The rise of the Khaleeji Woman as online content creators (part two)

As it’s International Women’s Day, I couldn’t wait any longer and, I’ll be brutally honest, I wanted to see lots of cake porn! Here’s the second of a two-part guest blog on how women across the Gulf are using social media and their skills not only to create entertaining and informative content, but to also earn a living. In this second post, Paul Kelly, creative director and co-founder at Digital Ape, argues that brands need to rethink how they both develop and execute content creation strategies with online female content creators in the Gulf. Enjoy the read, and let Paul know what you think!

During the last post, we discussed a survey of MENA based women, and their attitudes to content, particularly food content online. This week we will focus on the content creators who these surveyed women follow and imitate. We will look at how they are creating engaging content and why that matters for brands and publishing houses alike.

How are they doing it?

People are attracted to people. If I can find someone online, who understands what happens in my day, speaks my dialect and knows what I need better than say a publisher in Dubai, then I will follow their content, and my friends will too.

Women across the GCC are doing this in their millions, Khaleeji women want to see themselves reflected in their entertainment, and they want advice and recommendations tailored to them. Gone are the days when they must consume content created by an American in New York, and served to them on TV or in print. Women from the UAE to Saudi and beyond and seeking out other women who look like them, speak like them and understand their lives.

This I believe is one of the reasons why old fashioned publishing houses, should be quaking in their boots. As much as we try, Western or Levantine men in Dubai will never truly understand what Khaleeji women want in entertainment content, and now that they have a choice, these women will choose to consume content made by their peers and when that happens at scale, these content creators become publishers in their own right.

A content creator who builds an audience and keeps them engaged is no different to a publisher, and creators with a female Khaleeji audience, have an audience underserved by content, and exponential growth rates equal revenue.

The train-wreck.

So how has it come to influencers being ridiculed for their work? Worse still, how has it come to people calling themselves influencers, buying audiences and getting a free meal ticket?

Aside from the typical Dubai-syndrome of echo chamber marketing; it’s a mix of naïve marketing managers chasing trends, agencies ill-equipped for creative relationships (trying to replace banner ad revenue) and people who see social media as a shortcut to making a quick dirham.

Instead of actively investing the time needed in these powerful communities, brands, in place of real strategies, throw wads of cash at so-called influencers and hope for big results, often leading to disappointment.

At Digital Ape, we’ve got this down to an art. Just like money is a hygiene factor when it comes to employment, so too is it when it comes to dealing with real people creating content. It’s about giving content creators what they need; Props, filming equipment, sessions with filmmakers, assistance in real-time sessions with editing, contract help, this way everyone gets the best of the relationship. Creators develop better content with help from the brand thereby growing audiences, which in turn helps the brand. Women develop a revenue stream from content that fits and that the audience understands. This isn’t horse trading it’s about developing a win-win situation for creators, brands and audiences.

Find the fit for your brand by having an empathetic network of people to draw on, then seek out their audiences. Work WITH them. Don’t use influencers, work with your content creators. It’s an investment that pays handsomely.

 The future.

It’s no surprise that local publishing houses are scrambling to get on board with the creator craze – they after all, were the content creators and influencers of an older generation. Less able to respond to a new reality of screens and pixels, and even less able to understand how to convert revenue from the eyeballs they’ve been left behind as content becomes borderless and habits are quickly changing.

After all, is what someone like PewDiePie doing any different to what VICE was doing in 2010? Arguably with 54mn subscribers (at time of writing) on YouTube he has as much impact as a medium sized cable network. Is Kim Kardashian any different to Hello! Circa 1998? Her ability to shift units of anything she sells is phenomenal.

Some will argue until that until we have proper regulation in the GCC we’ll never achieve a level of sophistication that will mean any content creator is taken seriously.

Forget that.

What I am, and us at Digital Ape say, is that the content creators are the new publishers. Instead of being locked up in an edit suite at MBC, they are at home in their own bedrooms with their phones, doing the exact same thing, for an audience which increases with every post.

