Sondos Al-Qattan: Lessons from a social media star and a self-made crisis

Will brands continue to work with Sondos Alqattan after this outburst?

It’s news that has gone global, from CNN and Buzzfeed in the US all the way to Manila. No, it’s not movement on the Middle East peace process, or an update on the fight against extremism. Instead, the headlines are being made by a social media star and her views on a specific nationality. I’ve lost count of the number of articles and videos I’ve seen that have featured Sondos Al-Qattan, a Kuwaiti national and make-up tutorial social media star who has 2.3 million followers on Instagram. Sondos is one of the original social media stars; she’s worked numerous beauty brands, and she’s made significant money doing so.

Given this, you’d think she’d have some savvy when it comes to what she says online. This doesn’t seem to be the case. On the 14th of this month Sondos spoke against the new laws put in place by the Kuwaiti government governing the treatment of Filipino workers in the country. To put it mildly, Sondos wasn’t pleased. A video of her was shared where she criticized the new laws. To paraphrase:

“For people who want to get a Filipino domestic worker, what are these ridiculous work contracts you’ve got to sign? The woman I met with was reading out the rules to me and I was shocked. Put aside that they need to be given a break every five hours, that’s normal. But, how can you have a ‘servant’ in your house who gets to keep their passport with them? Where are we living? If they ran away back to their country, who’ll refund me? Even worse, is that they get a day off every single week! What’s left? Honestly, with this new contract, I just wouldn’t get a Filipino maid. She’d only work six days a week and get four days off a month.”

The condemnation was swift, both in the media and on social platforms despite the original clip being deleted. The video below is just one example of many of how she’s been criticized.

What’s telling about the case isn’t just how to get yourself in trouble online. The Sondos incident is a wealth of lessons, for both communicators and social media influencers.

  1. There is no Local – Sondos may have thought that she was addressing a local, Kuwaiti audience (she was speaking in Arabic on a local Instagram account). However, there is no local online. Her comments were widely shared, and translated. Once they were translated, her views went global.
  2. Audience is Authority – If this was a Gulf national with a couple of hundred followers, it’d have been dismissed. With a following of over two million, this would have never been the case with Sondos. Social media influencers (and brands) must understand that people are hanging on your every word, both good and bad.
  3. Brands will make a Choice – With her words, Sondos offended a whole nationality, a population of over 100 million who spent over 1.28 billion dollars on imported makeup in 2015. Brands who work with Sondos, the likes of Phyto, Max Factor and others) will quickly decide if they want to put their sales in danger (they should have already put out statements by now, especially given the number of calls for boycotts on her YouTube pages). Brands who are looking to work with social media influencers are increasingly understanding the need to do safety checks; if an influencer has said something negative, brands will simply not work with them.
  4. Stop Digging – Sondos has done pretty much everything she can to nullify criticism. She’s turned off comments on her Instagram page, her Twitter account is private, and she’s not responded to any media queries. A new video has been posted tonight by Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Qabas in Arabic, where she basically repeats her initial messages and adds that she sees the media coverage as a good thing as it’ll make the Kuwaiti government take action on behalf of those who hire Filipino maids. Some people just don’t learn.

This issue may go away in a couple of days – people have short attention spans. But in a world where there’s no concept of local, Sondos would have been best advised to listen to the criticism and apologize in English for her views. As it is, I don’t see how she can continue to work with global brands when she herself has become a toxic brand.

4 thoughts on “Sondos Al-Qattan: Lessons from a social media star and a self-made crisis

  1. Nice review Alex.. shame about the subject at hand. I remember my friend had a “housekeeper” at her home when i was young ( back in the 1980’s)… She was a female, British lady in her mid 30’s. She did everything from looking after the kids, cleaning, cooking, etc… she ate her meals at the table with us, her kids would come and play with us, she was a part of the family and her role was considered an important profession and as such was respected. No one in this day and age should be classed a servant, its a job just like an admin executive in an office and they deserve to be treated like human beings, just like we expect to be treated.

  2. Ms. Sondos is digging her own grave, so to speak. if she is a very good person, she will not get afraid that her maids will run away. it’s a two-way relationship. if you are treating others BAD, then, you will get BAD KARMA, too. if she is a good employer, then, her maids will not run away from her. IT’S AS SIMPLE AS THAT.

  3. Pingback: Sondos AlQattan and how brands need to learn lessons from this self-made influencer crisis (part 2) | Alex of Arabia's Blog

  4. I am currently working in the Middle East, specifically Bahrain.

    Her thoughts, unfortunately are still acknowledged in the vast GCC. However, I will not call out every gcc national as some of my local friends ( and a couple other gcc nationals) find Sondos’ views as something that can be only labelled as abhorrent.

    The thought of calling someone a servant already leaves a sour note. How can she not see the mistake in her statement? The refund, the passport, the days off? She could have phrased it differently and she would have dodged this whole ordeal.

    The fact that she has somehow connected Islamophobia and thinks that this is an attack on Kuwait, the hijabis and Islam is truly outrageous. She needs to understand that she is not above anyone else and that her luxurious lifestyle is not something that comes without a price.

    If I could say, she is also a servant… A servant to those who look up to her for tutorials and A servant to the brands she associate with.

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