A New Year’s Wish – For PR people to disclose their client relationships (especially on social media)

full disclosure

Can we have more disclosure when it comes to agency-client relationships and content in the region? (image source: multiplesclerosis.net)

When I was young, naive and altruistic, I used to wish for all sorts of lovely things, like peace in the Middle East, an end to discrimination and that type of stuff. Now, I’m (a little) older, and my New Year’s wish list is a little shorter, and, I hope, much more reasonable.

On my 2018 list, there’s one wish. And I need your help to make it happen. It’s pretty simple really. All I’d like is a little more transparency in the region’s public relations industry. I’ve seen a couple of recent examples from senior executives on the agency side, and there seems to be a trend of agency people writing content for sharing, either on social media or through traditional media, which promotes their clients either directly or indirectly. Two examples from this month are below.

What’s also disappointing is that when asked about a client relationship, there’s no response.

My point isn’t about the content – both pieces are well written. Rather, it’s about the need to fully disclose our relationships as PR practitioners and communicators. We talk about the need to be open, and to foster debate. By not disclosing our paid relationships, and not responding when asked, we are doing neither. And, in case you didn’t know, disclosure is legally mandated by the Federal Trade Commission in the United States, the Advertising Standards Authority in the United Kingdom, and by other authorities in Europe.

NicolasTeneoADNOCPost

Teneo has been advising ADNOC on the ADNOC Distribution IPO. However, there’s no disclaimer here of this, or no response to a direct question.

The below tweet links to an opinion piece on Arabian Business, where a Burson Marsteller client is referenced (the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition) by the writer, who is the Chief Executive Officer of the public relations agency ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller. There’s no disclosure of this relationship, the opposite to how Ford is referenced in the article. And there’s no response to the question either.

To show those in the region how it can and should be done, have a look at the below from Bob Pickard, the Canada-based principal at Signal Leadership Communication. In his Tweet he’s not even referencing a client, but rather sharing his opinion as a client himself. His words underline exactly why we need to disclose our paid relationships, due to the implicit bias it causes.

My company mandates that I disclose when I tweet about a company issue, by using hashtags such as #employee, clearly stating my employer in my social media profile, and through any other means that would remove any doubt as to my relationship with the company. I’d also hope that companies here in the region would adopt similar transparency policies. They’re easy to find online – here’s one from P&G from 2011 which is openly available on the internet.

So, are you with me? Can we have disclosure and transparency when it comes to client relationships in the region? As always, let me know your thoughts.

 

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

Stepping into the Continent’s Political Minefield – Etihad’s Independence Day faux-pas

When I was growing up and in the Gulf, I was often told by my father, “don’t talk about three things.” Those three things were politics, religion and sex. One was to never go against this cardinal rule. Of course, rules are made to be broken. But there’s a difference between when an individual does this, and when a corporation gets it wrong.

The past couple of days are important for our friends from the Asian sub-continent. The 14th of August is the commemoration of Pakistan’s independence from the British Empire. The very next day, the 15th of August, is symbolic for Indians as the date of India’s independence. Both countries are neighbors, but due to history and politics their relationship hasn’t always been neighborly.

Etihad stepped into the political minefield yesterday. The national airline was ostensibly trying to do the right thing by reaching out to Indian nationals and wishing them a Happy Independence Day. Over and above the emotional aspect of the occasion, the move makes perfect sense – Etihad has a sizable stake in the Indian airline Jet Airways, and Indians make up over a third of the UAE’s population. The post, on Etihad’s LinkedIn page, should have been welcomed by all.

Etihad's Happy Independence Day message to India... It's a shame Etihad forgot to do the same for Pakistan the day before.

Etihad’s Happy Independence Day message to India… It’s a shame Etihad forgot to do the same for Pakistan the day before.

However, Etihad forgot one thing. They hadn’t posted the same for Pakistan the day before. Reading through the comments and it’s clear that the Pakistani nationals have found umbrage with Etihad’s faux-pas. While the majority of responses are positive, those from Etihad’s Pakistani national followers speak for themselves.