What we are seeing is a new model of content democracy where the 1% who make the content for the 99% are now starting to take back their revenue. Where once it was the Newscorps or CNN’s or ITP’s relying on their talent to sell time, space or inches, it’s now the Felix’s, Rayyan’s and countless mothers, wives and daughters who have a passion to create that will shape our entertainment for the next 20 years.

Digital Ape’s research with MENA women underlines the role digital plays in offline purchase intent

The rise of the Khaleeji Woman as online content creators (part one)

In the run up to International Women’s Day, I’m delighted to share with you a two-part guest blog on how women across the Gulf are using social media and their skills not only to create entertaining and informative content, but to also earn a living. In this two-part special, Paul Kelly, creative director and co-founder at Digital Ape, will share his insights on the rise of the Khaleeji women as online content creators. Thank you Paul for two great articles; I hope you enjoy this read as much as I have done.

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With over 1.2 million followers, the Kuwait-based Instagram account omaziz_kitchen is just one example of many cooking-focused social media accounts in the MENA region.

In the echo chamber that is our social newsfeeds, I’ve seen an increasing amount of antipathy towards social media creators that are commonly being called influencers. Case in point is Felix Kjellberg’s (aka PewDiePie) recent poor decision-making transgressions and resultant glee of the cable news media in his corporate downfall (not that his followers seem to care in the slightest). This backlash against PewDiePie is reflective of a larger trend of hostility towards the world of so-called social media influencers.

It’s not without reason, either.

To begin with, the word influencer is horrible.

It feels like an archaic relic of when brand marketers relied on word-of-mouth via focus groups to influence purchasing decisions and has no place in the modern marketing dialect.

Next, there’s social media accounts that reference the word influencer in their bio to – a tip; if you see that run a million miles.

There is a better a way, which begins with recognizing true influence for what it is.

At Digital Ape we have been working with so-called influencers since 2009, first as web publishers and now as branded content specialists. However, influencer is not a term we use. We call them content creators, and we refer to their followers as their communities. In 2017, the creators’ influence on their own communities is very real, and has a lot of parallels with the Publishing Houses of the decades before it.

There is also something deeper to this influence.

It’s creating a movement amongst some of the most underemployed people of the Gulf – women – and setting them on the road to being financially independent, through employment on their own terms, at times that suit their family schedules. How?

Let’s talk about true influence.

Digital Ape commissioned a survey of 1500 MENA-based women late last year; we were interested in their content habits online, particularly in relation to food content. Even we were surprised with the results.

  • Content creators are trusted 3X more women than brands.
  • Online content creators are as important as friends and family recommendations when it comes to purchasing decisions offline – Interestingly brands are half as likely to influence a decision themselves;
  • In Saudi, non-branded (e.g. content creators) channels on social media are more popular than family and friends, and double that of brands, in trust weighting;
  • Digital content drives 65% of purchasing decisions compared to 35% offline;
  • WhatsApp is the most popular recipe sharing tool in the MENA region, with Snapchat becoming increasingly popular amongst 35-44 segment;
  • 84% of respondents don’t see any problem with a content creator featuring a brand in their content;
  • Facebook is for old people! At a factor of 50%, Facebook is more popular among 35-44 year olds compared to 18-24 and 35-34, with Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat far exceeding Facebook’s popularity;
  • YouTube is the most popular place for GCC women to find inspirational ideas for cooking;
  • TV and Radio are diminishing down the scale of importance in purchasing decisions by a factor of 3 compared to digital content channels, across all age groups.

If you think that influencers are a flash in the pan, you’re wrong. But likely if you’re thinking that, you’re not in the right frame of mind to begin with.

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Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp are the most popular apps for younger audiences when it comes to sharing among women in the MENA region. Facebook is most popular for women aged between 35 and 44.

What are content creators achieving?

There are hundreds of female content creators in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait with communities of over one million people. Even I was skeptical at first, and thought, like you might be now, that the communities were fake, somehow generated from a click farm in a faraway country. However, a deeper dive and a more intelligent way to look at influence is to look at engagement rates from communities. Comments on each piece of content are a great place to start, apply cultural context to the creators and you begin to see that this influence is real.

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The most powerful online driver of purchasing decisions offline is a recommendation by family and friends, followed by cooking channels.

