Arab Social Media Roundup: Reflections and Lessons Learned

Tablet Social Media by Ian Clark (CC BY 2.0)

You don’t need to conduct in-depth research to realize that many media organizations and digital media services recycle a lot of what is being reported by larger news agencies. We believe in the potential of Bridge because we know that not every news organization is able to have offices or correspondents on the ground around the world: newsrooms and internationally minded media need digital fixers to help them find, understand and translate compelling emerging stories. Over the summer, we took the concept of digital fixers a step further and piloted the Arab Social Media Roundup (ASMR): a weekly newsletter highlighting top trends and key stories from the fascinating world of Arabic language social media.

The weekly newsletter was designed to present a group of subscribers with a curated overview of select Arabic-language social media trends, offering readers insights into some of the week’s news, social media trends, and discussions from the Arab region. After a six week pilot, here are some of the key findings, reviewed in more detail below:

  • Overall subscriber feedback was very positive & encouraging!
  • Trending social media topics was a top preference for a majority of our subscribers. The content we picked fitted the bill in terms of relevance.
  • Speed is key and delivering relevant content in a timely manner is a challenge.

What we learned from this experience

Reactions and feedback

We were encouraged during the pilot to see people opening, clicking and sharing the newsletter with colleagues. In terms of open rate of ASMR it reached 54% compared to an industry rate of 22.26% , 50% for the New York Times and 40% for Time Magazine.

We also saw a high level of reader satisfaction. In a survey completed by subscribers, we found that overall interest and feedback on the newsletter was positive.

All subscribers who took our questionnaire said they would “recommend” or “highly recommend” the newsletter to a colleague.

As for the most popular content, here’s how it broke down:

  • 71% of responders chose “trending topics” to be the content they would like to see more of.
  • 57% voted for Arabic language news media
  • 43% for Arab humor, our section that featured comics selected from newspapers and online media outlets.

Relevance is crucial. So is speed

One question that was quite important to our team was the turn around time for delivery of translated content or a service similar to the newsletter. 67% said they believed “within a few hours” would be a good turn around time, whereas a percentage of 16.7% voted for both “within few minutes” and “within 48 hours”. As one respondent told us:

“ I think that the round-ups would need to be faster and more frequent to add value for us. It is very useful for us to see top trending topics globally, but even a day later is too late for us.”

What people are discussing on social media isn’t always what media’s priorities are: ASMR attempted to cover a bit of both

While there are many debates online that are important and informative, they are not always reflective of a political event or a breaking news. And when they are, there is always the challenge of verifying information and accounts (something Meedan’s Checkdesk platform aims to solve) and ensuring that content is curated and translated early enough to keep the story relevant, and well .. news moves on fast.

But in today’s world, chances are journalists interested in reactions, breaking stories or even investigative pieces will need to trace social media, private messaging apps and a range of tools to produce some original reporting. We suspect that better integration with the newsroom would make the process much faster and more seamless. It would also focus the energy on producing content that’s more relevant to specific news orgs instead of broader monitoring and curation. As a pilot, ASMR was a snippet of all of the above and a peek into the possibilities offered by Bridge as a platform and Meedan’s team.

Can digital fixers augment newsrooms’ efforts to cover world news?

Even if media organizations have offices and reporters on the ground, unless those reporters are local or have been living in that location for a certain amount of time, speak the language and and are quite embedded in the local culture there will always be something missing.

The feedback we received from our subscribers tells us that they could use more support in navigating Arabic sources, news and social media, and that there are people in media eager to gain a deeper understanding of the Arab region and hopefully cover it in more nuanced ways especially in the current political climate, and thus the need for more interaction with digital fixers will continue to be a growing need, especially as Arab internet communities gravitate toward private messaging apps.

What’s next? Let’s collaborate!

After few months of working with Bridge both as a translator and also leading the newsletter project in a more editorial position, I realized that speed and quality are key to working with media and across different languages — something that only humans can do right now, although we hope tools like Bridge can help.

Are you working in a newsroom or blog that covers the Arab world? Want to work together on a Bridge project? You can check out all the past Arab Social Media Roundup newsletters here:

Please get in touch via hello@speakbridge.io or @speakbridge.


About the ASMR pilot

The ASMR pilot was sent out in the form of 6 roundups of translated social media hashtags or topics and 1 roundup of topics (what we’re looking at this week) between May 23rd and July 11th, with a small set of subscribers from international news and media publishers. ASMR content focused on social media, especially Twitter, as the main place informing the process of content curation. Online Arabic and international media outlets were still consulted on regular basis.

The ASMR team included me, as editor and primary translator, with An Xiao Mina and Tom Trewinnard from Meedan providing general support and copy editing. We also collaborated with two volunteer translators on a number of occasions. We all used Bridge, Meedan’s platform for collaborative translation of social media.

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