we can draw is that, despite controversies around Facebook’s changing terms of use, privacy and algorithms, and the Cambridge Analytica misuse of personal information on Facebook in 2018, anyone doing communications for business or community organisations or as citizen journalists is most likely going to use Facebook as it is where the people they want to link with are most likely to be found. The Cambridge Analytica scandal resulted in many people closing their Facebook accounts, however the number doing this is disputed. Many deleted third party Facebook apps and tightened or deleted personal information. Trust in facebook declined.

Instagram, once just a photo-posting site, is now used for commercial purposes by companies and freelancers such as professional photographers, for whom it has become something of an online portfolio.

Instagram comes in for criticism as a platform:

  • where commercial content masquerades as editorial content; an example are the Instagram accounts of people traveling or living in vans who are paid by equipment manufacturers to post photographs and reviews of their products
  • photos or video of people doing risky things
  • spammers liking posts to get their commercial or other posts distributed
  • sale of instagram likes to boost like numbers.


We can conclude from this data that websites need be responsive to computer screens, tablets and mobile phones. That means they reconfigure for different hardware platforms. Most modern website software does this, however it is worth checking before we invest in software.

We also see how mobile phones have become the device of choice for accessing online content, especially social media. Large-screen mobile phones have made the online reading experience more comfortable, as have tablets and phablets (phone-tablets) — devices larger than large mobile phones and smaller than tablets.

The research above gives us clues as to how to structure and manage our media ecosystem of website, social media, photoblogging and video site. Most important, though, is good, well-written content.

Sensis Social Media Report 2017 summarises the trends like this:

Driving the continued growth in social media use is our love of visual content. This trend has seen a rise in usage on Instagram (up from 31% to 46%) and Snapchat (up from 22% to 40%), with Twitter also seeing an uplift (up from 19% to 32%) after moving to a more visual layout. While these platforms have seen strong growth — perhaps at the expense of LinkedIn (down from 24% to 18%) — Facebook continues to dominate the social media landscape (95%).

Another factor is the increase in smartphone ownership, with 81% now preferring to use their device to access social media as opposed to a laptop (30%) or desktop (28%). Our social norms are being tested dramatically because of how easy it is to access social media at any time of day from any location.

The average number of times people access Facebook has fallen from 32 times per week to 25, while the amount of time spent on each occasion has not really changed at just over 23 minutes. This means users are averaging almost 10 hours a week on Facebook, which compares with twelve and a half hours last year. 81% use Facebook Messenger and 25% use Facebook Live to watch live or recently recorded videos, with 5% having published their own live video.

Sensis reports that internet access consists of 86 percent metropolitan users, 81 percent regional.

Social Media News, published Social Media Statistics Australia — May 2017, which disclosed a breakdown of social media use in Australia:

  • Facebook — 17,000,000 Monthly Active Australian Users (steady)
  • YouTube — 15,300,000
  • WordPress.com — 5,300,000
  • Instagram — 5,000,000 Monthly Active Australian Users (FB/ Instagram data)
  • Snapchat — 4,000,000 Daily Active Australian Users (Snapchat data)
  • LinkedIn — 4,000,000 Monthly Active Australian Users, approximately
  • Tumblr — 3,700,000
  • WhatsApp — 3,100,000 Active Australian Users (30% increase since 2015)
  • Twitter — 3,000,000 Monthly Active Australian Users, approximately
  • TripAdvisor — 2,600,000
  • Tinder — 2,400,000 Australian users (estimation)
  • WeChat — 2,000,000 Monthly Active Australian Users, approximately
  • Yelp — 1,500,000
  • Flickr — 480,000
  • Pinterest — 280,000
  • Reddit — 100,000
  • MySpace — 80,000
  • Google Plus — 60,000 Monthly active Australian users approximately (estimation)
  • RenRen — 50,000 Monthly Active Australian Users approximately (estimation)
  • StumbleUpon — 39,000
  • Weibo — 20,000 Monthly Active Australian Users approximately (estimation)
  • Foursquare/Swarm — 11,000
  • Digg — 10,000
  • Periscope — 9000
  • Delicious — 7000.

(All figures represent the number of Unique Australian Visitors to that website over the monthly period unless otherwise stated above. Facebook Data includes users of desktop, mobile, application and messenger services).

Additional data from Social Media News — penetration of the Australian population discloses that approximately:

  • 7 in 10 Australians use Facebook
  • 1 in 2 Australians use Facebook on a daily basis
  • 1 in 2 Australians use YouTube
  • 1 in 5 Australians use Instagram
  • 1 in 6 Australians use Snapchat.

Global statistics of interest:

  • Facebook Monthly Active Users (Worldwide) — 1.86 billion (figures accessed elsewhere in October 2017 put the figure at two billion)
  • Facebook Daily Active Users (Worldwide) — 1.23 billion
  • Instagram Monthly Active Users (Worldwide) — 600 million
  • LinkedIn Registered Users (Worldwide) — 467 million
  • Snapchat Daily Active Users (Worldwide) — 161 million.

Social Media News information is licensed under Creative Commons License CC BY-ND 3.0. Statistics compiled by SocialMediaNews.com.au for May 2017. Stats and research provided by the Vivid Social Media Agency. Figures correct as of 31/05/17.

Age profile of social media users

Research figures indicate the age demographic of online users for particular platforms:

  • the fastest growing demographic on Twitter was the 55–64 year age bracket; this demographic had grown 79% since 2012
  • the 45–54 year age bracket was the fastest growing demographic on Facebook
  • 189 million of Facebook’s users were mobile device only.

This trend suggests that bloggers, organisations and citizen journalists need to think social media and the mobile internet when it comes to getting their message out. The Worldwide Web remains important, considering that 89.6% of Australians (21,176,595 out of a total population of 23,630,169) access the internet. Source: Internet Live Stats.

Internet access by older people

According to recent figures released by the federal government’s Australian Communications and Media Authority:

  • 79% of older Australians have accessed the internet at some point in their lives
  • 71% went online in the three months to June 2015 (Roy Morgan Single Source, June 2015).

Comparable international data covering online access in 2015 by people aged 65 and over shows that the internet was accessed by:

  • 58% in the United States
  • 56% in the UK.

Australia is ahead of the UK and US in internet access by older users.

The figures destroy the persistent demographic stereotype that online systems are used mainly by a younger demographic. While it is true that some aged people do not use social media or computers very much, the facts revealed by Sensis demonstrate that older age groups regularly access online sources and understand how to use computers and social media.

It makes sense that they do because it was their generation that lived through the introduction of computers and their transformation of industrial world economies in the seventies, and who participated in that. They also lived through the coming of the personal computer, the laptop and desktop when computing moved out of big air conditioned rooms and into the home.

Interestingly, University of Sydney research for the Australian Communications and Media Authority reports that 95% of homelessness people had a mobile phone with 77% using a smartphone (J Humphry,Homeless and Connected: Mobile phones and the Internet in the lives of homeless Australians, University of Sydney on behalf of Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, August 2014.).

With 85.1% of Australians (20,679,490 out of a total 2016 population of 24,309,330) accessing the internet, online has become a primary source for news and information. It is here that opportunity lies for the citizen journalist.