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Is it just me, or is your Facebook wall jam-packed with baby photos these days as well? Single friends are threatening to abandon ship while new parents happily post pictures and videos on a daily basis. With Gen Y beginning to join the Gen X’s  in moving on from the party lifestyle to tie the knot and start a family, Facebook seems to be turning into more of a family album than the rock ‘n’ roll collection of nights out and morning-after gossip that it used to be. What started as a college network has found itself facing adulthood.

In terms of Facebook’s mission, ‘giving people the power to share’ still makes this one of the most effective social tools for keeping in touch with family and friends, especially those spread across countries far and wide. But will it appeal to the next generation – the ‘net generation’ – in the same way?

With every generational jump comes the question of whether today’s trends and tools will endure the test of time. “Change is the only constant”, after all. Facebook, whose value is based on – amongst other things – development of user numbers, is now challenged with living up to the expectation that it is going to continue its growth path to deliver advertising audiences and opportunities for engaging a captured market way into the future.

Approximately one in thirteen people on earth are on Facebook, and today’s 35+ year old demographic represents one-third of the entire user base. Whilst the fastest growing group is currently the generation of 17-24 year olds, the percentage overall that they represent still remains less than that of people around the age of their parents. Even if the younger generation are comfortable with their parents seeing what goes on in their lives, but do they really want to be on the same social network as their grandparents? Judging by the 164 ‘likes’ for the Gen Z Facebook group, we might doubt they do!

With a global presence established, Facebook needs to continue expanding, adapting and extending its offer to appeal to new markets of consumers.  Whether this means the fragmentation of the social network we know and love remains to be seen, but watch this space because it will be interesting to see how Facebook develops in a bid to maintain the value of ‘Facebook Inc’ into the future.

– Katy Branson, Head of Technology UAE at Hill+Knowlton Strategies Dubai

In the digital age, a brand can no longer rely on a well written press release to sell a destination. The consumer landscape has changed drastically in the world of travel and customers are becoming more and more travel savvy with the help of the internet.

A well-worded pitch selling in breathtaking views or an electric nightlife just isn’t going to cut the mustard.  It is now all online to experience at the press of a button, with 360 degree virtual tours of luxurious hotels where you can practically test out the king size bed via your laptop, to video blogs of crazy students bungee jumping from stomach-churning heights.

So how does the travel PR industry compete with all these new-fangled travel blogs and review websites offering first-hand insight? Quite simply, by embracing them. In order to get closer to their target audiences, brands need to engage travel and lifestyle bloggers and forums. Their opinions are valued by consumers all over the world. From mum’s sharing family travel tips via expatwoman.com to young nomads recommending quick and easy hostels on twenty-somethingtravel.com, the influence of such sites is reaching new heights.

Engaging with these bloggers is now essential for gaining consumer trust. And it makes sense: After all, who would you trust more – a multi-million dollar brand trying to sell flights and hotels or the independent traveler who has first-hand experience?

Many travel brands are also taking it head on with their own social media initiatives, where forums have the power to build a community centered on the brand. Emirates airline for example engages travelers through its Facebook page and encourages discussions on better service. The page is regularly updated with news on new routes and aircraft, but also features interesting snippets of everyday life from the SkyCargo team and YouTube clips of traditional music from around the globe.

Whether it is industry insight, developments in destination offerings, or simply a new hidden gem of a restaurant tucked away in the Nepalese jungle, if you are able to provide a regular stream of solid, insightful, and informative content, you’re already halfway there.

– Louisa Norman, Account Executive at Hill+Knowlton Strategies Dubai

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For companies targeting enterprise buyers, particularly in the technology sector, analysts can be important influencers that are often left untouched by communications. However, in skipping this audience, a number of fruitful business opportunities can be left unexplored.

Several international analyst houses have increased commitment to the Middle East and Africa region over recent years, expanding their operations from sales offices to – in some cases – fully fledged research operations. This local presence is enabling analysts to build a closer focus on the fast-growing economies of the region rather than the Euro-centric view of years gone by.

From a company’s perspective, analysts offer opportunity to establish a reciprocal relationship that yields returns through building conversations over time. Analysts spend much of their day speaking to industry leaders with their eye on new trends; young start-ups that might be the next big thing; and government bodies that can influence the changing tides of investment. Sharing information about business success, direction and marketplace trends can be an astute investment if in return your conversation garners valuable insight from an industry expert.

And the discussion can be more detailed than that which might be shared with the media; these exchanges are not going into print. Instead, analysts are often reference points for companies considering big investments and weighing up potential suppliers, so the more they know about your business the better armed they will be in this conversation.

There is opportunity to partner on research and whitepapers on industry trends in the region, shedding new light on the economic and industry trends here, and contributing to knowledge development. Analysts can bring credibility to these reports through their position as independent experts, and offer another angle for driving coverage through the press with opinions to support business findings.

Bringing H+K’s expertise from around the world, where in many places analysts are a staple part of a technology engagement programme, we hope to see more involvement between companies and analysts in building the research and knowledge amongst industries across the region.

– Katy Branson, Head of Technology UAE at Hill+Knowlton Strategies Dubai

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