Silicon Valley, Values-Based Communication & Reaction to the ‘Muslim Visa Ban’

trumpban

The executive order temporarily banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East from entering the US has sparked fierce debate among both the public as well as tech-focused corporations in America

Another day, another controversy in Washington D.C. This time, it’s about the Presidential executive order halting all refugee admissions and barring temporarily people from seven Muslim-majority countries. I’ve written about how corporations will either follow one of two strategies when dealing with the President – they’ll support his America first agenda (mainly by recycling old news), or they’ll stick to their values and come out against policy shifts such as this one.

Over the weekend, we’ve seen evidence of the latter. A swathe of tech firms, primarily from California’s Silicon Valley, have come out against this policy, which has been described as a ban on Muslims, which they view as both un-American and harmful to attracting talent. Here’s a snapshot of views as reported by the ‘fake news’ website Buzzfeed and Bloomberg:

Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai

“It’s painful to see the personal cost of this executive order on our colleagues,” Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai  wrote in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News. “We’ve always made our view on immigration issues known publicly and will continue to do so.”

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook

In my conversations with officials here in Washington this week, I’ve made it clear that Apple believes deeply in the importance of immigration — both to our company and to our nation’s future. Apple would not exist without immigration, let alone thrive and innovate the way we do.

I’ve heard from many of you who are deeply concerned about the executive order issued yesterday restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. I share your concerns. It is not a policy we support.

Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella

“As an immigrant and as a CEO, I’ve both experienced and seen the positive impact that immigration has on our company, for the country, and for the world. We will continue to advocate on this important topic.”

Facebook’s Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk

Other Silicon Valley CEOs have also stepped in to support those who will be affected by this decision. In a post on Facebook Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick wrote that the company is working out how it can financially support Uber drivers who aren’t able to travel back to the US due to the visa ban.

Airbnb’s Brian Chesky wrote on his own Facebook page that his firm would be supporting those impacted by this ruling with free housing.

The list of tech CEOs who are standing up goes on and on, and I don’t want to repeat too much here from what is an excellent article on Buzzfeed. The US tech sector, an industry that owes much to the talent of immigrants and which leads the world when it comes to innovation and product usage, has essentially spoken with one voice against the Presidential executive order halting all refugee admissions and barring temporarily people from seven Muslim-majority countries.

In contrast, older industries such as the automotive and manufacturing sectors (what could be dubbed the ‘older’ corporate sector) have not shared their views. In what is becoming a battle for hearts and minds across America, this public show of values-based beliefs will not be the last by an industry wary of what the Trump administration means for its future. I’ll leave you with another quote, this time from a wonderful article in The Atlantic on how this will be the first of many disputes between the Trump administration and Silicon Valley.

The barriers between Trump and the technology world span both values—the industry emphatically leans left on social issues—and interests. Trump’s hostility to immigration, opposition to free trade, and resistance to replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources to combat climate change all clash directly with the constellation of technology industries that rely on importing talent from around the world, sell their products across the globe, and have invested heavily in developing clean-energy alternatives to oil, gas, and coal. Tech leaders are also bracing for Trump to attempt to unravel the net-neutrality rules that Obama’s Federal Communications Commission adopted, and to push against the privacy standards many industry leaders have sought to maintain.

Whilst we won’t know who is winning over the majority of America’s public, it’s good to see organizations in the tech sector standing up for values which they believe in. I hope other organizations and corporations will remain true to the values that they talk about as well.

Out with the old Social Media, in with the new? Twitter & Facebook supposedly declining, Snapchat and WhatsApp on the rise across MENA

Some more stats for you, this time from Northwestern University in Qatar and the Doha Film Institute. And the outcomes are an eye opener.

The survey, which polled 6,058 adults (4,529 nationals) in Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates, looked to explore the relationship between cultural attitudes, censorship, regulation and online surveillance, online and social media, film, TV, music, games, sports, news, and children’s media. When it comes to the social media side, the results surprised me. To quote the press release.

Use of Instagram across the region increased by 24 percentage points between 2013 and 2016, and Facebook’s popularity has declined in the last three years by 6 percentage points. Twitter, however, shows the biggest decline over the past three years—17 percentage points—with a 12 percentage point drop from just one year ago. Three-quarters of Egyptian internet users say that concerns about privacy have changed the way they use social media, second only to the 89 percent of Saudis who say the same.

Or, to put it another way.

The survey by Northwestern University in Qatar shows a general decline in usage of Facebook and Twitter, along with an uptake for Instagram

The survey by Northwestern University in Qatar shows a general decline in usage of Facebook and Twitter, along with an uptake for Instagram

Another interesting point that the survey brought to light was usage of instant messaging services. The research found that, “though more young nationals use social media in general, WhatsApp is more popular among the oldest group (45+) than the youngest group (18-24) (83% vs. 74%).” One note on the below – as a VoIP service Viber is banned in the UAE, which may have skewed the results.

