The 3 issues today’s crisis comms professional needs to tackle

prepared

Make sure that you’re prepared for these three big issues which are shifting the crisis comms goalposts (image source: http://www.bairdscmc.com)

It doesn’t take a genius to tell you that the world is changing, and with it the way that crises develop. I was listening to a very engaging podcast by the Gulf News business team, with communications professional Omar Qirem (check out the post here).

While the conversation touched on a host of crisis issues and triggers, there were three big issues that are relatively new, and which are shifting the crisis communications landscape.

Hacking and Emails

Long gone are the days when whistleblowers would walk out of offices with a suitcase full of papers. Today, information is conveyed electronically, and all it took for Chelsea Manning to leak hundreds of thousands of US military documents to Wikileaks was a single USB drive. Hacking is becoming a real problem for both governments the world over, as well as corporates (just ask Sony).

Hacking is developing from the well-understood concept of the ethically-troubled whistleblower to groups-for-hire who are ready and willing to hack email servers, or public domain accounts in the search of damaging information. Hackers can also attack websites and social media accounts to fake news, or even create fake sites which are mirrored on the real thing.

We’re going to have to become more aware of these threats, and develop mitigation strategies, including better security (at the very least, please use two-factor authentication as much as you can and don’t use the same password for every single account), and also educate executives on the need to communicate differently. What you write can be leaked; are you willing to see that email on the front page of a newspaper, or a website?

The Rise of Values-Based Communication

Consumers aren’t just interested in what brands make and sell. They want to know what we stand for. This public interest has partly been driven by the political climate in the US and Western Europe and by the behavior of millennials and their increasing skepticism of established institutions. For brands, value-based communications is a key point of differentiation, particularly for industries which have been impacted by technology-driven commoditization. Think of Paul Unilever’s Polman and his passionate belief in sustainability.

Conversely, executive behavior which is looked down upon by the public can have serious business implications. Whilst the official reasons for Uber being stripped of its London license were due to questions around passenger safety and drivers’ rights, the behavior and words of former CEO Travis Kalanick haven’t done Uber any good. The apology proffered by the new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, seems to have gone a long way to defusing some of the tension between Uber and Transport for London which oversees the company’s license to operate.

Data and Online Regulation

We’ve been living in the internet age for over two decades now, and business has benefited from a relative lack of legislation and regulation about what can and can’t be done online, particularly with data. That has slowly changed as governments have sought to understand how the internet has changed our lives. Upcoming legislation in Europe, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), is going to change how corporations monitor and store data (it’s been covered in some detail by Rachel Miller for the CIPR). There’s no doubt in my mind that the online and social media networks will also have to deal with more governmental oversight. There’s been a string of scandals around issues such as extremist content on YouTube,  Facebook and the Trump election, and Twitter’s lack of action on far-right hate speech.

Whilst I’m certain that more regulation is coming, and soon, it’s far too early to say how this will change how we as communicators operate online. There will be more data-related crises, either due to how data is collected and used, or due to an inability to adhere to these new rules.

As always, I’d love to know your thoughts. What issues do we need to better understand when it comes to modern-day crises? Please do share with me your thoughts.

Podcasts, Podcasts and more Podcasts. Just remove the Comments!

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Podcasting is a popular move for publishers in the UAE (image source: theodysseyonline.com)

If, like me, you’re a news junkie who feels they spend far too much time in a car, you’re in luck. The UAE’s media outlets have gone on a Podcast frenzy.

The Gulf News business desk began their podcasting about five months back. Named Dirhams and Dollars, the series is an eclectic mix of anything and everything business related, from social media and e-commerce, to the impact that politics has on economics and economies. Headed up by the trio of business editor Scott Shuey, and staff reporter Ed Clowes and Sarah Diaa, the casts are hosted on Soundcloud and usually run for about 15 to 30 minutes. The series is distributed by Twitter  as well (disclaimer – I do love the team picture).

As part of their relaunch, The National has launched a new series of current affairs podcasts, named Beyond the Headlines, where they aim to deep dive into issues which the editorial team feel deserve more attention. The podcasts are hosted on Audioboom and are normally curated by the Assistant Editor-in-Chief Mustafa Alrawi for about 30 minutes.

