Nav­i­gat­ing the so­cial me­dia uni­verse

ArabAd - - COVER STORY - BY: NI­DAL ABOU ZAKI MAN­AG­ING DI­REC­TOR OF ORI­ENT PLANET PR & MAR­KET­ING COM­MU­NI­CA­TIONS

As the Arab World con­tin­ues to em­brace so­cial me­dia, lo­cal busi­nesses are learn­ing to look be­yond tra­di­tional com­mu­ni­ca­tions strate­gies and speak di­rectly to the peo­ple that mat­ter.

So­cial me­dia be­gan life as a way for peo­ple to eas­ily con­nect with their peers and share in­for­ma­tion on­line. To­day it is also fast be­com­ing the pri­mary des­ti­na­tion for lo­cal busi­nesses to mar­ket their ser­vices and com­mu­ni­cate di­rectly with their tar­get au­di­ences. Re­gional and in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions, from GCC gov­ern­ment de­part­ments to multi-na­tional cor­po­ra­tions, now har­bour teams of spe­cial­ists to help them use the medium to their ad­van­tage. Ev­i­dence from agen­cies offering so­cial me­dia ad­vi­sory ser­vices in­creas­ingly shows that a qual­ity on­line com­mu­ni­ca­tions strat­egy can reap re­wards on a com­pany’s bot­tom line.

Young gen­er­a­tion in the Arab World have proven them­selves to be pro­lific early adopters of com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­ogy. By the end of 2014, there were more than 85 mil­lion so­cial me­dia users in the re­gion1, and that fig­ure is set to rise even fur­ther over the next few years. Ac­cord­ing to the first-of-it­skind Arab Knowl­edge Econ­omy Re­port, the num­ber of in­ter­net users in this part of the world will jump to more than 197 mil­lion by 20172. Given the suc­cess of the medium so far, it’s safe to as­sume that a vast pro­por­tion of those users will rely heav­ily on so­cial me­dia in their day-to-day lives.

To those un­fa­mil­iar with the so­cial net­work­ing, plat­forms like Face­book, Twit­ter and In­sta­gram may come across as mean­ing­less mar­ket­places of ir­rev­er­ent chitchat and hol­i­day pho­tos, but for the savvy busi­ness mar­keter, they of­fer easy, direct ac­cess to huge tar­get au­di­ences.

To put the most pop­u­lar plat­forms into per­spec­tive, by May 2014 the coun­try av­er­age for Face­book pen­e­tra­tion in the Arab re­gion was more than 21.5 per­cent, up from 15 per­cent in May 20133. While the to­tal num­ber of ac­tive Twit­ter users, reached a stag­ger­ing 5,797,500 users as of March 20144. At no cost, a busi­ness can set up a pro­file on ei­ther plat­form and gain direct ac­cess to mil­lions of ex­ist­ing stake­holder and po­ten­tial clients. Once on­line, how­ever, they need to en­sure that they man­age their com­mu­ni­ca­tions strate­gi­cally and tread through the so­cial me­dia uni­verse with care.

Lo­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions are in­creas­ingly en­list­ing the ser­vices of so­cial me­dia ad­vis­ers to de­velop mar­ket­ing plans that nav­i­gate com­mon pit­falls and al­low them to speak di­rectly to ex­ist­ing and prospec­tive cus­tomers. Ac­cord­ing to the Arab Knowl­edge Econ­omy Re­port, 66 per­cent of 7,000 peo­ple sur­veyed be­lieve that so­cial me­dia has a big im­pact on the suc­cess of com­pa­nies and 52 per cent be­lieve that so­cial me­dia is a great chan­nel of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the peo­ple5. In­deed, many pri­vate sec­tor and gov­ern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tions are now find­ing that they can re­ceive clearer con­sumer feed­back through so­cial me­dia, than had they hired a con­sult­ing firm to con­duct a con­ven­tional mar­ket re­search ex­er­cise to an­a­lyse cus­tomer sen­ti­ment. As con­sumers turn to so­cial net­works to air their thoughts, many or­gan­i­sa­tions are be­ing chal­lenged to break away from tra­di­tional rigid mar­ket­ing struc­tures and are re­ly­ing on spe­cial­ist so­cial me­dia ad­vis­ers to de­velop re­ac­tive and trans­par­ent com­mu­ni­ca­tions strate­gies.

Par­tic­i­pat­ing in so­cial me­dia al­lows Mid­dle East busi­nesses to com­mu­ni­cate with po­ten­tial cus­tomers and part­ners much fur­ther afield as well. A pro­lif­er­a­tion of net­work­ing plat­forms and the rapid global spread of hand­held tech­nol­ogy has meant that more of the world is now on­line and bar­ri­ers to en­try have never been lower for or­gan­i­sa­tions with a mes­sage to share. With an au­di­ence of 1.96 bil­lion users in the world in 20156, so­cial me­dia has proven it­self to be the cho­sen com­mu­ni­ca­tion tool for the masses and it’s time for lo­cal busi­nesses to keep up.

By the end of 2014, there were more than 85 mil­lion so­cial me­dia users in the re­gion, and that fig­ure is set to rise even fur­ther over the next few years.

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