Will Dubai’s social media business license regulate the influencer space?

social media influencers

There’s been little legislation specifically looking at social media selling or influencer marketing across the Gulf

As anyone who works in the social media space in the Gulf knows, there’s nothing in the way of regulation. We’re working in a space which is poorly understood when it comes to legality and regulation (though, as I’ve written about before, any sponsored content is legislated for by the UAE’s advertising law).

This may be about to change however. Last week, Dubai’s Department of Economic Development launched a new business license, designed for those wishing to conduct business online, via social media. Here’s more details from Arabian Business.

Dubai’s Department of Economic Development (DED) has launched a new e-Trader licence to allow Emiratis and GCC citizens in Dubai to conduct business activities on social networking sites.

The DED’s Business Registration and Licensing (BRL) sector said the initiative is part of enhancing transparency and regulating the practice of offering products and services for sale on social media.

The e-Trader licence can be registered under the name of a single owner only and the owner must be an Emirati or GCC citizen aged 18 or above and residing in Dubai.
Nearly 3,000 e-Traders are expected to be licensed in Dubai in 2017.

At the event, there were a number of social media influencers, including Emirati comedian and instagrammer Kanu AlKendi (you can see his post below).

بشرى سارة لجميع تجار مواقع التواصل الاجتماعي @dubai_ded الْيَوْمَ أطلقت الدايرة الاقتصادية قطاع التسجيل و الترخيص التجاري مبادرة الاولى من نوعها في منطقة الشرق الأوسط ( ترخيص المشاريع التجارية التي تدار عبر مواقع التواصل الاجتماعي ) و هذه المبادرة تشمل مواطني دولة الامارات و دول مجلس التعاون الخليجي لتنظيم و تسهيل مزاولة الاعمال التجارية الالكترونية بإمارة #دبي @dubai_ded @dubai_ded @dubai_ded #التاجر_الالكتروني WWW.etrader.ae للتسجيل

A post shared by Kanu Alkendi (@kanu7alkendi) on

One of the reasons given for the launch of this license was to enhance consumer confidence in online businesses. “Licensing a business activity enhances consumer confidence on one hand and on the other, it removes the risk of infringement on a reserved trade name or other intellectual property, explained Omar Bushahab, CEO for the Business Registration & Licensing (BRL) sector of the Department of Economic Development. “A license guarantees the rights of everyone concerned and defines the legal accountability of the merchant.”

Transparency (or the lack of) has been a major talking point when it comes to influencer marketing in the region. While some businesses have to ensure that their influencers publicly state that their content is paid for (mainly those registered or publicly listed in jurisdictions with a legal framework around online marketing), the majority of advertisers and social media influencers don’t.

I understand that governmental bodies have been looking at ways to regulate the influencer industry – I don’t think I’ve seen a campaign over the last year which hasn’t featured an influencer. This may be a first step. However, more may be to come in relation to legislation covering influencers, particularly those who aren’t Gulf nationals (which is essentially the majority).

“One of the key challenges in the DED launch narrative is the condition that all license holders must be GCC citizen. This may prove difficult or restrictive to the large expatriate population across Dubai,” Lindsay Wakefield, a retail analyst, told Gulf News.

For agencies who are working in this area, it’s more than advisable to get legal advice as to how you and your clients should be engaging with influencers.

The need for clear communications – Saudi’s drive to balance the books

lazy-saudis

Saudi’s social media scene has been on fire over the past week due to a number of controversial issues regarding government officials. This is a news story from the Times on a comment made by a minister regarding Saudi inefficiency.

This week has been an interesting one for Social Media watchers in the Kingdom. Thousands of Saudi nationals have taken part in online campaigns/used popular hashtags relating to three high-level government officials who have either made controversial statements or who have been accused of using their influence on behalf of family members (you can see media coverage on two of the issues from Saudi Gazette here and Arab News here). The campaigns follow a decision a month ago to cut benefits for Saudi government employees. The decree, which was made in light of low oil prices and a rising Saudi budget deficit, is biting hard; this week Reuters reported that the Saudi central bank had asked retail banks to reschedule property loans for those affected by the cuts.

One of the campaigns began after a government document was leaked online, with personal details including name, position and salary. It’s only logical to assume that many government officials in the Kingdom are angry at seeing their pay cheques shrink; they’ll become even more angry when they see what they feel to be others not doing the same. In this environment, it wouldn’t be hard to also imagine officials being able to take a picture via their smartphone of a document which may reveal an embarrassing situation and then sharing it via social media (or, more likely, dark social).