Our survey told us that the audience know the creators are working with brands, these “sponsored posts” get incredible engagement results. We have seen engagement rates of 5-15% on millions of followers, encouraging hundreds of actions from a single piece of creative content.

The best part? They are mothers, daughters and wives – making content for their peers, and earning their own money to ensure that if society makes it hard to get a job, they have an income from their passion anyway.

Now that we have seen what content creators, and women are doing, next week we look at how they are doing it and why this matters for audiences, brands and traditional content publishers.

Guest Blog – How To Meet Your Customers Changing Expectations

We've gone from digital natives to mobile natives. As consumer expectations change, how can we communicators remain relevant? (image source: www.mirror.co.uk)

We’ve gone from digital natives to mobile natives. As consumer expectations change, how can we communicators remain relevant? (image source: http://www.mirror.co.uk)

I’ve asked a number of prominent communicators to talk about the importance of communications and design when it comes to customers. Julio Romo (on Twitter as @twofourseven and on LinkedIn here), an International Communication Consultant and Digital and Innovation Strategist, shares his insights on how communications is changing and how customer experiences are impacting our jobs as communicators. Julio, over to you.

How To Meet Your Customers Changing Expectations

People around the world are today more connected than ever before. Let it be through social media, smartphones or both. The way we are now connected has influenced and changed the way in which our beliefs and expectations are shaped.

Let me give you some facts. There are over 2.3 billion social media accounts worldwide – Facebook has 1.79 billion monthly active users (92% access via mobile), Twitter has 313 million active monthly users and Instagram has 400 million monthly active users. These are very top line numbers. They are Impressive, but missing some context.

Now the context, one in every six minutes that is spent online is spent on Facebook, 2.5 billion comments are made on Facebook Pages, 6,000 Tweets are sent every second. The more content that is out there the quicker that we must be to filter out what we think is not relevant to what we want to learn.

Research by Microsoft also tells us that our attention span is now down to 8 seconds, that is shorter than that of a goldfish. The speed at which we make decisions has also shortened to what Adobe calls, the last millisecond. We live in extraordinary and highly competitive times.

People have changed how they make decisions. Today it is the experience that they get from their engagement that shapes their perceptions and decisions-making. Get the experience right and in a fraction of a second you keep and possibly convert an individual. Get it wrong and you risk loosing your customer, possibly for good.

Think about it this way:

And the benefits? Well, insight from Bain & Co tells us that increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%. Not bad at all.

Experience that your audiences receive matters. Design and the way in which they interact with you certainly matters. And today, the customer matters more, and they know this.

The customer journey has to be simple and rewarding. It has to deliver an experience that not just converts them, but gets them to return and amplify the positive engagement that they’ve had. And it is in this connected world that reputations are built and broken.

A McKinsey report states, ‘Consumers now have much more control over where they will focus their attention, so companies need to craft a compelling customer experience in which all interactions are expressly tailored to a customer’s stage in his or her decision journey.

So how do we secure better engagement from our target market and audiences? That is simple, yet not very straightforward. Organisation must become agile and nimble. They must become better at listening and learning. And their communications and marketing must be always-on and responsive – be ready to respond to customer service issues. Our digital touch points need to be built around the personas of our audiences, yet bearing in mind that like technology, peoples behaviour and expectations changes fast, especially when start-ups come into play disrupting business as usual.

Some companies have already embarked on a journey of change to ensure that they remain relevant. In 2005 the former FT US Technology Correspondent and Columnist Tom Foremski coined the term ‘Every Company is a Media Company.’ A term that still to this day is alien to many. Yet some organisations have changed their PR and communications teams into modern day brand newsrooms that monitor news, deliver content and engage through social channels.

Having and understanding of the audience and designing for them will give companies access to a global market that in 2014 McKinsey thought this year could have been worth $2 trillion in potential sales. Being nimble and agile is a must. Having your communications, marketing and customer service teams working together is what will help your businesses grow in a competitive market.

After all, bad news travels fast on social media. According to Zendesk, bad experiences are shared with more people than good experiences, and more customers share bad experiences than good through social networks like Twitter and Facebook.

