The Six Essentials for Promoting Brand Building and Trust Among MENA Consumers (MEPRA/YouGov Research)

trust-in-blue-marker

Trust is one of those intangibles which we as communicators must always focus on. Trust, that notion of one person relying on and believing in a second person, is key to changing attitudes and behavior. But how do you build trust, and what channels should you focus on? These are the questions that we need to answer to be able to do our job of building and protecting reputations. So, where should one begin when looking to build trust?

Based on research by YouGov, which was commissioned by the Middle East Public Relations Association and which included a survey of across the six Gulf states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon, the place to begin isn’t online, but rather face-to-face. Fake media, less impactful advertising, and third-party advocacy are also reshaping where consumers in the region put their trust.

I’ve written three blog posts on the issue which I’ve already published on the blog, to explore the findings country-by-country, but here’s the big picture headlines from the research, which surveyed 4,475 people across the region.

1. Face-to-Face with family/friends is key to influence

It should be obvious to us all, and here’s another reminder for anyone working in communications/marketing. If you want to build trust in a brand, its products and services, then look at how you can engage the public through word-of-mouth. Across the region, 85% of respondents trust product and service recommendations from their family and friends. Nothing else comes close to these positive statistics.

2. Online works if you focus on friends and family, less so on social influencers

Over the past couple of years we’ve shifted for an incessant focus on digital to idolizing anything social. As the first big finding shows, in-person interaction is still the most persuasive. Online engagement does work, but it’s not as effective; 52% of respondents trust online recommendations about products and services from family and friends (interestingly, the percentages are highest for the Gulf and lowest for the Levant).

When it comes to social influencers, consumers are conflicted – 34% do trust social influencers/people with large online followings on products and services, compared to 29% who find them untrustworthy. A lack of transparency re paid/sponsored content probably isn’t helping. What’s helping even less is a tendency for social influencers in the region to say little which is negative when reviewing products and services.

3. There’s not as much trust in the media as we PR people may think

I was surprised by how low the scores were when it came to trust in the media as a source of information on products and services. The top-rated media was a brand’s own website (which should make sense, but given how bad websites are in the region this is still surprising), which scored 46% for trustworthiness. Every other medium scored in the 30s, which is a surprise considering how much faith public relations professionals put in securing editorial coverage with media outlets (for many, it’s still the essence of their day jobs). Blogs scored the lowest, at 31% trustworthiness (they were rated as untrustworthy by 30% of respondents). Should brands invest more in their own online media? The answer would seem to be an obvious yes.

4. Advertising is trusted almost as much as the media (except when it’s online)

The research is a mixed bag for the advertising sector. Out-of-home advertising such as billboards seem to be the most trusted by consumers, with a trust rating of 36%. Television is close behind with 35% trust, followed by radio at 31%. Online comes in last, at 28%. There’s more mistrust than trust for online advertising, with 33% of those polled not believing product and services information they see when displayed as an online ad. This may be due to misleading advertising around product pricing and availability. Whatever the reason for the low trust levels (especially online), marketers need to do more to win the trust of consumers, especially with trust in advertising dropping; 61% of those polled agreed with a statement that they trust advertising less today than they did five years ago.

5. Social media is a popular news source, but it’s not trusted thanks to ‘fake news’ concerns

Social media is becoming/has become a key source of news for most people (58%) in the region when compared to five years back (and there’s no distinction either by age, which is surprising). However, there’s still a trust issue. Almost half (48%) agreed they they have low trust in social media, which isn’t that surprising given the amount of fake/incorrect information out there. Which goes to underline the need for brands to focus on their owned media channels even more so.

The research did hammer home the power of third-party advocacy. When asked if they have more trust in what a third party says about a good or a service than what a brand says about its own goods and services, 65% responded by saying yes. Brands need to focus on winning over trusted individuals/groups who can influence consumers.

6. When it comes to social media, Facebook is King

If you’re looking to find out about a product or service in the region, it seems that Facebook is the place to go. Over half (53%) said that they found Facebook to be the most useful platform as a source of information (this rose to 72% for Egypt). Nothing else came close. WhatsApp was a distant number two, at 12%, and Instagram third at 9%. There was no mention of Twitter, and it would have been good to have understood where Twitter and YouTube featured as sources of information on products and services for the public.

So that’s the big picture for you. Keep an eye on the blog in the coming few days as I put out country-by-country reports. If you need more specific information, please do reach out to me.

