Saudi Telecom, Boycotts, Social Media (راح_نفلسكم#) and Stock Price Impact

Forgive my wordy headline, but there’s a lot to get into this story. Before anything else, let me spell out the context. Saudi and Saudis love social media, but they haven’t been enthused by the efforts of the telecommunication providers in the country to block free call apps or services offered by the likes of FaceTime, SnapChat and WhatsApp. To add insult to injury, consumers have claimed that the Kingdom’s three telcos (Mobily, Saudi Telecom and Zain) have rolled back unlimited data services.

So what have the country’s social media-crazy consumers done? Yes, you guessed right. They’ve taken to social media to call for a boycott. Under the hashtags (which basically means we’ll bankrupt you) and  (boycott telco companies), the idea is simple.

Starting from last weekend, Saudi users have begun to switch off their phones. The hashtag and others have gone viral, and users have taken to Twitter to demand action against the telcos, including physical boycotts of stores.

The ultimate mark of consumer sentiment is cartoons, and Saudi’s most prominent cartoonist Abdullah Jaber stepped in to pen his own thoughts on the issue (the below translates as the Telco company on the right, saying to the consumer, “why are you angry?”

Saudi Telecom in particular has been hit, both in terms of its social media following (the carrier has lost almost 150,000 followers on its Twitter account), as well as its share price which dropped by several percent on Sunday morning after trading opened on the Saudi bourse.


Saudi Telecom’s Twitter account @STC_KSA lost over 140,000 followers in the space of two days as boycott calls spread (source: Twitter Count).


Saudi Telecom’s stock price was also hit on Sunday, with an initial fall of 8% (source: Google Finance)

There’s a further dimension to this story, with some online accounts in the UAE calling for similar action to be taken against the two telco incumbents (see the hashtag  and ).

Is this type of online activism on a single economic issue going to become more common, particularly with the state of finances across the region? And what can communicators do about an issue that is about a product and a strategy that consumers don’t like?

As always, it’d be good to hear your thoughts.

Are the Saudis the QR Code kings of the region?

The Magic Kingdom always seems to get a bad reputation when it comes to adoption; everyone else always seem to think that Saudi Arabia will be the last to the party. However, on my last trip to Riyadh a couple of weeks back I was pleasantly surprised to see QR codes at the airport and throughout the city.

I’m sure that even if you can’t recall what QR codes are, you will have seen them in magazines or on posters. QR codes (the QR stands for quick response) are optical machine-readable labels which resemble bar codes. QR codes have become popular in consumer advertising in the United States, Europe and Asia due to their ease of use and the ability to guide/track a consumer’s actions through the technology; smartphone users (that’s most of us nowadays) can use QR-code scanner apps to open a website which relates to the advertiser and its products. For an example of a QR code have a look below; the code is even branded.

A branded QR code from the BBC (credit:

In Riyadh’s King Khalid Airport the mobile operator Mobily is using QR codes on its advertising boards to direct traffic to product microsites. Riyadh Municipality is also using QR codes to help the public identify street names and places. Similarly, Jeddah Municipality has started rolling out a QR code tagging system for its streets. To quote from the English-language daily Arab News article.

Visitors and residents will be able to learn of a street name, location and GPS coordinates by taking a snap shot using their smart phone reader.

“The signs have already been mounted at number Jeddah’s districts,” said undersecretary for projects and urban construction at the Jeddah mayor’s office Ibrahim Kutub Khana. “This includes Basateen, Muhamadia, Naeem and Salamh. These new signs includes a property’s GPS coordinates, street name and location inside the district. To make locating and navigating in Jeddah more easier and convenient visitors and residents.”

By pointing their smart phones at the QR code tag, all the information is stored inside a database. The information can be accessed through satellite positioning systems.

Plans are also under way for installing additional new signs in more of the city’s districts.

Not only are advertisers using QR codes, but the Saudi government has managed to implement a system for two cities, each with a population of seven million people. How’s that for a regional first? Let’s hope other advertisers in the region follow the Saudi lead and start using QR codes in their advertising/content.