Others are set to follow. Motivate’s Emirates Woman will soon be launching a podcast series focusing on women’s issues across the region.

While some publishers are putting out more content, in new formats (I’d love to see if the move to podcasting will have any impact on radio in the region), others are doing away with some sections of their website. Al Jazeera is removing its comments section, and here’s why:

The mission of Al Jazeera is to give a voice to the voiceless, and healthy discussion is an active part of this. When we first opened up comments on our website, we hoped that it would serve as a forum for thoughtful and intelligent debate that would allow our global audience to engage with each other.

However, the comments section was hijacked by users hiding behind pseudonyms spewing vitriol, bigotry, racism and sectarianism. The possibility of having any form of debate was virtually non-existent.

Also, over time, we found social media to be the preferred platform for our audience to debate the issues that matter the most to them. We encourage our audience to continue to interact with us this way.

This decision also comes at a time when we as a publisher need to evaluate what our priorities are. We feel that rather than approaching the problem with a collection of algorithms and an army of moderators, our engineering and editorial resources are better utilised building new storytelling formats that resonate with our audience.

Al Jazeera are looking at how to host comments, so this may only be temporary. However, it does highlight the issue of anonymity online, especially in a region which is beset by a number of political disputes between different countries.

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.

Pokemon Go and the Middle East – Advertiser, Brand and Consumer Reactions to the Global Craze

I wanted to write on something fairly light and fun today in light of recent events in the Middle East and in Europe. So, today I wanted to shine a light on Pokemon Go, the augmented reality mobile app that has become a global sensation (and if you’re asking what is Pokemon Go, where have you been for the past two weeks?). While Pokemon Go hasn’t been introduced into the Middle East officially, people are already playing the game here. And advertisers and brands are also reacting to and using the sensation to market their products.

Probably first out of the blocks were, unsurprisingly to me, the Saudis. Two of the Kingdom’s telcos put out adverts promoting the craze, which isn’t surprising considering that you need a mobile and a data connection to play the game.

Saudi telco Zain became the first household brand to use Pokemon Go when it ran this advert across its social media channels early this week.

Saudi telco Zain became the first household brand to use Pokemon Go when it ran this advert across its social media channels early this week.

Saudi Telecom ran this artwork the same day as Zain's ad. The ad says, "with our network we guarantee you'll be able to catch'em all, but we can't guarantee where!"

Saudi Telecom ran this artwork the same day as Zain’s ad. The ad says, “with our network we guarantee you’ll be able to catch’em all, but we can’t guarantee where!”

Other brands have also looked to leverage off the lovable Japanese characters. Cab booking service Careem ran out an ad, as did Jordan Tourism. The game uses geotargeting to get people walking around a physical environment such as a city, and brand whose services include travel and tourism (or any location-based product) are fast realizing the potential of getting players to visit their premises (or even country) to hunt the digital creatures.

The UAE-headquartered cab hailing service Careem has leveraged Pokemon Go to promote its service and give gamers a discount

The UAE-headquartered cab hailing service Careem has leveraged Pokemon Go to promote its service and give gamers a discount

Even Jordan's Ministry of Tourism has jumped on the Pokemon Go craze, to get visitors to go and take a look at Amman's Citadel

Even Jordan’s Ministry of Tourism has jumped on the Pokemon Go craze, to get visitors to go and take a look at Amman’s Citadel

Users have also been having fun and sharing their own experiences online. Some have been sharing their experiences, including one apparently from the front lines in Iraq and others in more mundane locations, including finding a Pokemon on top of a plate of Kunafe.

It's enough to put you off your dessert! A Pokemon on top of a plate of Kunafe (image thanks to Samer Batter).

It’s enough to put you off your dessert! A Pokemon on top of a plate of Kunafe (image thanks to Samer Batter).

This image is apparently from the front lines in Iraq, which probably isn't the safest place to hunt Pokemon

This image is apparently from the front lines in Iraq, which probably isn’t the safest place to hunt Pokemon

The craze and people’s reaction to it in the region has been picked up by local media. Reports have circulated that people have ventured into all sorts of places as part of the game. Two cartoons below best sum up that sentiment.

