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.

How to fundraise in Dubai (legally)

Dubai’s fundraising law is meant to regulate giving in the Emirate. While the process is long, it is simple enough and will mean that you can fundraise legally (image source: http://www.thirdforcenews.org)

After a number of incidents, I thought it was about time that someone with experience of fundraising in Dubai wrote on how it should be done (I’ve been fundraising here for about four years, and applying for approvals every couple of months with different charities). While there are legal papers on the issue, most notably from DLA Piper, I’ve been through the process and know its ups and downs, which can be different from what is written in the statute books.

So, here goes.

  • Fundraising is regulated. 

Firstly, let’s start with the obvious. Fundraising is regulated in Dubai, and to fundraise you must do two things. Find a charity that is allowed to collect donations. Then you must submit a request to the Department of Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities (IACAD). Once this is approved you can fundraise.

If you don’t follow the above, you can face either a year in prison or a fine of up to 500,000AED. And when I mean you, I mean YOU! Even when fundraising is undertaken by a company, an individual must bear responsibility for the application.

  • You have to donate to a Dubai-based charity that is permitted to fundraise.

The number of charities who are licensed to fundraise is short, it used to be seven in total. These include the Dubai Charity Association, Dar Al Ber Society, Dubai Autism Centre, Beit Al Kheir, the UAE Red Crescent Authority, Awqaf & Minors Affairs Foundation, and The Relief Committee.

Other charities have been added to the list since then, including the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, the Al Jalila Foundation, and Friends of Cancer Patients. For a comprehensive list, do contact the Dubai Chamber of Commerce’s Syed Atif on Syed.Atif@Dubaichamber.com. The Dubai Chamber is particularly active in terms of promoting engagement with charities in the country, and they’ll be able to give you on who and which charity aligns with your cause.

Once you’ve found your charity, you’ll have to talk to them about what you’re doing and why, in order to get their buy-in and support. This may take time, especially when dealing with one or two of the charities on the list of seven above.

Any application through the charities above to IACAD will take up to one month. On the form you’ll need to state what you are doing, why, how much is being raised and how you are raising it. The form is simple enough, and I’ve include it below. You cannot funraised until you have permission from IACAD, who will also follow up after the fundraising, to ensure that the charity has received the money.

There’s another option, which is to support a charity based in Dubai’s International Humanitarian City (IHC). These include Save the Children, SOS Children’s VIllages and UNICEF. In this case, IHC will act as the charity and then route all funds to the intended recipient. This process will take longer than the month mentioned above, so you’ll need to plan ahead.

  • Online fundraising is not exempt from the legislation (and penalties).

Many people I know in Dubai used to fundraise through online sites such as http://www.justgiving.com when undertaking a charity drive. This isn’t strictly legal, as has been shown by a recent criminal case. If you want to fundraise online, then either do it through a registered charity as per the above, or don’t do it in Dubai (ie do it when you’re out of the country and not breaking the law).

To make it as easy as possible, I’m attaching an IACAD form which you can fill in either in Arabic or English. The form is here, and includes contact details at IACAD – Islamic_Affairs_Request_Eng_Arb.

I’ll end on an important note – this only covers fundraising in Dubai. If you want to fundraise in any other Emirate, there are separate procedures you have to follow, or you’ll have to partner with the Emirates Red Crescent, or the Al Jalila Foundation. These are the only two organizations which have the pre-approval to fundraise across the United Arab Emirates.

If you need more advice on fundraising, please do drop me a comment and I’ll help further. While the above isn’t easy, I don’t want people to think that they should stop fundraising. The procedure does take time, but it doable, so keep on fundraising and supporting good causes.

What does Instagram’s UAE communications remit say about how outsiders understand the region?

Instagram has been a huge hit in Saudi, especially among the Kingdom's youth. How will Instagram's comms team reach out to these groups? (image source: http://sustg.com/)

Instagram has been a huge hit in Saudi, especially among the Kingdom’s youth. How will Instagram’s comms team reach out to these groups? (image source: http://sustg.com/)

Client wins can often make interesting reading, especially when the brand is a household name. Last week was no exception, with the Dubai-based House of Comms winning a brief to represent Instagram in the UAE.