I had the pleasure of listening to a senior Saudi journalist this week. He made a pertinent point when he said, “We can spend billions on consultants. We could have spent millions on a PR agency to convey the message behind the cuts and why they were necessary.”

In times of hardship, good communications becomes even more important. Saudi’s citizens need to understand the logic behind government decisions. They need to feel that they are engaged and are part of the debate. And they need to see government’s leadership doing just that, namely leading by example (as I’ve said before, actions are much more powerful than words in shaping perception).

We may see more issues coming to light in the Kingdom over the coming months, and more skeletons being revealed in government closets. When it comes to the government’s engagement and communication with its people, the transparency, clarity and consistency (or lack of) will either help get many Saudi citizens on board, or it may alienate them further. I for one hope it’s the former, rather than the latter.

 

The REAL Entrepreneur of the Week Series – A Sit Down with Shelina Jokhiya

Shelina Jokhiya went from head of legal for a global FMCG to a solopreneur as she set up her business Decluttr Me

Shelina Jokhiya went from head of legal for a global FMCG to a solopreneur as she set up her business Decluttr Me

As they say, if you want something doing, you should do it yourself. I’ve been following a local publication as it recounts stories of entrepreneurship in the region. Whilst setting up a mentorship program, a series of CSR events, or an organization that aims to empower youths (and which doesn’t yet seem to be up and running sadly) are all praiseworthy, for me they’re not examples of entrepreneurship to look up to.

I’ve set up my own business, and there’s nothing harder, or more rewarding. Becoming an entrepreneur essentially means letting go of security for risk, and committing yourself to working harder than you’ve ever done before to achieve your dreams.

In keeping with my aim of sharing stories to help others, I’ve asked a number of entrepreneurs who I know and look up to, to tell their story.

First up is Shelina Jokhiya. Shelina is the founder of UAE-based startup Decluttr Me. DeCluttr Me has recently become the first international accredited member of the Association of Professional Declutters and Organizers U.K. (APDO). Hailing from the UK, Shelina is a Solicitor by education and profession, and was previously Global Compliance and Corporate Governance Manager for Super-Max.

I asked Shelina a number of questions about what it means to be an entrepreneur, why she made the leap and her advice for others thinking of following the same path.

Q: Why did you want to become an entrepreneur?

Shelina: I wanted to start Decluttr Me as I had dreamt about helping other people to declutter and organize for 15 years and finally got the fire to do it after being an in house lawyer for several years. It wasn’t about being an entrepreneur, but more about creating this service.

Q: What do you do and why do you do it?

Shelina: I own DeCluttr Me which is a decluttering and organizing services for homes and office in the UAE and GCC region. I go into homes and offices, declutter the junk, and unwanted items and organize everything that is left into proper systems.

Q: What is different about being an entrepreneur versus being in a job?

Shelina: I am a solopreneur so you have to do everything. I have become MD, Sales, Marketing, HR (fortunately I only have to deal with myself) Finance, IT, Social Media, Legal (the easiest bit) and Business Development as well as off course professional organizer. I am jack of all trades. I do outsource some elements such as creative elements of my business to save me time and energy.

With a job you work mostly the set hours, have a steady income and have to answer to someone at some point. And most importantly you have the steady income (I know I repeated it twice). However, being an entrepreneur I have been able to see the sun more as I get to go out during the day to meetings, events or just to go shopping or see a movie (Star Wars was watched at 9am in IMAX, best thing ever). I have met more people getting out there networking than I would ever have met staying in my corporate office and I have met some amazing clients from different parts of life, cultures and nationalities. It’s been an eye opener and great in that sense.

But then I do work at midnight catching up on admin.

Q: What’s your advice to others?

Shelina: If you think it will be easy to run your own business you are wrong. It is more stressful than being a global head of legal! Save up a lot of money so you have the money whilst you are growing your business. Network a lot! I go to networking events twice a week to talk about my business and to get known. I am now known as the declutter woman and have received business from word of mouth and meeting people at the networking events in this country.

Remember it takes a year and half to get the business running and nearly 3 years to make a profit. Everyone told me this and it was accurate for me. If you get an investor it might be different.

My business is not a sexy app or a cool techie service so I haven’t attracted investors. Which is fine for me, but if you do want investors remember you will lose control of your business, have to answer someone (again) and create the dreaded business plan (I created mind maps for my business rather than business plans).

Also get a mentor. I have a few amazing people in my life who are my mentors and sounding boards for my business. They are supportive but practical with their advice which is what I need.

You will lose a lot of friends starting this business. Remove the negative people and keeping on going. it will work out in the end.

Q: What’s it like being a female entrepreneur in the region?

Shelina: I don’t know to be honest as I don’t think about myself as an “entrepreneur” or a “female entrepreneur”. I run a successful business which takes up my time and my mind and that’s all that matters. If you have faith in your business and have a strong work ethic, then it doesn’t matter what sex you are in this region or any other region. Whoever you are, people will try to disparage your work and others will be massive supporters of your work.

Executives promising to go naked on television, Cobone’s PR stunt, and The Address’ post-crisis crisis?

Paul Kenny's fake PR release for Cobone, Ziad El Chaar naked on TV and Emaar's ongoing issues following the Address fire made this week an interesting one for media in the UAE (image source: Arabian Gazette)

Paul Kenny’s fake PR release for Cobone, Ziad El Chaar naked on TV and Emaar’s ongoing issues following the Address fire made this week an interesting one for media in the UAE (image source: Arabian Gazette)

Media in the Middle East is rarely dull, and the past few days have proved that there’s some hilarity as well as serious questions about what people in our region do and then tell to the media.

Let’s start with the real estate brand which is developing a reputation for foot-in-mouth disease. Speaking to the Sunday Times, Damac’s Managing Director Ziad El Chaar told The Sunday Times he would “go on TV naked and resign” if the worst market projections are realised. Aside from the fact that any naked executive dance on television would be illegal in the UAE (at least without a VPN), his comment hasn’t been taken too well judging by the reaction on Arabian Business’ online portal. Maybe there’s some fans of naked real estate executives out there. If so, please do show yourselves so we can get you help…

Another bizarre piece from last week which wasn’t picked up widely. Speaking to an audience of entrepreneurs last week, the founder of discounting site Cobone Paul Kenny admitted that he used a PR stunt to kick-start his business. Shortly after founding the site, Kenny put out a press release claiming that 1,000 vouchers for a discounted pizza had been sold to Cobone consumers. That release, Kenny now claims, was a fake. Let’s quote Kenny from the Arabian Business story.

“We were second to market. GoNabit [an online group buying website founded by Dan Stuart and Sohrab Jahanbani] was first. When we launched, everyone was saying: ‘You are the same as GoNabit,’ which we were but I said we weren’t.

So I went to at Vapiano, which is an Italian restaurant, and bought a thousand pizzas at a huge discount and they sold out by 12pm. I put a big sold out sticker on the site and an hour later I released a press release saying ‘Cobone.com breaks e-commerce record in the Middle East.’

And the truth is that everyone started reading and asking ‘Who is this company Cobone.com?’ ‘What is e-commerce?’ ‘What’s a record?’ You know it created a lot of interest in the business and instantly people started recognising us as a different business.

I remember that a day after you could do a Google search to see we were on around 483,000 websites. First, e-commerce in the Middle East was never covered. Then what is an e-commerce record? What is Cobone.com?

So you got a ball rolling of media interest from that point.”

There’s a popular saying about the luck of the Irish. And there’s another saying about making one’s own luck. Luckily for Kenny, no asked if the news was real (or checked with the restaurant). If they had, his deception may not have worked so well.

And finally, another follow-on story about the New Year’s Eve fire at The Address, from The National in which one owner of property at the hotel lost 1.3 million Dirhams worth of art in the blaze.

Ramin Salsali spoke out this week urging The Address owner Emaar Properties to quickly process residents’ compensation claims as well as repair the property. To quote from the story.

“Until now, they [Emaar] have been very fair and have quickly reacted to accommodate people, put them in hotels, give them the first basic possibilities just to start to recover.”

He expected “a very unbureaucratic and pragmatic approach” from the developer in terms of how claims were handled – especially since a police report last week indicated that an electrical short-circuit from a spotlight caused the blaze.

“The whole world is now watching. The effect on real estate is unbelievable. People have pulled out of contracts where they don’t know about the fire safety of the cladding. It’s not good for Dubai.”

One of the greatest challenges any organization can face is not just the crisis itself, but the post-crisis reflection and learning. Emaar isn’t there yet in terms of dealing with any major grievances from those who lost property and items during the fire (and there’s been remarkably little negativity from any of the hotel’s residents so far), but the communication with this group of people needs to be both clear and quick to get these issues resolved. Otherwise, Salsali’s point about blow-back for the Emirate’s real estate sector may become true. Let’s hope not.

And for the next post I’ll be talking daddy issues again. It’s been a while since I posted any stories about my little princess, and I’m looking forward to it!

