The Gulf’s new social media hybrids and the success of @maxofarabia

Living in a region which is known for diversity but which is still pervaded by barriers between all the cultures you’ll find in the Gulf, I’m fascinated by individuals who bring differing peoples together. One such person is Max, who goes by his online moniker maxofarabia. A British-American by background, Max has not only lived in the Gulf but he’s also taken the region to heart. Unlike many expats, Max has picked up Arabic and is fluent in the language (he has a strong Emirati accent).

By creating content in both English and Arabic about issues that are relevant to nationals, Max is opening up a new world for both expats as well as those outside of the region. Max prefers Instagram, but you can also find him on Twitter and Facebook (he’s also on Snapchat, but I’m way too old for that platform). His popularity among Emiratis is evident, and he regularly uploads videos about the UAE and its people to his Instagram account, where he is followed and watched by almost 190 thousand people. Max has become a social media ambassador for a number of projects in and around Dubai.

If you’re an expat and you’d like to know more about the Emirates in particular, then Max of Arabia is one to watch. Have a look at some of his posts below (apologies but Instagram’s embedding function is taking a day off today).

A good morning from Max's trip into the desert on the trails in the UAE

A good morning from Max’s trip into the desert on the trails in the UAE

Huge thanks to @hooralq for the invitation to @sharjahart - a great evening spent in one of my favorite cities, surrounded by creativity, with some of my favorite people - #Sharjah #SharjahArt

Huge thanks to @hooralq for the invitation to @sharjahart – a great evening spent in one of my favorite cities, surrounded by creativity, with some of my favorite people – #Sharjah #SharjahArt

Max even looks good in a thob - here at a wedding in Riyadh

Max even looks good in a thob – here at a wedding in Riyadh

Are you in need of a CreativeMorning? Dubai’s latest addition to the media industry

Creative Mornings Dubai is the latest (and greatest) addition to the creative industry in the city

Creative Mornings Dubai is the latest (and greatest) addition to the creative industry in the city

I just love meetups and networking, especially when there’s someone different and engaging out in front and talking about an issue I care about. While there often seems to be an excess of events in Dubai, there’s few that offer a real chance for us to learn something new, understand different perspectives, and engage in a meaningful conversation.

Supported by TECOM, the good people at Digital Ape and Dubai Eye Radio’s/Zayed University’s very own James Piecowye have come together to bring a global phenomenon to the region. Creative Mornings is a simple idea; you bring in an engaging speaker to talk to the local creative community in the morning. There’s lots of coffee and some great talks followed by fascinating question and answer sessions with the audience.

The Creative Morning formula is simple. There’s one every month and they’re held on the third Thursday of every month from 8am to 9am in the CNN building in Dubai Media City. So far, we’ve had four Creative Mornings in Dubai, each of whom has shared their particular insights on issues such as the climate of creativity, the challenges of success and following your own dreams (the session was imaginatively called It Might Get Ugly), the links between education & art, and taking chances & finding your passion.

As you’d imagine from a radio host, James is a wonderful MC (if you don’t know him, go and search Google for Hawaiian shirts in Dubai). The team at Digital Age, including Haifa, Paul, Alia’a and Maria are the people behind the cameras, who make everything happen in terms of supporting with speakers, with the on-site arrangements and the production work – they also work on the social media including the Facebook page. You can also follow their Twitter feed which is @CM_Dubai.

If you’re free on a Thursday morning next month, why don’t you come down and check out Creative Morning. Here’s to great conversations, thanks to James, Digital Ape, and Creative Morning.

The launch of LinkedIn Arabic – Did LinkedIn miss a messaging opportunity?

If you're going to launch in Arabic where would you choose? Dubai or Riyadh? (image source: Reuters)

If you’re going to launch in Arabic where would you choose? Dubai or Riyadh? (image source: Reuters)

I love LinkedIn. It’s possibly my favorite social media network. LinkedIn has transformed how professionals network (and get jobs) online. No recruiter could do without LinkedIn.

The network has grown steadily in the Middle East since it opened up an office in Dubai back in 2012. Over the past three years LinkedIn has grown its user base from five to fourteen million. The UAE is LinkenIn’s largest market with two million users according to The National. The two largest Arabic-speaking markets in the region are Egypt, with a population of just over 82 million, and Saudi.