The news caught my attention for a couple of reasons. Firstly, House of Comms is enjoying remarkable success; the agency which was founded in 2012 has expanded rapidly, picked up a host of big name clients and won numerous awards for its work. The agency’s growth reminds me of the rapid rise enjoyed by Dabo & Co (which was eventually bought by Edelman). House of Comms does have an affiliate network across the region, including in the Gulf.

What struck me was Instagram’s choice of market to enter into. While the UAE is the regional public relations hub of the wider Middle East region, I would have thought that the company would have taken a more regional approach to public outreach (Editor’s Note: the agreement with House of Comms is for the UAE, but also includes advisory work for other markets). For instance, the first market to embrace paid influencer marketing, particularly on Instagram, was Kuwait. In terms of numbers on the platform, Saudi is the largest country in the region by far, with a greater number of users than the UAE. Egypt is another key market for the picture and video service. If you’re looking for details on Instagram usage, have a look at the stats below from the second quarter of 2015 from an earlier blog.

In terms of the Gulf, it’s no surprise that Saudi leads the way – there are 10.7 million monthly active users in the Kingdom (just over a third of the population). The UAE follows with 2.2 million monthly users. And, to the West, Egypt has 3.2 million monthly active users. What’s even more impressive is daily active users – a whopping 6.1 million for Saudi, 1.2 million for the UAE, and 1.1 million for Egypt.

In addition, there’s the parent brand to think of. Instagram is owned by Facebook, which has its own PR agency in the region (which is regional). Up until recently, that agency was supporting Instagram. So, why the change? Would having two agencies for the two brands help or hinder media outreach, especially when Instagram is known as a Facebook product?

While the agreement is only for the UAE, I hope that Instagram, one of the most popular social platforms in the Middle East, expands its regional approach to engagement. The Instagram team should have oodles of data to look at when it comes to usage in each and every different country, and they’d be smart to look at Twitter’s model of engaging with influencers to get them onto the platform. Let’s hope that as a digital business, Instagram takes a data-based approach to engagement in an emerging market and work in key markets, rather than follow the much traveled path of using a hub to work remotely instead of actually doing the hard work and going in-country.

Lessons on media relations and transparency from the World Government Summit

Dubai's World Government Summit has become a global event for government employees and is closely followed by the media (image source: Trade Arabia)

Dubai’s World Government Summit has become a global event for government employees and is closely followed by the media (image source: Trade Arabia)

This month was host to another mega event in Dubai, the World Government Summit. The conference, which even hosted an address by President Obama, aims to become the leading platform for governments, the private sector and the public to learn about and collaborate together for innovation in government.

Two areas caught my eye. The first was that of media relations. There’s been a good deal of talk about how the communications industry is changing and media relations will become less important. That isn’t the case, at least for the vast majority of us who spend most of our day pitching, preparing for media interviews, and following up.

There was a sizable media presence at the event, which is testament to the World Government Summit’s global reach. However, while there were dozens of international journalists – whose flights and accommodation were paid for – the story for the local journalists I knew was different. Few Dubai-based media were reached out to except by email, with no phone calls. And some didn’t receive an email to arrange for registration. One journalist I talked to spoke about his frustration on having to chase the agency to get his registration sorted out. He was particularly peeved by a lack of support or empathy from the agency about the issue, and not only him but his whole team being missed out. As he told me, ‘a sorry would have gone a long way when it comes to good will.’

While I understand the urge to engage globally – after all, the event is now the World Government Summit – not involving local media is a idea that will only sour the agency’s relationship with the local journalists in the short to medium term; and trust me, you don’t want to deal with an aggrieved journalist, let alone put them in front of a client. Plus, in today’s digital age, I don’t buy this concept of local and global media. Everything is online, and much of it is curated by services such as Google News. It’s now a case of getting that content seen by the relevant stakeholder, which can be done through increasing paid reach or seeding the content on other sites.

Transparency and its impact on credibility

The second insight is around the inaugural “World’s Best Minister” Award. According to the summit’s website, the “World’s Best Minister” Award was “thoroughly and independently managed by Thomson Reuters where the search for the nominees is conducted according to the established criteria”.