Findings on Brand Building and Trust – YouGov/MEPRA Research for Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar (Part 1)

trust-in-blue-marker

Trust is one of those intangibles which we as communicators must always focus on. Trust, that notion of one person relying on and believing in a second person, is key to changing attitudes and behavior. But how do you build trust, and what channels should you focus on? These are the questions that we need to answer to be able to do our job of building and protecting reputations. So, where should one begin when looking to build trust?

Based on research by YouGov, which was commissioned by the Middle East Public Relations Association and which included a survey of across the six Gulf states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon, the place to begin isn’t online, but rather face-to-face. Fake media, less impactful advertising, and third-party advocacy are also reshaping where consumers in the region put their trust.

This is the first of four blog posts on the issue, to explore the findings country-by-country. but here’s the big picture headlines from the research, which surveyed 4,475 people across the region.

The first three posts will be a glimpse into the results, country-by-country, for Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, followed by Saudi and the United Arab Emirates in the second post later on in the week. The Levant and Egypt will follow next week. I’ll share big picture thoughts next week, in partnership with Gulf News.

Bahrain

Bahrain Map

152 people were surveyed in Bahrain, a third of whom were nationals and two-thirds expat.

Family, Friends and Third Parties

Bahrain’s population think highly of their friends and family. They scored the second highest in the Gulf for trust in face-to-face conversations with friends and family about products and services, at 88%. That trust doesn’t carry online, to social media; only 42% of respondents trust social media posts from friends and family about products and services. In contrast, 20% find such posts untrustworthy.

When it comes to third party endorsements, 69% of respondents agreed that they had more trust in what a third party says about a good or a service than what a brand says about its own goods and services. Only 8% disagreed.

Trust in Social Media

When it comes to social media posts by influencers, and people with lots of followers on products and services, there’s less trust and more distrust. Only 28% trust such posts, opposed to the 34% who show mistrust.

While social media has become more of an important source of information to Bahrain’s residents than it was five years ago (55% agreed with this statement, opposed to 14% who disagreed), just under half (47%) have low trust in what they see online (interestingly, the percentage of those who don’t is also 14%).

When it comes to the most popular social media channels for information on goods and services, Facebook topped the list (31%), followed by Instagram (27%), and WhatsApp came third (11%). A note on the research here – Twitter doesn’t appear in the responses, presumably as it wasn’t included in the survey options.

Trust in Media & Advertising 

Trust in media and advertising in Bahrain is mixed. At the top was a surprising choice – brand websites; 40% of respondents trust what they see on a brand’s own website. Newspapers and magazines were second, at 38%, website articles at 36%, and TV and radio reporting both at 34% respectively.

Bringing up the rear were billboards at 31%, television ads at 29%, radio advertising at 24%, blogs at 22%, and online advertising at 20%. Trust has fallen in advertising over the past five years, with 68% saying they trust advertising less now than they did five years ago. While you may think this is good news for trust in media, you’d be wrong. Almost three-quarters of respondents (74%), agreed with the statement that so-called ‘fake news’ has lowered their trust in mainstream news media. Only 7% disagreed.

Kuwait

kuwait map

251 people were surveyed in Kuwait, just under a fifth of whom were nationals and over four-fifths expat.

Family, Friends and Third Parties

Kuwaiti residents are a little less trusting of their friends and family than their Bahraini counterparts; 85% said they found service and product recommendations in face-to-face conversations with friends and family as trustworthy. However, they’re more trusting than others online; 53% trust social media posts from friends and family about products and services. In contrast, 15% find such posts untrustworthy.

Third party endorsements are less trusted among Kuwait-based respondents; 63% said they had more trust in what a third party says about a good or a service than what a brand says about its own goods and services. Only 6% disagreed.

Trust in Social Media

Considering the number of social media influencers based in Kuwait, the response to the question of influencer trustworthiness was fascinating. Only a quarter of respondents found influencer posts on products and services trustworthy, compared to 31% who didn’t.

Social media has become an essential source of information on goods and services to people in Kuwait, according to the survey, with two-thirds agreeing that social media had become more important compared to five years back. However, trust online is an issue, with 48% having low trust in what they see online (this is opposed to 16% who don’t).

The most popular social media channels for information on goods and services are Facebook, which dominates at 56%, followed by Instagram (17%) and WhatsApp (9%).

Trust in Media & Advertising

Kuwait’s respondents view media in a similar fashion to their Bahraini brethren in terms of their most trusted choice, which was a brand’s own website (47%). The next most trusted medium was website articles (34%), and radio stories (32%). Newspapers and television fare worse, at 28% and 30% respectively, which is surprising considering Kuwait’s wide selection of newspapers and television (Kuwait has the most open media in the Gulf). Blogs were the least trusted, at 28%. Seven out of ten respondents (71%) said that fake news has dented their trust in mainstream media reporting.

