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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

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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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