To quote from the Summit’s website, details on the criteria and judging panel are below:

The criteria of the Award were set by the organizer of the World Government Summit. The criteria for selecting the candidates WAs based on various financial and non-financial metrics, and their improvement over time. These are based on data disclosed by the World Bank, United Nations, Legatum institution and various other well known resources that provide data and statistics on economic information, social metrics and government services.

The primary focus for 2016 has been on initiatives in the healthcare, education, social and environmental services.

The judging panel consists of six judges from various backgrounds, who provide different perspectives on the candidates based on their experience, expertise and insights. They include senior executives from the World Bank, OECD, Ernst & Young, Strategy & Co and the Abraaj Group on their personal capacity.

From an initial selection of 100 ministers, the winner turned out to be Greg Hunt, Australia’s environment minister. This choice has proved to be highly controversial, particularly in Australia where the Australian government has been criticized for its approach to green issues.

My focus however is the response from Thomson Reuters who, I feel, have sought to distance themselves from the choice of the winner. To quote from the Guardian.

But Thomson Reuters said it was “not correct” to say that the company initiated the award or were responsible for designing the selection process.

“Thomson Reuters was solely responsible for assisting in the administration of the award, to a set of criteria approved by the World Government Summit organisers,” said Tarek Fleihan, head of corporate communications for the financial information company in the Middle East, Africa and Russia.

Transparency is key to credibility. And whilst I do love the idea of awarding government officials who innovate on behalf of their citizens, the controversial choice and the ensuing contradictions surrounding the process hasn’t helped to make the award as credible as it should be.

What are your thoughts? Were you at the event? I’d love to hear your views on these two points.

Snapchat, Messi, and jail – the story of how a Dubai cop breached the cybercrime law

Will this official be behind bars for a video he took of Messi's passport? (picture courtesy of Hilary Clinton's  Twitter feed)

Will this official be behind bars for a video he took of Messi’s passport? (picture courtesy of Hilary Clinton’s Twitter feed)

It’s happened. That social media channel which everyone under the age of 30 is using (that’s why I’m not on it), has got someone into trouble. The ephemeral network Snapchat has gotten one Dubai police officer into trouble, for taking a picture of the passport of Barcelona footballer Lionel Messi when the footballing superstar came to Dubai. The picture, which I am assuming disappeared after being viewed, found its way to the authorities, and the gentleman in question has been charged with falling foul of the country’s 2012 Cybercrime law. The full story, courtesy of the Washington Post, is below:

A police officer in Dubai is facing a six-month prison sentence and a $130,000 fine for posting a video of Lionel Messi’s passport to Snapchat last month. Prosecutors say the act violated the United Arab Emirates’ Cybercrime Law of 2012.

The officer, identified only as a 26-year-old named J.J., appeared in court this week to plead guilty to the accusations, but maintained his intentions weren’t nefarious. Instead, he said he posted the Messi’s passport to Snapchat out of frustration from being denied the chance to meet the star who had traveled to the country on Dec. 27 to attend the Dubai International Sports Conference.

“I waited for Messi’s arrival [at Dubai International Airport] to take a photo with him … but his private escorts informed me that the player was tired and would not be able to take a photo,” J.J. explained in the Dubai Misdemeanors Court (via Gulf News). “Thereafter I walked to the passport control’s office where I saw Messi’s passport on a desk. I grabbed the passport and opened it to the page that contained Messi’s personal details and took video images with my iPhone via Snapchat.”

The video, which can still be found on YouTube, shows Messi’s photograph and data, and a man (presumably J.J.) can be heard narrating over the image.

“This is Messi here in Dubai… what shall I do now? Burn his passport or let it go?” the man says in Arabic in the Snapchat (via the Independent). “Alas… I will let it go.”

Prosecutors seem less alarmed about the man’s narration than the video itself, however.

“What the suspect did is an act punishable by the Cybercrime Law,” prosecutor Al Shamsi told Gulf News. “His behavior is deemed a breach of Messi’s privacy because the passport is considered a private possession just like the details mentioned on it.”

A verdict is expected this week. But, for those on Snapchat, beware! You may think your images disappear, but remember, nothing ever truly disappears once it goes digital.