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Hardly a week goes by without a news story or research report into the growing use of social media across the Middle East. However, one of the most comprehensive studies on the subject was released just last week, authored by the Dubai School of Government’s Governance and Innovation Program.

The “Arab Social Media Report” (ASMR) provides some welcome quantitative analysis in a field often dominated by anecdote and hypothesis, and delivers a host of illuminating insights – for example, that Kuwaitis are the most active tweeters in the region.

I don’t want to go into much detail but highly recommend taking a closer look at the report.

But what does all this analysis mean for us, as we look to add value and wisdom to our clients in government and business?

Let’s have a quick look at the numbers…

The youth (15-29) are embracing social media most, which is unsurprising given that over half the population falls into this category. As stated in the report, “social media now infiltrates almost every aspect of the daily lives of millions of Arabs, affecting the way they interact socially, do business, deal with government, or engage in civil society movements.

However, one of the common mistakes that brands make as they move into social communications is to treat the discipline as a broadcast medium, rather than an interactive experience. This usually stems from a failure to listen to their audience, before wading in and talking at consumers.

This is where “Smart Listening” comes in – a practice that emphasizes a tailored approach to help understand chatter in the digital sphere and filter noise in the social realm. The ultimate objective of “smart listening” is to extract the relevant signals from online conversations and build business intelligence that supports outreach and engagement. This means that social media monitoring must be customised beyond simple keyword tracking. Keywords and hash tags must be tested and spam filtered, and topics must be drilled into to uncover subtopics and conversation drivers.

Another aspect of “Smart Listening” is to identify opinion drivers, or so called “influencers” and understand the ways they participate in, and shape, online conversations about brands, products or companies.

Simply counting mentions about your company or products provides you with that – numbers without context. At the very least these should be benchmarked against competitors and tracked over time. Numbers with no context will not provide any insight which is required to build a strategy – and this is where “Smart Listening” starts. By breaking down conversations and extracting detailed product and customer feedback, feedback on your company’s corporate social responsibility activities (CSR), how people perceive your company’s (reputation) and how your messages resonate with consumers, journalists, bloggers and analysts; is an approach which doesn’t neglect quantitative data but goes beyond it by adding qualitative analyses.

By identifying relevant topics, key drivers and influencers within the online conversation prior to starting your journey into the space of social media will help avoid any pitfalls, and the continuation of a sophisticated monitoring program will provide a company with valuable insights and allow for higher levels of audience engagement and business goals to be achieved.

Sebastian Troch, digital consultant, Hill+Knowlton AMEASCA

The latest issue of Middle East Media Educator is out today, and a great read for those in the industry looking to get under the skin of local markets, media and communications trends.

This is the second annual issue under the MEME banner, published by Alma Kadragic (@Almakad) at the University of Wollongong in Dubai, and lives up to the expectations set by the first.

Katy Branson, Head of Technology for H+K Strategies in the UAE, has contributed an article exploring ‘Technology in Media and Communications: Catalyst, Enabler, or Driver of Change?’.

Here’s a snapshot of the article…

In today’s world of always-on connectivity, convergent communications and media  pervasiveness, it would be difficult to deny the pivotal role of technology in changing the shape of society in general and communications specifically. The ‘art’ of communication is unrecognizable in comparison to what our predecessors  had to go to in order to speak with relatives, friends and business contacts. And by predecessors, we do not need to search back far– just through one generation to the world in which our parents were raised is enough to ring the changes.

The question is whether it is the technology itself that is driving evolution in our communications environment. To what extent is the rate of technological change in communications media exerting a direct influence on aspects such as the need for regulatory change in the industry, creation of new media markets and spurring quite radical social change in the region…or should we be looking at social change from a different perspective?

 

…Turn to p109 of MEME to read on!

When thinking of communications, the focus can rest on flashy PR campaigns that generate a sizeable amount of coverage. And when the impact of the first campaign withers away another campaign is formulated create another wave of recognition!

Effective communications is about sustaining a momentum that builds, elevates or maintains the organization’s profile and help it achieve its business goals. Here is an ABCD (and E!) approach to make it happen:

Step 1: Align– understand what is your organization trying to achieve (business goals), where did communications fail or succeed in the past and what could be done better.

Step 2: Build– develop your plan to take you where you want to be and set metrics. Prepare the messages, content and formalize your processes.

Step 3: Communicate– engage with your audience and convey your message in their own language using tactics that they can relate to and channels they trust!

Step 4: Discover– did your message resonate! Did it manage to shape or change perceptions? Research in the form of audits, surveys or focus groups can tell you!

Step 5: Evaluate– revisit your plan, messages and tactics to bridge any gaps identified in the previous stage and engage again.

Communication is an ongoing dialogue between an organization and its stakeholders and never a stand-alone monologue!

It should be looked at as an organic function that adapts to the organisation’s evolution, market change, stakeholders’ perceptions and community needs.

– Tania Atallah, Account Director at H+K Strategies, Dubai

The past two years has been a turning point for our generation as market prospects changed and economies deteriorated. The vicious cycle of the global economy diminished employment prospects to an all-time low in many countries which has also become increasing prevalent across the region.

Over the last year we have witnessed the rise of the “Arab Spring” and seen the youth call for improved economic conditions and better employment opportunities. This revolutionary period has also seen individuals calling for a better future for generations to come by placing governments under pressure to find solutions and fast. They want answers to their questions; will I find a job after graduation? How can my public and private sector help my employment prospects? What other avenues are available to me?

The answer is to build up entrepreneurial capacity amongst today’s youth.

By working together, governments and the private sector in the MENA region have the ability to build the skills of the future generation so that entrepreneurship becomes a viable career option as starting a new business provides an economic advantage to a community.

Over the next 10 years, the average annual growth rate in the labour force in the MENA region is an estimated two per cent per year; youth need to take matters into their own hands by taking the initiative in creating jobs for themselves and others.

Hill + Knowlton Strategies has a long standing partnership with INJAZ Al-Arab to help foster entrepreneurship across the region. INJAZ Al-Arab focuses on working with the private sector and government to educate students and provide them with the necessary skills and qualifications needed to succeed as entrepreneurs.

Recently named one of the top NGO’s in the world by Global Journal, INJAZ Al-Arab operates in 15 countries across the MENA region and is a member of Junior Achievement Worldwide. INJAZ Al-Arab programs provide middle school students with entrepreneurial mentorships; a great example of how the private sector can support and benefit the next generation of business leaders. INJAZ Al-Arab gives the Arab youth an opportunity to tackle entrepreneurship head on with no fear. Once they believe in their potential and live their dreams, they will become a key factor in benefiting the local economy and a driver of the community.

To-date, INJAZ-Al Arab has reached out to over 1 million youth and the organisation hopes to reach many more.

– Noor Ghazzi – Junior Account Executive at Hill+Knowlton Strategies Dubai

Close your eyes, and picture someone in their teens.  This person will, in all likelihood, possess technology it took you years (or decades!) to get your hands on.  He or she may regard the CD player as the ancient relic of a lost generation.  This person will not remember the global fears of the Y2K bug, but that’s just fine because they can read about it on their shiny new smartphone as they watch television on their laptop.  Congratulations – you’ve just met your new target audience.

In recent years, the term ‘Gen Z’ has become the industry’s new favorite catch-phrase.  While there is some debate as to who exactly falls under the category, it is largely accepted that if someone was born in the mid-nineties onwards, they belong to Generation Z.  The growing trend in the communications industry is to target this group of people, with some sports-wear brands opting to develop messaging exclusively for them.

The question at this point clearly becomes ‘why?’.  Why target a group of people who are fickle, are not independent, and do not have a regular stream of disposable income?  The answer is that brands should target Gen Z because of these traits, not in spite of them.

The indecisive and unpredictable nature of consumption among Gen Z-ers presents an opportunity for brands to reach new customers.  At such a young age, it is unlikely that teenagers have developed strong emotional ties to brands.  This means that brands have an opportunity to persuade teenagers to ditch their current preferences for new ones.

Some may argue that this generation does not have true purchasing power because they don’t have disposable income and because they must ultimately purchase through their parents.  It is crucial however to understand that possessing purchasing power does not necessarily mean one needs the money to exercise it.  By pressuring their parents, friends, and families, teenagers are able to direct money to the brands they most want to build their identities around.  Furthermore, there is a certain ‘coolness’ or nostalgia associated with the younger generation that the older counterparts crave.  By effectively selling to Gen Z, a brand can frame its communication strategies in terms that appeal to all age-groups.

We are seeing more and more brands target Generation Z in order to create a loyal customer-base for many years to come.  Of course, these arguments help us understand why brands should target Gen Z.  We will discuss how brands can carry out such a strategy with in a (near-)future post.

– Hasan Badwan, Account Executive at Hill+Knowlton Strategies Dubai

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