The Kingdom is, or should be, LinkedIn’s largest potential market. Saudi doesn’t only have a sizable Arabic-speaking population (28 million and counting), but it also has the spending power. Saudi’s gross domestic product for 2013 was just under 750 billion dollars. Saudi is home to some of the region’s largest corporations, as well as a majority of the country under the age of 25. Add to the mix high internet penetration and smartphone usage, Saudi is LinkedIn’s Arabic-language market.

However, when LinkedIn launched its Arabic-language site last week the management team chose Dubai as the preferred location. There was a guest advocate, in the shape of Noura Al Kaabi, CEO of Abu Dhabi’s twofour54. Bizarrely, LinkedIn’s press materials also included a press statement from Saudi’s Minister of Labor, which was carried extensively in the Kingdom’s media (the quote in full is below and is sourced from Saudi Gazette).

Eng. Adel M. Fakeih, Saudi Arabia’s minister of labor, said: “LinkedIn has been working with us to match talent in the Kingdom with the right opportunity, and with Arabic, this benefit can be rolled-out to a much wider member base.

LinkedIn will continue to be a useful tool for us as we use technology to communicate the need for nationals to up-skill themselves and take advantage of the strong economic climate and significant job-creation in the Kingdom.

Being a part of a global network also helps youth identify the key demand areas, and build their qualifications accordingly.”

Would LinkedIn have been better served by launching Arabic in Saudi, rather than in the UAE (where it could be argued that the lingua franca is English). Would this activation have been more in line with the message that LinkedIn was trying to convey, namely that we are now in Arabic and we want Arabic speakers to use our service.

It’s a small observation, but it seems that LinkedIn missed an opportunity to push home a message through a launch that was misaligned with its target audience. Saudi isn’t the easiest country in terms of getting things right on the ground, but if you’re going to do something then, as the saying goes, if it is worth doing then do it right.

And for more details on LinkedIn in the Middle East have a look at the infographics below, which are in English and Arabic.

What not to say on live TV – Qatar Airway’s CEO and the bull**** comment on CNN Money

There’s few things worse to do on live television than swearing. Unless you’re a CEO that is. After being accused of treating foreign workers, especially female cabin crew, with disdain in an article published in the Washington Post (the article is entitled ‘The surprising ways in which some flight attendants are still made to live in the 1960s’), Akbar al-Baker did the media rounds to defend his airline’s position and dismiss the claims. Watch the video and the offending comment for yourselves.

To say Akbar al-Baker is gaffe-prone would be an understatement. He has led the airline since 1997 through a period of unparalleled growth. However, when does a leader become a liability? Is Akbar al-Baker, of which much has been said by former staff, a liability to the airline and to Qatar?

The #truthbetold – How Saudi’s UTURN and @omarhuss are tackling taboos through social media

By its very nature, a taboo can be difficult to talk about. Breaking a taboo is traditionally objected to by elements of a society. What we’re seeing in Saudi is an effort to tackle taboos through social media. One of the leading digital and social media agencies is Jeddah-based UTURN, and its founders and presenter Omar Hussein have taken it on themselves to tackle sensitive subjects. Their idea is simple – create scenarios whereby they provoke Saudis to respond to the situation through actors and staged behaviours, record their reactions, and package this for distribution over the internet.

Named #truthbetold or #الحق_ينقال in Arabic, Omar Hussein and UTURN have tackled several issues to date since they began their series at the end of November. The first, in partnership with Ikea Saudi Arabia, was the issue of Saudi women working as cashiers. An actor in the queue would begin cursing the female cashier to prompt a reaction from the audience around him. The video is below and is only in Arabic. However, it is worth watching just to understand the issue and the responses of those featured.

The second, launched a month after at the end of December, is on the issue of alleged racism towards foreign workers in Saudi Arabia, and was staged in the roast chicken chain Tazaj. Again, the video is in Arabic but the body language of those in the set and who are not aware of acting can be read by any person watching.

Released at the end of January, the third episode tackles the issue of child workers in Jeddah. Done in partnership with the Fatoor Faris restaurant, people are seen responding to a Saudi actor abusing a child actor who is pretending to sell him gum.

Each video has been watched over half a million times, and, even more importantly, UTURN is using Facebook as a means for Saudis to discuss these issues. The idea is so simple and yet so powerful. Thank you UTURN and Omar Hussein for doing this. I wish others were as creative and as brave as you.