Radio and online advertising are the least trusted, both with a 23% approval rating. Television advertising fares slightly better, at 28%. The most trusted advertising medium was that of outdoor, with billboards scoring a 33% approval rating. Two-thirds of respondents trust advertising less today than they did five years ago, with ten percent disagreeing. Similar to Bahrain, just under three-quarters of respondents (71%), agreed with the statement that so-called ‘fake news’ has lowered their trust in mainstream news media (5% disagreed).

Oman

omanmap

The map of Oman excluding Musandam

151 people were surveyed in Oman, over 57% of whom were Omani nationals and 43% were expats.

Family, Friends and Third Parties

The Oman-based respondents were the least trusting of face-to-face recommendations for products and services from friends and family; 83% said they’d trust such a recommendation. That dropped to 43% for recommendations from family and friends on social media; in contrast, 23% of Omani respondents don’t trust product and service recommendations on social media from friends and family.

Third party endorsements are trusted by three-fifths of the respondents in Oman, with 12% distrusting what a third party says about a good or a service compared to what a brand says about its own goods and services.

Trust in Social Media

When it comes to influencers and social media, there’s little to tell when it comes to trust and mistrust – 33% trust posts by influencers or people with large followings recommending products and services, but 34% say the opposite.

Roughly half of respondents (52%) say that social media is a more important source of information about products and services than five years back. Half of the respondents (48%) have low trust in terms of what they see online (14% don’t).

Facebook is the most popular social media network, but only by a slim margin. A quarter of respondents said it was the most useful for information on products and services, compared to Instagram (19%), and WhatsApp (15%). LinkedIn came fourth, with 12%.

Trust in Media & Advertising

Trust in media among the Omani respondents is much higher when compared to the results from Bahrain and Kuwait. Radio is trusted the most (45%), followed by newspapers and television (both at 42%). Unlike Bahrain and Kuwait where they were the most trusted, brand websites are the fourth most-trusted, at 39%. Website articles are trusted by a third, with blogs coming in last at 29%. Sixty-three percent of respondents agreed with the statement that so-called ‘fake news’ has lowered their trust in mainstream news media, opposed to 13% who feel to the contrary.

When it comes to advertising, billboards and television are the most trusted, with 32% ratings respectively. Radio follows in third place, at 29%, with online advertising as a source of information abut products and services only trusted by 19%. Approximately 58% of respondents trust advertising today less than they did five years ago, compared to 11% who don’t. Fake news is little less of an issue in Oman, where 63% agreed with the statement that so-called ‘fake news’ has lowered their trust in mainstream news media. In contrast, 13% disagreed with the statement.

Qatar

map-qatar

150 people were surveyed in Qatar, 5% of whom were Qatari nationals and 95% were expats.

Family, Friends and Third Parties

The Qatar-based respondents were the most trusting of face-to-face recommendations for products and services from friends and family; 93% said they’d trust such a recommendation. That dropped to 57% for recommendations from family and friends on social media. Only 15% of Qatari respondents would not trust product and service recommendations on social media from friends and family.

Third party endorsements are trusted by two-thirds of the respondents in Qatar. However, 11% distrust whatever a third party says about a good or a service compared to what a brand says about its own goods and services.

Trust in Social Media

Qatar residents are similarly torn when it comes to trusting product and service recommendations from social media influencers or people with large numbers of followers. Roughly 30% do trust such recommendations, whereas 27% don’t.

However, what’s not up for debate is the importance of social media as a source of information on products and services today compared to five years back – 57% said it was, compared to 13% who said it isn’t. When it comes to trust in social media, almost half (47%) have low trust in what they see online, compared to 13% who don’t.

When it comes to which social media network is the most popular for finding information on products and services, Facebook is the leader by far with 60% of the vote. Surprisingly, LinkedIn is second with 10%. One in ten say that they don’t find any social media network useful for finding information.

Trust in Media & Advertising

The media trend in Qatar follows that of Bahrain and Kuwait; brand websites are the most trusted for information on products and services, at 44%. What does buck the trend is the second most-trusted source, which is website articles at 35%. Considering Qatar’s extensive media sector, trust in other media doesn’t show much difference to the other countries above: newspapers are trusted by 33%; radio by 31%, and television by 28%. Blogs are the least trusted, at 20%. Roughly 68% agree with the statement that so-called ‘fake news’ has lowered trust in mainstream news media, with 9% disagreeing.