Today, people who complain are the ones that you know about. People expect and we must deliver, we must be what they expect, more customer centric. Because it matters to our reputation, our business and in competing markets it gives us competitive advantage.

The building of successful businesses today depends on the gaining of more insight about audiences. Understanding their behaviour and decision-making and roadmappiing their journey so that they find what they want on platforms relevant to them.

Now more than ever we have to move towards acting on insight and data in order to secure attention and engagement from people.

WhatsApp and why communicators should care about Dark Social (at least in a crisis)

When it comes to harmful materials, WhatsApp should be a key source of concern for communicators in the Gulf

When it comes to harmful materials, WhatsApp should be a key source of concern for communicators in the Gulf

Let me ask you a question. Name the most popular application on the phones of consumers in the Gulf. It’s not Instagram. It’s not Twitter, and it’s not Snapchat. As you clever ones may have guessed from the title of this post, it’s WhatsApp. At the last count, in a survey by TNS in 2015, the instant messenger app was used by 84% of smartphone users in the Gulf. And yet, it would seem that WhatsApp is hardly used, either by marketers or by communicators.

Part of the challenge is that WhatsApp is a closed network. It’s dark social, a term coined in 2012 that refers to online activity which cannot be monitored. WhatsApp and other applications such as WeChat and Facebook Messenger cannot be mined for data, and as they’re closed the only persons who know what is being written or shared are the sender and the recipient.

And that’s often the problem. For people who are responsible for looking after corporate reputations, ignorance definitely isn’t bliss. I wanted to understand more about WhatsApp and what it means to communicators during a crisis. And so I asked them. I asked communicators in the Gulf what WhatsApp means to them. And I want to share their responses with you.

First of all, let’s start with what communicators are using. The most popular social media channels for communicators are Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. These are followed by LinkedIn and YouTube. Snapchat and WhatsApp are the least used, which is surprising considering their popularity in the region. This may suggest communicators are still struggling on how to use such channels.

Open platforms are the most popular among communicators. Dark social platforms are less popular.

Open platforms are the most popular among communicators. Dark social platforms are less popular.

What’s interesting is the channels that are used during a crisis. While Twitter again comes out tops, followed by Facebook, other channels don’t figure as much.

Twitter and Facebook are the two most popular social media channels during a crisis

Twitter and Facebook are the two most popular social media channels during a crisis

The majority of communicators I spoke to do see WhatsApp as a factor in the spread of harmful materials. However, relatively few have experienced crises over the past year.

The majority of comms practitioners have not seen a crisis spread over WhatsApp in the past 12 months

The majority of comms practitioners have not seen a crisis spread over WhatsApp in the past 12 months

What’s also illuminating is confidence in dealing with a crisis online. When asked about a generic crisis on social media, communicators were fairly confident in dealing with the issue. When you throw WhatsApp into the mix, that confidence level drops.

On the left, the question asked was, "I believe my organization is prepared for a social media crisis." On the right, the question asked was, "I prepared my organization is prepared for a crisis spread on WhatsApp."

On the left, the question asked was, “I believe my organization is prepared for a social media crisis.” On the right, the question asked was, “I prepared my organization is prepared for a crisis spread on WhatsApp.”

The issue that many of us face online is decreasing levels of trust in brands, particularly when it comes to social media pages. Whereas a couple of years back consumers believed that reaching out to branded Facebook pages or Twitter accounts would solve their issues, few hold such beliefs today. Add in issues such as defamation for online comments, and it’s no surprise that consumers are turning to WhatsApp to share their views with their friends and family and to ask them to take action against the brand.

Based on this research, there are a number of recommendations communicators (and marketing folks) need to take into account when it comes to dark social:

  • Communicators need to be familiar with dark social – it’s apparent that consumers are online and are using dark social tools to communicate. Communicators need to be conversant in these tools if they’re going to be effective in getting across organizational messaging, particularly during a crisis.
  • Dark social tools need to be part of crisis planning – one question which wasn’t asked was to do with which social media tools formed part of crisis planning. However, it’d seem that dark social doesn’t come into consideration when planning crisis scenarios or a response. This needs to change.
  • Communicators need to utilize dark social – certain industries, such as the media sector, have begun to make use of dark social in their public outreach. Communicators in this region may be advised to look at adding dark social to their social media planning, to increase the level of engagement and also to understand how much such channels are used vis-à-vis open channels when sharing from websites and other public sharing channels.