And I wish that communicators would look at Saudi, a country which is viewed as the most traditional and conservative in the region, to understand how we can better use social media to change perceptions, attitudes and behaviours. You and others in the Kingdom are leading the rest of the Gulf in terms of how we use social media for change.

Is @Dubai_360 a work of genius or a Google Street View imitation?

There’s a fine line between inspiration and mimicry. At the beginning of the year, Dubai’s Tourism and Culture Marketing body launched Dubai 360, which it markets as the world’s largest and highest quality interactive city tour.

Launched with some amazing video shoots (one of which you can see below which featured local social media celebrity Max Of Arabia), Dubai 360 offers visitors a glimpse into some of Dubai’s most iconic locations such as Burj Khalifa and the Palm. The visuals contain 360° photos and videos and a range of different lens styles such as fisheye to give viewers a unique picture of Dubai wherever they may be.

While the site is very impressive, it is reminiscent of Google Street View. Launched in 2007, Google Street View provides panoramic views of both cities and notable tourist spots around the world. Google actually launched its Street View in Dubai in December 2014.

Dubai 360 has some stunning visuals and videos, and helps tourists understand Dubai from a variety of views. However, with both sites being launched only a month or so apart, would Dubai have been better placed to work with Google to create a co-branded/sponsored site? There’s enough to make the Dubai 360 site outstanding, but will viewers feel that there’s enough here to mark it out as a different experience to Google Street View?

Have a look at the images below, one of Burj Khalifa from Dubai 360 and the other of Burj Khalifa from Google View, and if you haven’t yet checked out Dubai 360 do so. Now.

Inauspicious Beginnings or PR Coup: Al Waleed’s Al-Arab TV station and how it was shut down on its opening day by Bahrain

Al Waleed’s Al-Arab is now known worldwide thanks to Bahrain’s closure of its operations on its first day of broadcasting (image source: http://www.bbc.com)

Have you heard of the saying, ‘There is no such thing as bad publicity’? If you’re a communications professional at BP or you work for Bill Cosby you may feel differently, but the quote, often attributed to the American self-publicist PT Barnum, still rings true in terms of brand awareness and familiarity.

One man who doesn’t lack for publicity is the Saudi Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal Al Saud. Al Waleed, who has long had an interest in the media (he owns stakes in News Corp, Fox and Saudi Research and Publishing Group), set out his own media vision for the region a couple of years back when he announced his intention to set up his own news channel. Named Al-Arab, the channel would compete with the likes of Al-Jazeera and MBC Al-Arabiya to shape the news agenda.

After years of planning, the channel went live this week. Al-Arab is based in Bahrain, ostensibly to allow the channel to benefit from Bahrain’s relative media freedoms and, as the channel’s general manager and Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi put it, to cover “all views” in the region.

On its first day of operations the channel was temporarily suspended by Bahrain’s information ministry. Akhbar al-Khaleej, a pro-government paper, reported that the suspension was due to the channel “not adhering to the norms prevalent in Gulf countries”.

The allegation is that Bahrain’s government took offense to an interview aired with Bahraini opposition activist and politician Khalil al-Marzooq, who was talking about Manama’s decision at the weekend to revoke the citizenship of 72 Bahrainis.

The closure has made headlines worldwide, and has guaranteed headlines for Al-Arab in capitals such as Washington, London, Paris and Berlin. While the closure may have been an operational nightmare, for a publicist it has been a coup. As Oscar Wilde put it, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. By this measure Al Waleed should be delighted with the launch of his television channel.

The stunt may have also have helped to cement Al-Arab’s position as a channel that will tackle any and all subjects. Before the channel’s launch, Khashoggi stated the need to be both bold in terms of talking about taboos as well as the need to discuss issues from a balanced perspective. “We are going to be neutral; we are not going to take sides,” he said. “We are going to bring in all sides in any conflict because right now we have a conflict in almost every Arab country.”

By setting down this marker from day one, will Al-Arab be able to set itself apart from other channels in the region which do have particular media biases. Will Al-Arab create a middle ground that wins over Arab audiences?

According to Al-Arab’s Twitter feed the station will be operational again soon. I for one can’t wait to watch its re-launch.

And if you want to see the alleged reason for why Al-Arab was shut down watch the clip below.