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Nicaraguan media on Facebook and Twitter: allies or competition?

Censorship, complaints and advertising are some of the challenges faced by independent media while seeking readers on social networks


Redacción Confidencial

29 de enero 2021


In 2010 (some a bit earlier and others, shortly after) most Nicaraguan media outlets began their journey on the not so popular social networks: Facebook and Twitter. A decade later, they are losing ground with their audiences.

It was a time to act, and therefore, all social network accounts that were previously used as a way to interact with readers also served as primary distribution channels for content.

Juan Ortega Ulloa, digital marketing consultant, recalls that before 2010 social media accounts had already been created for several media outlets in Nicaragua, but it was not until after that year that it became essential to have an account and to update it on a daily basis.

Advertisers also became aware of this trend and all the resources they invested in advertising in the national media were gradually reduced until most of them went to social networks, mainly Facebook.

For the media, this also meant higher costs, despite the reduction of their income. They had to hire a Community Manager to take care of the new accounts, later they added audience analysts, search engine content optimization specialists, and as many positions as necessary to stay visible.

"Little by little the media have been losing that hegemony of controlling the entire audience. If you needed information before, you went to a media outlet. And now, if there is a particular topic that catches my attention, I look it up or better yet, I have a colleague or a contact on social networks," says Ortega.

This ease of searching for content and the fact that anyone can share information on the Internet, put the media at a disadvantage and little by little, from being the managers of their advertising and content, they became just one more among the millions of users of social networks.

"Social networks shattered the monopoly that the media had on the news. Now people first consult their phones for information, and then watch TV or tune in to the radio to confirm things. In the face of the national myth, the networks hyper-localize the things people are interested in while showing them the world in real-time. In this regard, traditional media are struggling to catch up with social networks," said a media consultant who preferred anonymity.

The media's reach on the Internet and social networks

According to "We are social" the study published annually by Hootsuite, the social network management and measurement platform, up until 2020, 3.1 million people had access to the internet in Nicaragua, which represents a penetration of 47%, 6.9% more than compared to 2019.

Facebook, the most used social network in the world, also dominates in Nicaragua. According to the latest Hootsuite study, there are more than 2.9 million accounts in the country, which implies that at least 93% of the Nicaraguan population with internet access has a presence on this platform.

According to SocialBreakers, the media have communities between one and two million followers on this social network, surpassed only by a comedian and an influencer.

Although to a smaller extent, Twitter has also gained ground. According to Hootsuite, there were 181,000 accounts in Nicaragua as of 2020. This particular network is dominated, at least in reach, by the media. Of the 10 largest accounts on this social network in the country, seven belong to media companies or journalists, according to the statistics and digital analysis portal SocialBakers.

The media not only lead social networks in reach, but digital advertising spending in Nicaragua also comes mostly from media companies. According to business data and statistics platform Statista, as of May 2020, ad spending for the media industry accounted for 7.15% of digital ad spending in the country, followed by retail stores in second place with 5.28% and telecommunications companies in third place with 4.26%.

Although they are the ones who invest the most in advertising, the media are not the ones who register the highest return on investment. Some monetization tools for Facebook and Instagram are not available in Nicaragua and the Google Adsense advertising payment per thousand impressions is around 0.25 cents, although this amount may vary from one category to another.

More advertising, less income

José Adán Silva is a journalist and founded Literal, a digital media platform, in 2020. Since then, he has had to look for advertising spots and offer services in order to monetize his content and give sustainability to his venture.

Literal has accounts on four social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube. None of these generate traffic income, although they do manage to get about 50 or 60 dollars a month from advertising, despite the fact that they invest around 350 dollars to keep these accounts active.

"We maintained a deficit of income throughout the year, which we paid for with other income from advertising or work for services. If we were to draw the balance, it would be negative in economic terms," explains the journalist.

Literal started on social networks after the outbreak of the April 2018 protests in Nicaragua, and later, in 2020, Silva decided to create a website and further define the profile towards the promotion of citizen journalism.

Now, they expect that in 2021, they will try to earn more money from social networks with the monetization of their YouTube channel that they previously used as "a warehouse", but they predict it can generate enough income to supplement the project's expenses.

Searching for the "perfect" business model

The problem for many media is to develop a business model that allows them to monetize their content and ensure their survival. A task that is not easy, but that according to Janine Warner, founder of SembraMedia, has allowed many digital natives to develop up to 15 different ways to monetize their content.