WhatsApp is by far the most popular social messaging service, particularly among older users

WhatsApp is by far the most popular social messaging service, particularly among older users

The research asked users what they were doing online, and what they were using each social media platform for. Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming answer was to communicate with friends and family.

The overwhelming reason for using social media on most channels is to communicate with friend and family

The overwhelming reason for using social media on most channels is to communicate with friend and family

For you marketers and communicators out there, if you’re looking for more information on social media usage across the region, including a breakdown by the countries surveyed, do go and check out the research here. While I’d take certain findings with a pinch of salt, especially the drop in Twitter usage, do bear in mind that the social media networks rarely share their own internal numbers in the region publicly. So, if you’re looking for statistics direct from the social media networks themselves to create/develop your social media outreach, you may be best off approaching contacts at Facebook, Google and Twitter to try your luck.

Ramadan and the Impact of Social Media

We’re only a week or so away from the holiest month of the Islamic year, when Muslims fast to remember the first revelation of the holy Koran to the Prophet Muhammed. Just as the Middle East has embraced social media, so have Muslims. Ramadan is one of the most active times of the year for social media in the Middle East, on all social media channels, as Muslims reach out to friends and family, as they prepare for the Holy Month, and as they celebrate in the run up to Eid.

First of all, let’s look at Twitter. The short messaging service recorded over 51 million mentions of Ramadan last year, with 8.4 billion impressions.

The number of Tweets during Ramadan in 2015 based on Twitter's own internal statistics

The number of Tweets during Ramadan in 2015 based on Twitter’s own internal statistics

Google’s focus is on YouTube, in particular channels which have a specific relationship with this period of the year. Cooking is initially popular (Ramadan meals are cooked and served at home), followed by religious channels and general entertainment.

YouTube viewership during Ramadan changes dramatically as you can see from this internal Google data

YouTube viewership during Ramadan changes dramatically as you can see from this internal Google data

And last but not least, there’s Facebook. During 2014, 14.6 million Muslims in the MENA region posted 47.6m updates on Ramadan and Eid. The attached presentation from Facebook provides fascinating insights into when Muslims are online and how much more time they’re spending online, as well as the shift towards mobile and a breakdown of chatter by age and sex. Facebook believes that millenials are shifting away from television and towards the internet, which may be disconcerting for advertisers and television networks.

Facebook MENA Ramadan Insights

While it’d be fascinating to understand how Muslims are using Whatsapp and other messaging services to spread religious messages and other related content, I don’t have any data on this (and other) channels.

Whatever you’re planning for Ramadan, do remember the importance of social media channels to Muslims across the region. Make your content engaging (either entertaining or informative), relevant, and shareable. And Ramadan Mubarak!

Do you want to know more about social media in the Middle East? Download the TNS ArabSMIS report here

Do you not know where to start when it comes to social media and the Middle East? This report may be your answer (image source: http://blue16media.com)

Do you not know where to start when it comes to social media and the Middle East? This report may be your answer (image source: http://blue16media.com)

We have our fair share of big events in Dubai and this week was no exception. The past two days has seen the Emirate become the place to be for social media influencers. Whilst we found ourselves invaded by all types of beautiful people (and others) waving their selfie sticks and pouting for the camera, there were some handy takeaways for an audience looking to learn more about how to use social media to build brands for themselves, their companies or their countries. Oh, and Twitter has finally decided to open an office in the MENA region, obviously in Dubai.

The most impressive part of the Arab Social Media Influencers Summit was the report. Coming in at a whopping sixty seven pages, the report by research house TNS covers a whole host of areas of social media interest across the MENA region. The study combines both qualitative research with a quantitative survey of more than 7200 users of social media spread evenly
across 18 Arab countries.

If you’re looking to know which channels are used across MENA, then look no further. The report includes stats on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp, Google+, and YouTube. It also includes social media usage habits, including time of use, duration of use and devices used. Most importantly, the report looks into attitudes about social media across the region and what people are doing online.

If you’re doing anything online in the MENA region, download this report and start dissecting. You can thank me later, on social media.

The ASMIS Social Media MENA Report

Is @Dubai_360 a work of genius or a Google Street View imitation?

There’s a fine line between inspiration and mimicry. At the beginning of the year, Dubai’s Tourism and Culture Marketing body launched Dubai 360, which it markets as the world’s largest and highest quality interactive city tour.

Launched with some amazing video shoots (one of which you can see below which featured local social media celebrity Max Of Arabia), Dubai 360 offers visitors a glimpse into some of Dubai’s most iconic locations such as Burj Khalifa and the Palm. The visuals contain 360° photos and videos and a range of different lens styles such as fisheye to give viewers a unique picture of Dubai wherever they may be.