Etihad's move to wish well to India and not to Pakistan for their respective Independence Days didn't go down well with the airline's Pakistani fans

Etihad’s move to wish well to India and not to Pakistan for their respective Independence Days didn’t go down well with the airline’s Pakistani fans

It’s an easy mistake to make in a country which is home to over 130 different nationalities, but when you consider that Pakistani nationals make up a sizable percentage of the UAE’s population (probably 10 to 15 percent), plus the history between the two nations, maybe Etihad would have been best advised to either go all in or not wish anyone a Happy Independence Day. As is, a simple omission can lead to the loss of both business and reputation among a key segment of the population.

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

The launch of LinkedIn Arabic – Did LinkedIn miss a messaging opportunity?

If you're going to launch in Arabic where would you choose? Dubai or Riyadh? (image source: Reuters)

If you’re going to launch in Arabic where would you choose? Dubai or Riyadh? (image source: Reuters)

I love LinkedIn. It’s possibly my favorite social media network. LinkedIn has transformed how professionals network (and get jobs) online. No recruiter could do without LinkedIn.

The network has grown steadily in the Middle East since it opened up an office in Dubai back in 2012. Over the past three years LinkedIn has grown its user base from five to fourteen million. The UAE is LinkenIn’s largest market with two million users according to The National. The two largest Arabic-speaking markets in the region are Egypt, with a population of just over 82 million, and Saudi.

The Kingdom is, or should be, LinkedIn’s largest potential market. Saudi doesn’t only have a sizable Arabic-speaking population (28 million and counting), but it also has the spending power. Saudi’s gross domestic product for 2013 was just under 750 billion dollars. Saudi is home to some of the region’s largest corporations, as well as a majority of the country under the age of 25. Add to the mix high internet penetration and smartphone usage, Saudi is LinkedIn’s Arabic-language market.

However, when LinkedIn launched its Arabic-language site last week the management team chose Dubai as the preferred location. There was a guest advocate, in the shape of Noura Al Kaabi, CEO of Abu Dhabi’s twofour54. Bizarrely, LinkedIn’s press materials also included a press statement from Saudi’s Minister of Labor, which was carried extensively in the Kingdom’s media (the quote in full is below and is sourced from Saudi Gazette).

Eng. Adel M. Fakeih, Saudi Arabia’s minister of labor, said: “LinkedIn has been working with us to match talent in the Kingdom with the right opportunity, and with Arabic, this benefit can be rolled-out to a much wider member base.

LinkedIn will continue to be a useful tool for us as we use technology to communicate the need for nationals to up-skill themselves and take advantage of the strong economic climate and significant job-creation in the Kingdom.

Being a part of a global network also helps youth identify the key demand areas, and build their qualifications accordingly.”

Would LinkedIn have been better served by launching Arabic in Saudi, rather than in the UAE (where it could be argued that the lingua franca is English). Would this activation have been more in line with the message that LinkedIn was trying to convey, namely that we are now in Arabic and we want Arabic speakers to use our service.

It’s a small observation, but it seems that LinkedIn missed an opportunity to push home a message through a launch that was misaligned with its target audience. Saudi isn’t the easiest country in terms of getting things right on the ground, but if you’re going to do something then, as the saying goes, if it is worth doing then do it right.

And for more details on LinkedIn in the Middle East have a look at the infographics below, which are in English and Arabic.

Dubai Police and the ignominy of being hacked on social media

When your day job is to ensure the safety and security of those around you, it doesn’t get worse than this for Dubai Police. The police force best known for solving crimes in a matter of moments and driving around in swanky super cars (the latest is a three million dollar Bugatti Veyron) has just been hacked by a group with the Twitter handle @TheHorsemenLulz – presumably named after the infamous hacker collective LulzSec.

All but one of Dubai Police’s social media sites have been hacked, including Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Pinterest (Facebook was the only social media channel that wasn’t hacked). While the images have now been removed, a couple of hours after the sites were compromised, here’s a screenshot of the offending image on the Dubai Police Twitter feed @DubaiPoliceHQ.