"Generally we've seen two paths: a very large audience; 100 thousand unique visits a month. With this audience you can earn some advertising, there is a chance of a subscription or the whole new membership model that we have seen growing in the world," explains Warner, who has worked with more than 800 digital journalism ventures.

These monetization alternatives also extend to offering services such as text reviews, workshops, training or product sales. All in order to generate revenue and make the media sustainable.

Warner recommends that digital media do not stay exclusively on one platform as that can lead them to lose their entire audience if, for some reason, social networks decide to suspend their accounts.

"If you start with social media or use social media as part of your plan, it's very healthy and very consistent with other models we've seen, but if you rely solely on social media you're very vulnerable," warns the founder of SembraMedia.

That vulnerability is generated, in part, because social networks establish their own rules and under those same rules they can suspend media accounts or any user who does not abide by them.

Dora Luz Romero, head of digital information at La Prensa, told CONFIDENCIAL that on several occasions Facebook has "removed or asked them to remove videos because they violate its policies, but from a journalistic perspective, it is not only valid content but necessary in a country like Nicaragua. This happened to us with a couple of videos of the April 2018 protests."

On the other hand, networks have also made efforts to try to help the media, Warner says. Facebook, for example, claims to favor the visibility of local media news content, while Twitter makes it easier to verify journalist accounts, and on the other hand, Google has an exclusive News tab that only media owners can use.

"Clearly social networks have not helped the media as much as we had hoped and have hurt them. (...) There's probably a lot more they can do," Warner said.

Growing is a difficult task

Social networks display content to users based on algorithms. These are programs that decide which pieces to show based on popularity or how many times they are viewed by users, Ortega explained.

La Prensa, the Nicaraguan newspaper with 94 years of existence, has the Twitter profile with the most followers in Nicaragua (361,862), the fourth Facebook page with the most Likes (1,459,315), and the third account with the most followers on Instagram (244,725), which constitutes one of the largest digital communities in the country. However, that does not shield the media from the capricious algorithms and policies of these platforms that in the end, are not owned by them.

"One of the disadvantages I would say is that in reality the media do not have control over this platform and we are subject to the rules and algorithms of a company where, evidently, journalistic interest does not prevail and that sometimes have regulations that go against journalism," says Dora Luz Romero.

The more views, the more exposure. But depending on the subject matter this can be a problem. Maryórit Guevara, Nicaraguan journalist and founder of the digital media La Lupa, exiled in Costa Rica, says that since they decided to focus on women's rights issues, their visits have decreased.

"It has not been so easy for us to grow on the networks. However, the advantage it gives us is to be able to reach and in some way read the audience, see who is consuming (our content), and define the topics based on that population," says Guevara.

She says that part of the problem of its growth has to do with the fact that they chose a niche to work in and also because they are not in tune with pandemic issues, for example, their visits have been affected.

La Lupa was receiving about 100 thousand visits per month a year ago, now they only get half of that and for that reason, even though they registered in Google's Adsense program, they are not able to receive enough income to be profitable.
At the moment their sources of income are mostly from advertising, but they aspire to be able to monetize more content and define, in a year and a half, if it will be profitable to keep running or decide to do something else.

For Literal, growing on social networks has meant paying for advertising to gain visibility. Silva complains that, sometimes, there comes a point when the content is not displayed and they are forced to pay to continue reaching their audience.

"Most people arrive via social networks, and few people search organically for our content," Silva explains.

That means that most of the people who consume Literal do so from social networks. There is no natural search for that content from other platforms or that search is minimal.

Ortega believes that "the problem is that while it is true that you can reach a larger audience, you lose control of that audience (...) but that audience is not necessarily going to go to your site. You can see the conflict, the love-hate that we have with social networks".

The media will continue to bet on social networks. For now, it is a trend that shows no signs of diminishing, and analysts agree, but the challenge will be to adapt in such a way that they can continue to monetize their content and remain sustainable.


This article has been translated by Ana María Sampson, a Communication Science student at the University of Amsterdam and member of our staff*


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Redacción Confidencial

Redacción Confidencial

Confidencial es un diario digital nicaragüense, de formato multimedia, fundado por Carlos F. Chamorro en junio de 1996. Inició como un semanario impreso y hoy es un medio de referencia regional con información, análisis, entrevistas, perfiles, reportajes e investigaciones sobre Nicaragua, informando desde el exilio por la persecución política de la dictadura de Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo.