My 2018 Predictions and Hopes for the PR & Communications Function (Part 1)

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Here’s my top four predictions for 2018 and what we as an industry will need to tackle (image source: http://www.marketingland.com)

I’m writing this in the spirit of the very best forecasters, the people who put thoughts onto paper at the beginning of the year which turn out to be so wide of the mark a couple of months down the line that I will be forced into hiding.

So, here we go. I’ve sorted the post into two parts. The first is what I think will happen (hence predictions) over the course of the next twelve months. My hopes will follow tomorrow.

2018 Predictions

  1. More Political Uncertainty  If you think 2017 was tough when it came to political leadership (or lack thereof), you haven’t seen anything yet. We’ve had a taste of 2018 and what to expect in the region with the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This will be the year when US foreign policy shifts 180 degrees, on all sorts of issues. And others will behave accordingly. Other groups will need to step into the breach, and that means either the business community or the public. Expect more proactive lobbying and public affairs, and more reactive shifts in corporate social responsibility strategies.
  2. More Online Regulation  2017 may have been a great year for the likes of Facebook and Google (both registered record-high share prices in 2017), but last year may become a Pyrrhic victory for them, and other social media firms. Calls are growing in the US for broadcast regulations on political advertising to include social media following alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential elections, whilst European regulators are exploring how they can force the likes of Facebook, Google and Twitter to take more action on extremist content online – this will include fines. Even in the region, there’s a concerted effort to update laws to better regulate topics such as influencer marketing – keep an eye out for the UAE’s new digital legislation in 2018. Whatever happens in 2018, expect social media platforms, and the content hosted on them, to be more closely regulated.
  3. Expect more Online Crises – This may not be that surprising (yes, I can see you scratching your head and wondering why I’ve put this in). But I don’t mean an irritated consumer posting a piece of content about their poor customer service experience. Rather, I’m talking cyber-espionage, hacking, and whistleblowing. Last year we witnessed political disputes which were initiated by website hacks, a sustained series of leaks from email accounts which had been broken into, the hijacking of social media accounts, and more whistleblowing leaks. 2018 won’t be any different; in fact, this year will only see even more illegal activity online. 2018 could be the year when online hackers shift from politics to brand-jacking, targeting corporates for money (think bots artificially spreading content that impacts brand and corporate reputations). As an industry, we’re going to have to do a much better job of understanding the technical aspects of the online world.
  4. The Agency Model Breaks/Evolves – This isn’t an issue which has gotten nearly enough attention over the past couple of years (with the possible exception of the good work done by the team at the Holmes Report). Agencies aren’t making much, if any, money these days. Costs are high, talent is scarce, and clients are cutting budgets or shifting money into other areas. Publicly-listed PR agencies are looking at single-digit growth globally, and geographies which offered more, the likes of China and the Middle East, have also slowed down. With more competition both within the industry and without the industry, especially from the advertising and management consultancy sector, will 2018 be the year when agencies look to change how they approach client servicing, or is it the year when clients look to alternatives. There’s already a growing trend in the Middle East to embed agency people into the organization, essentially turning them into contracted roles, especially in government and semi-government organizations. Time will tell, but it’s clear to me that we need a healthy agency model for us to sustain the industry.

So there you have my four basic predictions. What are your thoughts? As always, I look forward to hearing from you.

To #socialmedia or not to social media – #Gulf newspapers say yes, Gulf governments say no

The last twelve months have been a defining year for social media across the Middle East. Citizen journalism has flourished. Most of the mainstream media publications have also adopted or begun to adopt social media as another channel to reach the general public.

The first adopters were media outlets in the UAE, particularly those who were already well established digital media. You have the likes of arabianbusiness.com who tweet at @ArabianBusiness – the site has over 27,000 tweets and 13,000 followers on Twitter and almost 3,500 likes on Facebook. Dubai’s largest English-language newspaper Gulf News which tweets at @gulf_news, has over 21,000 followers on Twitter. Abu Dhabi’s The National has a number of prolific social media users on its writing staff, including @ben_flanagan…

…and @amna_alhaddad

Interesting for those based outside of the UAE is how media re now turning to Twitter and Facebook. Saudi’s largest English-language publication, the Arab News, has long had a Facebook site. Arab News has more likes than Arabian Business. Rival publication Saudi Gazette has a Twitter feed on its site, and recently launched its Twitter handle, @TheSaudiGazette, last month.

Similarly in Bahrain, its largest English-language newspaper the Gulf Daily News now has Twitter and Facebook aggregator tools on every newspage. We’ll doubtless see more media using social networks to reach a wider audience.

While the Gulf’s media is moving ahead with social media, the region’s governments are clamping down on what could be termed anonymous social media users probably due to the role that social media has played in the Arab Spring.

Bahrain was the first to propose legislation. The country’s parliament discussed new punishments for cybercrime that include 10-year prison sentences and fines of up to 300,000 Bahraini Dinars. Kuwait and UAE are following suit. Both countries have questioned and/or detained bloggers of late for varying reasons. One article this week in Kuwait’s media suggested that the country could ban anonymous social media activity.

UAE officials have suggested that anyone caught using social media ‘irresponsibly’ will be punished.

Will the drive to regulate social media in the Gulf work? Can’t wait to find out!