First there was #MyDubai, and now we have #InAbuDhabi – Promoting a city on social media

Will #InAbuDhabi do for the capital what #MyDubai has done for Dubai’s social media presence?

There’s a saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that’s the case, then #MyDubai, the social media campaign which was launched to give the city’s residents a way to tell their own story, now has another honor to its name in addition to the one million Instagram uploads.

Abu Dhabi has followed in the footsteps of #MyDubai and launched its own hashtag to share experiences. To quote from the Khaleej Times:

Residents and visitors to the Capital have a new platform to share their experiences and events: #inAbuDhabi.

Announced on Sunday by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA), the new online service is meant to promote the emirate’s culture, entertainment, heritage and hospitality both at home and abroad.

“The #inAbuDhabi campaign will be wide-reaching and rolled out across all communication channels of our visitabudhabi online resource. It will be used across social media for maximum reach and impact and will be a tool to tell the destination story locally, regionally and internationally,” said Mouza Al Shamsi, acting executive director of Marketing and Communications at TCA.

So far, so good. However, despite launching the campaign on October 20th it’s probably fair to say that the #inAbuDhabi hashtag is yet to trend among social media users. Most of the usage has been by corporate accounts related to tourism such as @VisitAbuDhabi, @AbuDhabiEvents and @EtihadAirways.

The hashtag #InAbuDhabi had a strong start but has tailed off rapidly since its launch

The hashtag #InAbuDhabi had a strong start but has tailed off rapidly since its launch

Will #InAbuDhabi become another #MyDubai? Does it have the emotional resonance with residents of the capital? Or should Abu Dhabi’s Tourism and Culture Authority not imitated Dubai and done something completely different? What do you think?

Who delivers the message is just as important as the message itself – a lesson from Abu Dhabi

Now, if you were to present to these people what would you think of wearing? (image source: The New York Times)

Many of us in the communications industry spend so long on developing the message itself that we often forget about the impact of who is going to deliver the message. A striking example of this and one of the most striking examples of mismatching the what with the who dates back to 2006, when Dubai’s DP World lost control of six ports in the US in part due to a lack of understanding how to present to a specific audience. For those who remember the episode the highlight was UAE nationals dressed in kandouras presenting to US officials, which didn’t help to assuage American lawmakers that the ports would not be a security threat in the hands of an Arab-owned company.

A news item this week caught my eye. It was an interesting article about a subject that needs more airtime, that of energy conservation and electricity subsidies. I’m going to quote from the article, which was published in the English-daily Gulf News, below.

When you switch off a lamp or an electric gadget when not needed, it is not merely minimising your own expense, but helps the nation implement more welfare measures for its people, including building more schools and hospitals.

Abu Dhabi Government spent Dh4 billion on subsidies on oil that used for energy generation last year, a senior official said here yesterday.

If energy consumption is minimised, the oil used for power generation can be exported and its revenue can be used for constructing schools etc, said Robert Bradley, Senior Policy Advisor — Climate Change, Directorate of Energy and Climate Change at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He was speaking at a discussion meeting in the capital… It was Abu Dhabi Sustainability Group’s sixth Hiwar Session (the Arabic word for dialogue), a public event, which aimed to shed light on current economic, social and environmental issues and its implications for sustainability in Abu Dhabi.

Let’s have a look at the message, which in itself is fascinating. Abu Dhabi is spending unnecessary money on power generation, money that could be spent on infrastructure, on public services, education or healthcare. All good so far. However, who is speaking and to which audience?

We have a Westerner, an expat talking about nation-building. Okay, but which group(s) would have have the most interest in looking long term? Who uses public services such as national schools and hospitals? It’d be a safe assumption to say UAE nationals. And which consumer demographic uses the most electricity per head (take a guess… yes, it’s locals).

The question would be, why isn’t a UAE national delivering the message, in Arabic? And why is an English-language paper reporting on this rather than the Arabic press? Surely a UAE national would have more gravitas and clout in spreading this message to his or her fellow citizens, in a language and dialect that they understand. There’d be less opportunity for misunderstandings and misgivings.

We’ve often got to think beyond the message to the messenger him or herself. If we don’t then we’re going to miss the chance to make the impact that we’re hoping for. And trust me, we’re not going to be able to rely on oil and gas in this part of the world forever.

