Speaking at the INMA Conference de Medios Latinoamerica, Grzegorz Piechota, research associate at Harvard Business School, explained how Google and Facebook are changing the landscape for Latin American news media companies.

It’s useful to change the perspective; which is that it's the consumers who are changing their habits, Piechota said.

“People basically want to connect with their friends, and talk about events from their lives and about news,” Piechota said. This was a need that people had long before Facebook came to the market, he noted.

“When we are looking at the numbers of how much people are engaged with social media, we see that Latin American countries are leading in the world,” he said. People in Brazil, Argentina, and other Latin American countries are much more engaged with social media than people in the United States, Europe, or Asia. 

Piechota believes there are cultural reasons why people like to discuss the news with their friends online: “It means also that it’s very important for people to stay connected with their friends and family.”

People in Brazil, for example, spend an average of 3.5 hours on social media every day — more than they spend watching television. This compares to just 1.5 hours in the United States and 20 minutes in Japan.

“People in Latin America, they like very much being in touch with others, and I think it has a tremendous impact on what kinds of services people use and how they are consuming news on the Internet,” Piechota said.

For the Latin American news media company, this shows that they like the social connection aspect of content. “It is a big challenge for publishers who are usually more conservative about the ways they present the news, and the ways they allow people to discuss the news.”

So, how can they compete with these digital platforms? 

“Publishers here should be more social and more conversational than probably they are,” Piechota said.

Another challenge is with advertising. Latin American newspapers still enjoy very high volumes of advertising, but they cannot expect to maintain that in the digital market.

“They need to be prepared for a big disruption coming to the advertising business,” he said.