A screen shot of the image sent out by the hackers via the @DubaiPoliceHQ Twitter account

A screen shot of the image sent out by the hackers via the @DubaiPoliceHQ Twitter account

While the most obvious questions are how were these accounts hacked and how easy was it to hack the accounts, my issue is more about the group behind the hacks who have claimed several other cyber attacks in the UAE, including crashing the websites of Noor Islamic Bank, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority and the UAE Central Bank. Do we have a locally-based hacker group in the UAE?

In a Tweet that included the @DubaiPoliceHQ Twitter account the group put out a video in November saying they’d be targeting the UAE Government. While the tweet and the video didn’t make too much sense, why wasn’t the issue taken seriously by those handling the @DubaiPoliceHQ Twitter account? With the UAE’s Government Summit taking place in Dubai tomorrow shouldn’t cyber security be top of the agenda for the public sector, and in particular the Dubai Police?

https://twitter.com/TheHorsemenLulz/status/406006175071625216

How to reach an audience through #SocialMedia and #influencers

Social media is the latest and greatest thing at the moment in the world of marketing and communications but how do we in an emerging market make the most out of what we’d call influencers, people on the web who are followed and listened to by others. The challenge that we face in a market is the Middle East is a lack of the mainstream online influencers, bloggers. Compared to Europe and the US, there are fewer bloggers in the Middle East, especially in countries such as Saudi Arabia. For those interested in pioneer bloggers, have a look at this list compiled by commentator Sultan Al-Qassemi or the Arab Media and Society’s portal on blogs.

Despite the challenges social media is an incredibly powerful way of reaching out to an audience, partly due to directness as well as its credibility. But how do you find the right influencers to reach out to? There’s a couple of very simple ways to do this and tools to use. Klout is probably the best known site for analyzing social media influence across a variety of sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, FourSquare, Youtube, Instagram, and WordPress.

Klout trawls social media network data and creates profiles on individuals and assigns them a “Klout score.” The higher the Klout score the more influence a person has online. Klout claims to have built more than 100 million profiles from crawling social media sites. While the site is far from perfect, it’s probably the most widely used tool to rate someone’s social media influence. You can search on Klout’s website either by topic or by the influencer’s name. Klout will give you three lists – one for top influencers, one for top +k recipients (basically people who have been rated highly by other Klout users rather than Klout’s own ratings system), and one for best content. Try a search on Dubai using Klout and see whom the website recommends.

The Klout profile for Mashable journalist Brian Hernandez

There are a number of other social ranking sites. The one which is gaining the most interest is kred.ly. At the moment Kred.ly is limited to analyzing people’s Twitter feeds only. However, Kred.ly may become very useful as it’s linked into a website called peoplebrowsr. Peoplebrowsr aims to give marketers and communicators access to influencers. The idea goes that you’d be able to identify people who are specialized in a certain topic and then pay them to promote your company or service. I’d love to hear from anyone who has used kred.ly and peoplebrowsr, especially in the Middle East.

Screenshot from social media analytics site kred.ly for blogger Dain Binder

So let’s give an example of what I’d be looking to do if I was working in tech. First thing would be to identify people with a big enough audience and enough credibility to influence others. One such user may be a prolific twitter user and the founder of saudimac.com Khaled Abdulrahman. Tweeting with the handle @khaled Khaled has over 13,000 followers and regularly updates his web site.

Khaled is a great example of an influence as he uses multiple sites to engage with an audience.

The challenge I have now is how to work with or influence Khaled. Traditional marketing would have meant paying the influencer. This is common for celebrity social media endorsements. However, this doesn’t always have to be the case with bloggers and topic specialists. Many may be willing to support you if they believe in the cause that you are promoting or if the content you give them is relevant or interesting.

The beauty of Klout, kred.ly and other tools is that they’re either free or fairly cheap to use. So when you’re next looking for people to help you communicate to an intended audience you’ve got no excuse for not finding the right influencers on the world wide web.