With his phone in his hand and an image of a Pokemon monster on the screen, the caption reads, "finally we see you at the Mosque." (image thanks to Yaser Al Amoudi)

With his phone in his hand and an image of a Pokemon monster on the screen, the caption reads, “finally we see you at the Mosque.” (image thanks to Yaser Al Amoudi)

Saudi cartoonist Abdullah Jaber came up with this image of how game players are so engrossed in the game that they don't notice their surroundings

Saudi cartoonist Abdullah Jaber came up with this image of how game players are so engrossed in the game that they don’t notice their surroundings

The craze hasn’t been without controversy. According to Gulf News, Al Azhar, Egypt’s top Islamic institution, has condemned the craze about Pokemon Go as “harmful mania”. “If such a game can deceive youngsters, I do not know where the minds of adults have gone. They can be hit by a car while being busy searching for Pokemon,” said Al-Azhar’s Deputy Abbas Shuman, according to Gulf News. Al Arabiya reported that Egyptian cabinet spokesman Hossam al-Qawish said that an investigation into the game’s dangers was taking place. The spokesman added that the government was also considering new regulations to be imposed on online games to limit possible threats to national security.

In addition, Gulf News reported that the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) has warned that criminals could exploit the popular Pokemon Go mobile game. Kuwaiti authorities have also warned against those who take photos of sensitive locations in the country. Brands promoting Pokemon have also been targeted, with the likes of Dominos Pizza and others called into question by those who consider Pokemon to be a work of the devil (if you don’t believe me, see below).

Dominos Pizza's efforts to use Pokemon as part of marketing were called into question by one user, who claimed Pokemon were tools of the devil against Islam. The user told Dominos to change its marketing or risk angering the public.

Dominos Pizza’s efforts to use Pokemon as part of marketing were called into question by one user, who claimed Pokemon were tools of the devil against Islam. The user told Dominos to change its marketing or risk angering the public.

There’s no doubt that the Pokemon craze will continue for some time to come, and will only become more intense/insane when the app is officially launched in the Middle East. Pokemon advertising has been used smartly to get a younger audience to engage with traditional organizations such as museums and promote small businesses. Let’s hope that marketers here are just as savvy, whilst being aware of local sensitivities. If you’re not already doing it, get ready to go catch some Pokemon adverts in your vicinity soon!

And as an extra treat, here’s one television news clip on Pokemon from Kuwait, with a particular focus on how its turning youth into addicts.

Local Insights – the UAE’s Media Coverage of the Conflict in Yemen

The conflict in Yemen and the UAE's involvement has helped to bring the community together, according to Emirati editors (image source: vocativ.com)

The conflict in Yemen and the UAE’s involvement has helped to bring the community together, according to Emirati editors (image source: vocativ.com)

I wanted to share a fascinating view into Arabic-language media opinions here in the UAE. This week saw the Emirati Media Forum here in Dubai. One of the topics up for discussion was the coverage of the conflict in Yemen. The conflict, which the UAE has been an active participant in since March of this year, has claimed the lives of approximately 70 Emirati combatants. The text below is from Gulf News and is a unique glimpse into how the conflict and those Emiratis who have died have helped to shape the Arabic-language media sector in the UAE and its coverage of the conflict.

The ability of Emiratis to transform tragedy into a sense of unity and national pride was the focal point of discussion at the second session at the Emirati Media Forum.

The session’s theme was ‘The UAE media’s responsible stance on the Yemen events’.

Mohammad Yousuf, president of the UAE Journalists Association, said the media was able to transform the sense of shock, tragedy and loss to positivity and pride.

Sami Al Riyami, Editor-in-Chief of Emarat Al Youm, said the Yemen war was a new experience for the UAE and for the people in the media sector.

“The news came as a shock to us too, as we are humans and Emiratis before we are media people. We were shaken by it as we were not used to seeing the bodies of our martyrs wrapped in the UAE flag — it’s an overwhelming sight. But we were able to turn the tragedy into love and pride for our country,” he said.