Trials and Tribulations at Abu Dhabi’s The National

The National, Abu Dhabi’s English-language newspaper, hasn’t had a quiet week. First comes a blog post which The National admitted was ‘one of the most controversial ever’ in the paper’s five year history. The blog, which was written by an intern journalist named Ayesha Al-Khoori, was pilloried for its description of her driving habits and speeding even though she herself was attempting to argue that lowering the UAE’s driving minimum driving age from 18 would be a mistake. This blog, which garnered hundreds of responses and mentions on the comments section as well as on social media sites, was followed by an attempt at an apology which for me seemed to miss the point (Ayesha claimed her message was lost, but I’d argue that there was no consistency in her initial message).

For a review of the blog and The National’s editorial guidelines including how it reviews and edits work (which didn’t seem to be the case with Ayesha’s blog) then read this piece by Mita56 which sums everything up nicely.

To top off a bad start to the week, someone made a serious error when writing The National’s daily electronic newsletter (have a shufty below).

Have a look and spot the boo-boo. It's a big one.

Have a look and spot the boo-boo. It’s a big one.

If you didn’t spot the mistake, I’ll give you a hint. The late person referred to in the photo-caption should be the founder of the country (Allah yurhamu) rather than HRH his son who is very much alive and is the President of the United Arab Emirates.

The National has been stung recently by a couple of tell-all pieces by ex-journalists. One of the most recent was Tom OHara, who wrote a warts-and-all account of his two years in Abu Dhabi in the American Journalism Review in December 2012/January 2013. You can read his revealing piece here.

I was at the launch party for The National in 2008 and remember the roster of journalists on display. There was a Pulitzer-prize winner reporting for the paper even. Hopes were high that we’d have a newspaper with the temerity to tell it like it was, which is still a rarity in the Middle East. Over the years I’ve looked forward to reading The National’s copy from a group of journalists whom I have dealt with and whom I think very highly of.

As a former journalist I respect and admire good journalism. In today’s Gulf we need more quality content to explain the why behind the what. My hope is that The National’s management steer the paper back to what it aimed to be five years back, to “establish an institution on par with some of the greatest newspapers in the world.” Trials and tribulations are all well and good (unless you’re the person behind the drama), but The National needs to raise its standards and focus our attention back on the quality of its content. The National, we need you more than ever.

How much variety and discrimination is there in the Gulf?

The GCC is as diverse and complicated as any other part of the globe (credit: rasheedsworld.com)


Looking on in from the outside, most expatriates see the Arabian Peninsula as one monotonous geography. The women wear black (unless they’re Kuwaiti) and the mean wear white. The language is the same, and everyone is a Muslim. And that’s the Gulf.

Well, hardly. Each country is unique, and offers a wealth of diversity in terms of culture, history and opinions. The range of accents in Bahrain is so prominent that a local will be able to tell where a compatriot may be from how the greeting alone.

Saudi is the most diverse country in the region. Its twenty million nationals come from all four corners of the world, and don’t be surprised to meet a Saudi whose roots trace back to Indonesia, China, or Western Africa. The Kingdom’s Western Region is the richest melting pot you’ll come across, thanks to hundreds of years of pilgrimage to the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah. Often foreigners think that Dubai or Doha are the two cities that offer the greatest contrast of cultures and groups, but they don’t come close to what Jeddah has to offer.

And Christians in Kuwait and Bahrain? And a Jewish community in Manama? Yes, they’re locals (but there’s not many of them).

And of course, with variety comes discrimination. There’s a good deal of nepotism across the Gulf mainly due to the tribal, bedouin nature. It’s not uncommon to find a certain group dominating in one company – it’s not so much where a person is from as often as what their tribal name is. Many Saudis don’t use their tribal names any more. And there’s also discrimination based on region (Jeddah versus Riyadh, Dubai versus Abu Dhabi etc), on the history behind the family name (in other words how far back can the family’s genealogy be traced), and on religion (which mathab or religious affiliation a person adheres to).

While this isn’t unique to the Gulf (tell me a place where there isn’t any discrimination) what I do find interesting is the institutionalized discrimination in certain parts of the GCC. Some states, most notably Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman count GCC nationals as locals when it comes to hiring and nationalization quotas. The UAE and Qatar do not – when they say local they mean local. For a European the difference in policy between the two groups is hard to fathom (especially when considering the relatively small populations of both Qatar and the UAE when compared to Saudi Arabia).

So, the next time you’re sitting in the coffee ship and sipping on your coffee do remember to ask yourself where the gentleman in white is from. You may be surprised at how much you can learn about a region that is full of culture and contrast.