When should brands step away from a toxic celebrity – the Trump effect

The Trump is known for his outspoken views, but what damage have his latest rants done to brands in the Gulf?

The Trump is known for his outspoken views, but what damage have his latest rants done to brands in the Gulf?

I know you’re tired of hearing about Donald Trump. Everywhere I look on the internet and social media, all I see is Trump, Trump, Trump… I am sorry to write about this man again, and give him yet more coverage that he doesn’t deserve, but this time I’m focusing on brands and what they do when their engagements with celebrities turn toxic.

As everyone with an internet connection knows, Donald Trump said something very stupid about stopping Muslims from entering the US. Here’s the Trump in action below.

The problem for Donald, or should I say the brands that are associated with him, is that he has business interests in the Muslim world, including here in the Gulf. Dubai-headquartered real estate brand Damac has been working with Trump for several years, and has a number of golf courses and other developments named after Trump and his family. Dubai’s Landmark Group sells Trump Home-branded products across the Gulf in its Lifestyle shops. While the Al Tayer Group opened two Trump Home by Dorya galleries in the UAE in June.

The response to Trump’s comments about banning Muslims from the US has drawn different reactions from these three entities. Damac was the first to comment, with the company’s Senior VP for Comms saying effectively the Trump brand is distinct from the man himself.

“We would like to stress that our agreement is with the Trump Organisation as one of the premium golf course operators in the world and as such we would not comment further on Mr. Trump’s personal or political agenda, nor comment on the internal American political debate scene,” said Niall McLoughlin.

Al-Tayer shared its own views with the Dubai media’s 7Days paper, with the following statement: “The statement Mr Trump made on the campaign trail is unfortunate. Given his diverse business interests in the region, we hope that he will reconsider this stand.”

Most interestingly, Landmark Group has decided to drop the Trump range of products from its stores. Landmark works with another celebrity who has a love/hate relationship with the public. Bollywood star Salman Khan was convicted of manslaughter earlier this year back in his home country of India, and yet he is still a brand ambassador for one of Landmark’s retail brands.

“In light of the recent statements made by the presidential candidate in the U.S. media, we have suspended sale of all products from the Trump Home decor range,” Lifestyle CEO Sachin Mundhwa said in an email to media outlets including the UK’s Independent.

Will Damac and Al-Tayer follow Landmark’s example? Or will they stick out the ensuing furor? When does a celebrity engagement do more harm than good? With Trump unlikely to apologize for his comments this can only get messier for those companies which are still associated with the Trump.

Old News, New News: The strange tale of how the ten-year old drowning daughter story was reported as recent news

The Daily Mail was one of several UK-based publications to fail to fact-check the original story which was published in Emirates 24/7

The Daily Mail was one of several UK-based publications to fail to fact-check the original story which was published in Emirates 24/7

One could be forgiven for thinking it’s funny news season here in the Gulf. One story from Dubai’s shores went global this week, the tale of how an Asian father who prevented Dubai lifeguards from saving his drowning daughter, claiming she would be dishonoured if she was touched by strange men, has been arrested and prosecuted by authorities after his actions led to the death of the 20-year-old girl.

The piece was reported by the UAE’s English-language portal Arabian Business, after a post in the English daily Emirates 24/7. The story, a harrowing tale of how a young woman drowned because her father would not let the male lifeguards touch her, made headlines around the world, and was carried by the UK’s the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, the Metro and Sky News. Here’s the piece from Arabian Business.

An Asian father who prevented Dubai lifeguards from saving his drowning daughter, claiming she would be dishonoured if she was touched by strange men, has been arrested and prosecuted by authorities after his actions led to the death of the 20-year-old girl, Emirates 24/7 reported.

“The Asian father took his wife and kids to the beach for picnic and fun. The kids were swimming in the beach when suddenly, the 20-year-old girl started drowning and screaming for help,” Lt. Col Ahmed Burqibah, Deputy Director of Dubai Police’s Search and Rescue Department, told the website as he recounted the incident, which took place on a Dubai public beach.

“Two rescue men were at the beach, and they rushed to help the girl…. The father was a tall and strong man. He started pulling and preventing the rescue men and got violent with them. He told them that he prefers his daughter being dead than being touched by a strange man.”

“This is one of the incidents which I cannot forget. It shocked me and many others who were involved in the case,” he added.

The actions of the father resulted in the death of the young woman. The father was subsequently arrested for preventing the lifeguards from doing their job and aiding in the death of his daughter.

“He was prosecuted and sued by the concerned authorities,” Lt. Col. Burqibah confirmed.