Explaining through various media channels why the UAE went to war, what the martyrs died for and what war entails helped in [achieving] this transformation, he said.

The media had no shortage of stories of heroism to write about, Al Riyami said, as the stories just presented themselves.

“It was not about scooping [from] other media outlets; we were all working together so we could get the information out to the people.” Al Riyami said.

In one instance, he said, one of their correspondents lost contact and they had no material to publish. Al Riyami said he called one of his contacts in another newspaper, who gave him the news material to fill the gap in coverage.

“It is our national duty, not a competition about who is getting exclusive content,” he said.

Ali Obaid Al Hameli, director of Dubai TV’s News Centre, said that with the loss of the first martyr on July 16 this year, media outlets felt a great sense of responsibility on how best to break this news to the people of the UAE and, more importantly, to the families of the martyrs.

“The UAE leaders’ engagement and stance and their heartfelt visits to the families of the martyrs and the wounded helped change people’s attitudes and made our job easier,” he said.

He said that they were shocked when they visited martyrs’ families, as the families were the ones consoling them and raising their spirits and not the other way round.

“Many of the families wished that they had more children — brothers and sons — to fight for the UAE,” Al Hamli said.

Abdul Hady Al Shaikh, executive director of Abu Dhabi TV, said that the media also shed light on the humanitarian efforts of the UAE in Yemen — and not just on the military intervention.

“We also wanted to show the Yemeni streets and people, not just coverage of our troops there,” he said.

On the topic of social media’s role, Al Riyami said it is every Emirati’s duty to offset rumours that surface on this platform, by giving correct information on the subject.

The Gulf’s push to improve its image – why actions speak louder than words

The Gulf's foreign ministers have worked hard to change perceptions of the region abroad. But is there a simpler solution?

The Gulf’s foreign ministers have worked hard to change perceptions of the region abroad. But is there a simpler solution?

I love a good read, especially fiction. But when living in the Gulf, fact can often feel more surreal than fiction. Last week the UAE’s English language daily Gulf News reported on efforts by the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council to improve its image abroad, most notably in Europe and the US. To quote from the newspaper:

Foreign media officials in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have stressed the need to formulate a common media strategy that will reflect the positive image of the six member countries abroad.

The officials, who were holding a meeting in the Qatari capital Doha, reviewed plans and suggestions for future actions in their communication drive with the international community.

The GCC, established in 1981, comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“The participants discussed several issues related to the progress of their work, including a common strategy to rectify the distorted image that some Western media have about the countries in the region,” Ahmad Al Buainain, the head of the foreign media department at Qatar News Agency (QNA) said.

“The meeting also discussed several papers and new ideas regarding the way forward for the GCC foreign media in European and Asian countries in order to convey the realities on the ground, he said, quoted by QNA.

Plans include holding seminars and meetings with research centres or organizing events at international functions in Europe and in which the GCC countries are participating, he added.

“This new drive is a continuation of the activities conducted by the foreign media officials at past events,” he said.

Ahmed Mussa Al Dhabyan, the head of media cooperation at the GCC Secretariat General, said that the GCC foreign media officials sought to build on their successful experience and formulate a new strategy that matched the latest developments in the communication field.

“The world has gone beyond the global village concept and has now become a single house,” he said. “The GCC has a significant political and economic weight and it has a special standing internationally, and therefore it needs to have a foreign media presence that matches its stature,” he said.

Earlier this month, reports surfaced from Washington D.C. that Saudi was hiring a variety of lobbying groups to bolster its public image in the US. Clearly, the Gulf cares about its reputation abroad, especially when the region’s governments see what they feel to be negative coverage.

On his Facebook account, political commentator (and Sharjah royal family member) Sultan Al-Qassemi gave his take on the article in the Gulf news with a list of suggestions to improve the Gulf’s image abroad.