While the site is very impressive, it is reminiscent of Google Street View. Launched in 2007, Google Street View provides panoramic views of both cities and notable tourist spots around the world. Google actually launched its Street View in Dubai in December 2014.

Dubai 360 has some stunning visuals and videos, and helps tourists understand Dubai from a variety of views. However, with both sites being launched only a month or so apart, would Dubai have been better placed to work with Google to create a co-branded/sponsored site? There’s enough to make the Dubai 360 site outstanding, but will viewers feel that there’s enough here to mark it out as a different experience to Google Street View?

Have a look at the images below, one of Burj Khalifa from Dubai 360 and the other of Burj Khalifa from Google View, and if you haven’t yet checked out Dubai 360 do so. Now.

Social Media trends for 2015 – Instagram hacking

We’re only a few days into 2015 and yet we’ve already seen one trend that is likely to become a major issue in the Middle East. Over the past two weeks a number of Instagram accounts of celebrities and well-known figures have been hacked. The first to be targeted, at the end of 2014, was the Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram.

Nancy Ajram’s account was hacked at the end of December

Ajram was only the first of a spate of hackings. Only this week the Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohamed’s Instagram account was broken into by a hacker called @MRJL6H, who posted a number of images with text which can be translated as ‘we do not claim to be intelligent, but seek to destroy those who themselves claim to be intelligent.

Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohamed's instagram account was hacked for only a short period but the hacker posted a number of images

Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohamed’s instagram account was hacked for only a short period but the hacker posted a number of images

The hacker @MRJL6H posted several images highlighting his/her views on Sheikh Hamdan's Instagram account

The hacker @MRJL6H posted several images highlighting his/her views on Sheikh Hamdan’s Instagram account

Yesterday, a Bahrain-based actress and model Shaila Sabt was hacked in a similar manner to that above by @2h2, using presumably the same techniques used to hack into Sheikh Hamdan’s and Nancy Ajram’s accounts.

Bahrain-based actress Shaila Sabt had her Instagram account hacked by @2h2 in what seems to be a copycat of the hack on Sheikh Hamdan's account

Bahrain-based actress Shaila Sabt had her Instagram account hacked by @2h2 in what seems to be a copycat of the hack on Sheikh Hamdan’s account

There seems to be no reason to attack these Instagram celebrities, besides from the number of their followers. However, the compromising of these accounts is a reminder to everyone online to be aware of their security and initiate two step authentication where possible. If you’d like to know more about two step authentication read Google’s advice here.

My own feeling is that this trend will only grow during 2015. We’ve been fortunate to avoid hacking incidents, despite the popularity of social media in the Gulf. That may change over the coming 12 months, and we may see many more social media celebrities being hacked, either for fun or to spread a particular political or social message.

The importance of the mobile web for Gulf-based businesses

Remember the good old days, when mobiles were there only for making or receiving calls? Forget them, and start thinking mobile web sites and more business (image source: tandemdigital.co.uk)

It’s official! The UAE is again a world leader, but this time in smartphone penetration. Seventy four percent of UAE residents carry a big, bad smartphone in their hands (some of us have two of them on the go at a time). Saudi Arabia is third, with seventy three percent of people carrying mobile devices according to research conducted by Google for its ‘Our Global Planet’ project.

The good people at UAE-based PR agency Spot On PR have summarized the findings for the UAE and you can do the same by going to Google’s website and customizing your query. What’s most striking is local behaviours. Have a look below.

Have a look at the frequency of local searches and look at the growth from 2012 to 2013

Have a look at the frequency of local searches and look at the growth from 2012 to 2013

Actions taken after Local Search in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and 2013 across all age ranges and gender types

Actions taken after Local Search in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and 2013 across all age ranges and gender types

What is strikingly obvious from both of the graphs above is that local search is now essential to local businesses. And yet, we’re still pretty awful when it comes to developing websites for mobile browsers.

So how do you change this? The first piece of news is pretty obvious. Go and get a website (it’s amazing how many businesses still don’t have sites in this part of the world). Secondly, if you’re not sure about how mobile-friendly your website is then test it using a tool such as W3C’s Mobile Ok Checker. These will be able to tell you what you’re doing right and what you’re getting wrong when it comes to rendering or displaying your site on a mobile browser.

If you’re stuck on how to develop a website that renders well on mobile browsers why don’t you consider using a content management system such as WordPress. WordPress has website styles that automatically adapt or respond to different browser types. WordPress is free and you don’t need to even pay hosting fees if you use WordPress’ own servers.

Even if you have a mobile-friendly website remember to use back-end analytics programmes from Google or other providers to better understand what your customers are doing on your website and what you can do to improve their experience. If you’re looking for more advice on what you should be doing to generate business from mobile have a look at this crib sheet for mobile e-marketing by local developer Saad Bhatti or get in touch with the good people at Spot On. But the general message is, do more on mobile!