Unfortunately, whoever picked up the piece from Emirates 24/7 didn’t see one small but pertinent piece of information from the original story.

Speaking to Emirates 24|7, Lt. Col Ahmed Burqibah, Deputy Director of Dubai Police’s Search and Rescue Department, recounting some of the worst incidents he had encountered in his tenure, said that this incident took place at a beach in Dubai.

The mistake was first picked up by the Guardian’s Media Monkey blog. The blog’s writer delighted in having a dig at the publications which had failed to fact check and republish the story as if it were a recent event.

When news editors across the land facing a slow news day on Monday saw the story of a father who let his daughter drown in Dubai because he “didn’t want strange men touching her”, they surely couldn’t believe their luck.

The Mail, Telegraph, Metro and even Sky News all jumped on the story, which came via Agence France Press.

However, Monkey is told that classifying the story as “news” might be stretching it a little.

Apparently the article – which originated on the website Emirates 24/7 – was from an interview in which lifeguards were asked to recount the strangest things that had happened to them. As someone who bothered to check out where it came from tells Monkey: “They mentioned this case of the Asian man who prevented his daughter’s rescue, but, and here’s the catch – it was from 1996.”

Perhaps it’s a case of any old news will do … at least when there isn’t much news at all.

The Gulf’s media is often criticized for not getting the facts right or forgetting to fact-check. But, it seems that even media outlets which are supposed to operate to a different standard can often fail to properly do their homework in the chase for a story which confirms their stereotypes of the region.

I’m now waiting for some journalist looking for a heart-wrenching scoop to pick up on the Cops save boy… villagers kill him with ‘love’ piece, again from Emirates2 4/7.

PS I’m not even going to go into the piece written by Arabian Business which poses the question ‘Does Dubai need more female lifeguards, in light of recent beach tragedy?’ How is this still online?

Did Arabian Business get hoodwinked by the Arab World’s most intelligent person?

Did Arabian Business fully fact check Dr Manahel's credentials before publishing this interview?

Did Arabian Business fully fact check Dr Manahel’s credentials before publishing this interview?

I just love obscure words, and hoodwinked is one of those phrases that we just don’t use enough. The term’s original meaning was to blindfold; its contemporary connotation is to deceive. I’ve finally got a reason to use this phrase in a question which I have on the cover story of the latest edition from Arabian Business.

For those of you who don’t know, Arabian Business is the most widely-distributed English-language weekly business magazine in the Gulf. The publication regularly breaks exclusives and its editorial team are among the most respected journalists in the business regionally.

This last issue was an interesting one. The cover was headlined by a lady called Dr Manahel Thabet, the founder of a business consultancy firm called Smart Tips. According to the Arabian Business piece, Dr Manahel Thabet has an IQ of more than 168, putting her in the top 0.1 percent of the world. Impressed? There’s more (and I’m now quoting from Arabian Business).

Arguably the smartest living Arab, Thabet has three PhDs. The latter, which she received a few days after our interview, suggests how education systems should cater to gifted and talented students to ensure they reach their greatest potential, a subject she is passionate about given her own experience as a gifted child.

Thabet considers herself a polymath — someone who is passionate in many areas — similar to Leonardo di Vinci, who was as great a scientist as he was an artist and engineer. Far from her latest thesis topic, her first PhD — which she obtained at the astonishing age of 25 — is in financial engineering and goes a long way to explain interest rate behaviour. She became the youngest person ever and only Arab to receive such a PhD magna cum laude (with great distinction).

The second is a 350-page groundbreaking formula that scientists and space researchers believe could help them measure distances in space without using the speed of light. The likes of Nasa and the French space agency have been competing for access to it.

All this has been achieved while running her own financial advisory firm and contributing to numerous organisations and boards.

All of this is remarkable, but the more people claim, the more I want to see and understand their credentials. And, this is where it gets interesting thanks to the internet, Google and a wonderful service called Reddit.

A number of Reddit users have taken it upon themselves to discuss Dr Thabet’s credentials, and they’ve taken a sledgehammer to a number of those qualifications.

At the end of the day, this isn’t about a person but more about a process. How do journalists in the region verify their sources? This isn’t the first time I have been left questioning a piece of journalism due to a lack of credibility (does anyone remember the fake press release on a non-melting ice concept for Dubai which was published in AMEInfo, Al Bayan, Al Khaleej and Gulf Today). But if there’s any doubt at all as to what a source is saying or their credentials, shouldn’t the journalist call it out?

Thoughts anyone?