1- Release activists.
2- Suspend capital punishment.
3- Allow political participation.
4- Eliminate Kafeel (sponsorship) system
5- Expand women’s rights.
6- Enact environmental protection.
7- Broaden citizen’s rights.
8- Bolster freedom of expression (yes within “limits”)

I’d make it even simpler. As any good and ethical public relations practitioner will tell you, your actions speak louder than your words. If the region is serious about tackling any negative perceptions or reputation issues abroad, then behaviour which is contradictory to accepted human norms in regions outside of the Gulf (read the West) must be tackled, and free(r) access should be given to the media. With social media and the internet, it is so much harder to hide anything or to spin information or events. Take for example the leaking of documents from Saudi’s Foreign Ministry recently.

The best way to been seen in a positive light is not more seminars or meetings in European capitals with research centers. Instead, one must behave in a positive light, followed by encouraging the media, both local and international, to report without bias.

While I’ve been in this region long enough to know better, I am still an optimist at heart. And I still believe we are capable of change for the better, as this region is magical in so many ways. However, a word of note. If my face turns shades of blue or purple, do please remind me to breathe.

#HappyDubai and the times when you need a good community manager

If you were working on #HappyDubai would you view this image positively or negatively?

If you were working on #HappyDubai would you view this image and the associated Tweet positively or negatively?

First we had the successful #MyDubai initiative. Now, we have #HappyDubai which was launched last week by Dubai Municipality.

According to an article in Gulf News residents can now share positive experiences regarding municipal services through the Happy Dubai initiative. They can post comments and pictures using the #HappyDubai social media hashtag. The feedback will spread through Twitter (@myhappydubai) and the happydubai.ae website. The feel-good initiative, launched on Tuesday, aims to highlight civic services of the Dubai Municipality and feedback from stakeholders.

“With the Happiness Map, we are aiming to track conversations around #HappyDubai and where they are coming from. In time, it will become an interesting reference point to identify areas in Dubai that are the favourite #HappyDubai places for residents,” the municipality told Gulf News.

“This phase of the campaign allows residents to send us their comments and feedback through the website. Residents can also get in touch with us via other touch points including Dubai Municipality’s social media presence, our 24-hour contact number 800900, e-mail us at info@dm.gov.ae or visit our centres around the emirate.”

Here’s where it gets more complicated. The beauty of the #MyDubai campaign is that its objective – the public are asked to share their own experiences of Dubai, without a spin and without a filter. #HappyDubai is subjective, and one of the aims of the Happy Dubai campaign is to make Dubai one of top 10 happiest cities in world by 2021. Dubai’s residents are being asked to share their happiness with Dubai Municipality and the city in general. Rather than engaging in a dialogue, they’re being asked to take a specific emotional stance which is a much riskier strategy.

Hussain Nasser Lootah, director-general of Dubai Municipality, said: “Various initiatives and the projects adopted and executed by Dubai Municipality in different fields give the emirate its unique style which makes it ‘stand out’ among the most developed cities in the world.

“The UAE has been ranked 14th in the happiness index set by the Global Initiative of the UN. Our goal is to spread happiness among the population of UAE and by 2021, Dubai would like to be one of the top ten happiest cities.”

The worst thing that can happen is for the campaign to be hijacked. This isn’t new, and even brands such as McDonalds have had to pull campaigns due to consumers not reacting as they’d hoped (a great example is #McDStories).

There’s a lot to love about Dubai and the campaign launched by Dubai Municipality (the microsite is a great feature, especially the #HappyDubai map), but not everyone feels as strongly about #HappyDubai as the people behind the campaign. One “David Brown” tweeted repeatedly about the issue facing labourers in the Emirate with the hashtag #HappyDubai. See the below for one Tweet, including a link to a site about alleged human rights abuses in the GCC and the image Photoshopped with the #HappyDubai logo.

Could it get worse? Well, yes it could do if your community manager misunderstands the point being made and then retweets the original message. The follow-up is even worse (unless I’m missing the irony).

The lesson is simple. Before a campaign is even launched whoever handles social media needs to understand the various viewpoints that may be coming his or her way, both positive and negative (the same is also true of the whole organization). There should be talking points and message tracks in place for any negative sentiment. This is especially true of a campaign such as #HappyDubai which takes a subjective stance on people’s emotions towards a specific issue.

And more than anything else, if you can’t spot a negative comment and you work in social media, you need to find a new industry to work in.