If you’re interested in the full research, drop me a note. Sharing is caring, especially when it comes to crisis communications and social media

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.

The Fire, the Selfie and Prison – why you should care about what your friends say online

Was this inappropriate? Most certainly. But what could get you jailed is not just a picture that is in poor taste, but rather the comments your friends make on that post.

Was this inappropriate? Most certainly. But what could get you jailed is not just a picture that is in poor taste, but rather the comments your friends make on that post.

We all do stupid things, and we unfortunately then post these acts of idiocy online. Combine that with a situation like we had during New Year’s Eve, and you’ve got a situation that could at best be described as combustible.

As the flames ravaged Dubai’s The Address Hotel on New Year’s Eve, some people decided to take selfies. A few posted these selfies online, to Instagram and Facebook. At least two people, two young men, were arrested for their selfie (pictured above) while the Emirate’s Public Prosecution investigated their case.

There’s been much speculation online as to why the men were arrested, with many commentators arguing that the action defamed the country and its image – let’s remember that defamation is a criminal offense in the Gulf, with a minimum fine of 500,000 Dirhams and jail time in the UAE (as well as deportation for expatriates). Many have posted selfies at the same location, with smiles, grins and laughs, and such expressions of emotion may have been considered a case of schadenfreude by the authorities.

However, according to the English-language newspaper 7Days which spoke to the lawyer of the two accused, they were investigated not for the image per se, but rather for the comments made about the image. The argument goes that the person who posts content is also responsible for the comments on that post, even if those comments are not written by the same person but his or her friends, family (or anyone who wants to get you jailed).

Luckily for them, the two were released from prison after a couple of days with no charge after investigators found that there was “no evidence of criminal intent”. However, remember that in future it’s not just your stupidity that could land you in jail, but that of your online contacts as well. Their comments could cross the legal line of what is defined as defamation, so don’t post images or any other type of post that could get you into trouble. Just don’t…

A look into how online behaviour is changing in Saudi from The Online Project

For many of us in communications in the Middle East, it’s hard to remember a time before social media (I still fondly remember receiving floppy disks with press releases, back in 2006). Social media agency agency The Online Project has dipped its toes into the Kingdom’s digital world to look at how social media behaviours are changing.

The agency, which undertook a similar exercise two years ago, went back to revisit some of its findings from 2013. The report, named Reintroducing Social Saudis, is an incredibly insightful look into what Saudis are doing online. Please do download the report and read it in full (it’s 18 pages in length).

Some of the findings include:

    1. Facebook remained the largest social platform in terms of number of users. However, Twitter growth surpassed Facebook by 25% in the past two years.
    2. Saudi preferences towards social entertainment have been changed through emerging platforms like Instagram and Snapchat.
    3. Online video has become a key channel for consuming content on all platforms, especially Facebook and Instagram.
    4. Comedy TV shows and sports are the most popular categories of online watched videos.
    5.While YouTube remained the main video sharing website Facebook and Instagram’s video growth has shifted the online video scene towards more exposure. Video content is no longer a YouTube exclusive.
    6. Hashtags usage on Instagram is just as popular on Twitter. Most used hashtags on Instagram shows how the platform is gradually turning into a female community.

The team have also produced simple visuals and a video telling the stories of Mohamed, Ahmed and Sara, your typical Saudi social media users. You can see both below.

Based on The Online Project's research Mohamed is your average Saudi Facebook user

Based on The Online Project’s research Mohamed is your average Saudi Facebook user

Your average Saudi Instagram user is female and enjoys following social issues as well as fashion

Your average Saudi Instagram user is female and enjoys following social issues as well as fashion

Your average Saudi Tweeter is most active at night and engages most with text Tweets

Your average Saudi Tweeter is most active at night and engages most with text Tweets

If you’d like more info about social behaviour in Saudi, start reading the report and do reach out to the good people at The Online Project.