The past year has shaken so many pre-conceived notions about the region, not least how people communicate with each other. Only a couple of days ago research from Paris-based Semiocast showed that Arabic has become the fastest growing language on Twitter. Equally Facebook has become one of the most frequented sites in the Middle East and its usage grew by upwards of sixty percent over the last year in. If anyone has any specific figures on Facebook growth and subscriber numbers for the Middle East then please do pass along.
This is fantastic if you’re a marketeer. You have endless social communities you can directly reach out to, for your brand or your products. Unlike most conventional media in this region which aren’t audited for circulation numbers, marketeers can track their spending via social media through a host of tools. With the cost of social media comparatively low compared to traditional advertising and the increasing numbers of people online and using sites such as Twitter and Facebook, you’d think marketeers would be jumping out of their seats and kissing their monitors.
My question is do companies understand social media? I’ve had several recent eye-popping examples of how firms don’t seem to understand what social media is for. There’s the case of dairy giant Almarai which failed to push through pricing increases due to a lack of direct online communication with its consumers.
But even those firms who are using social media don’t seem to understand the directness and spontaneity of digital dialogue. One exec from a digital marketing firm told me of how he’d have to have five signatures from his client before posting anything on their Facebook site. A personal experience with Dubai-based bank Standard Chartered on their Twitter feed and Facebook sites also summed up for me at least the frustrations of how social media is being used here. Rather than answer a question and have the authority to help out, the same old ‘these are the rules, we can’t do anything’ line was rolled out. If you can’t do anything, then why are you interacting with me? To increase my frustration with your brand and service?
I recently looked over a social media plan from a European-based agency, and while all the reporting structures are there to say who is being targeted and why, I still feel that the point is being missed. Social media is about a dialogue, it’s about engaging with the public in real time by people who know your company and who are able to solve an issue. It’s content and authority rolled into one. If you can get that right, then you empower your customers who in turn will listen to what you have to say. If you get social media wrong, you only end up compounding a customer’s disappointment and frustration with your poor service or product.
Social media. Is there anything more revolutionary for the marketing industry today? Let’s hope that companies in the region cotton on before a consumer Arab Spring shakes up the business community.