Advertising fares worse, with the most popular medium, namely billboards, only scoring a 31% trust rating. Television follows at 29%, radio at 23%, and online at only 20%. Approximately two-thirds or 67% of respondents trust advertising today less than they did five years ago, compared to 10% who disagree. When it comes to fake news, 68% agreed with the statement that so-called ‘fake news’ has lowered their trust in mainstream news media, and 9% disagreed.

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

Me, my wife and our baby – a personal story of how the Gulf is letting down its women by denying their children the right to nationality

 

The children of Gulf women married to foreigners are not automatically granted nationality, unlike their male counterparts (image source http://www.flight965.com)

 
I promised I’d write on my experiences as a father and I’m having to start things off on a serious note. As some of you may know, my wife is from this region but I am not. We welcomed into our lives a little princess earlier this year.

The sad story is that in the Gulf region children born to Gulf women, in other words women with a nationality from the six GCC states, who are married to foreign men do not receive their mother’s nationality. This is in contrast to Gulf men who are married to foreign women. Their children do receive their father’s nationality.

It’s important to us that our little one cherishes both her cultures and that she’s recognized as both. She’s fortunate to have a European nationality through me, but, try as we might with visits to interior ministry offices and other government bodies, we realized that there is no formal process for our daughter to become a Gulf national like her mother. This is the same all over the Gulf, despite sporadic exemptions to the contrary.

I’ve heard countless reasons for this, such as the need for Gulf women to marry Gulf men, and the legal requirement that a Gulf national should have only one passport. To me, any discussion is bogus. If I was a Gulf male and my wife was a European foreigner our daughter would have qualified automatically for both nationalities.

I hear lots of news about progress being made it terms of women’s rights in the Gulf, which I applaud. However, until Gulf women are able to give their children everything that their male counterparts can, I cannot contend that women here are anywhere near to being equal to the men.

I hope for change, if not for my wife’s generation, then at least for my daughters. I hope you will join me in calling for a change to how Gulf women and their children are treated in the Gulf.

Turkey, Twitter and how a ban couldn’t/wouldn’t happen in the Gulf

While Turkey is busy trying to gobble up Twitter, there’s little chance of anyone in the Gulf banning social media any time soon (image source: http://www.globalpost.com)

Last week, we in the Arab world were treated to a spectacle that we’re all too often participants in. Instead, we looked on as the government of a neighboring country pulled the plug on a social media service and denied its citizens and residents the right to use Twitter. The story behind the move by Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to block access to Twitter is fascinating, a page-turner about corruption, dissent and how one man is trying to dominate political will in his own country (have a read of the background here, in a wonderful piece written by the New Yorker’s Jenna Krajeski).

A question/tweet by the Wall Street Journal’s Ellen Knickmeyer about the situation in Turkey from a Middle Eastern perspective got me thinking about the subject. Here’s my take on the Gulf states country-by-country.

Saudi Arabia

Let’s start with the largest country in the region, Saudi Arabia. There are millions online and active on social media in the Kingdom (both Twitter and Facebook have fifteen million Saudi users between them – Facebook has approximately eight million users and Twitter just under seven million ). For many, social media is a release, a forum for open debate where anything and everything can be discussed.

The whole spectrum of Saudi society is online and using social media – some of the most popular and prolific tweeters are religious scholars. while there is criticism of policy online, would the government be willing to risk a public backlash any social media channels were to be closed? Rather, Saudi’s social media policy can be summed up in one sentence – do what you want online but we are watching you. Saudi’s online laws, which have recently been rehauled, allow for citizens to be detained for their online activities (a recent piece by Abeer Allam for Al-Monitor covers recent developments in the Kingdom).

Bahrain

The second Kingdom on the list, Bahrain has suffered more than most over the past three years. Bahrain’s social media has become almost as polarized as the situation in the country, between those who support the government and those who support the opposition. However, despite the war of words online Bahrain has never threatened to pull the plug on social media (there was a communications blackout during the early days of the political crisis in Bahrain).

Instead, the island state has tightened up its online legislation and has cracked down on bloggers and other activists who use social media (Global Voices’ editor Amira AlHussaini wrote a piece about the arrest of blogger Mohammed Hassan in July 2013).

The Kingdom uses social media to communicate both locally and globally on issues such as security, foreign policy and terrorism. Would Bahrain seek to indirectly legitimize the opposition’s claims that the government is cracking down on media through pulling the plug on social media? Not likely.

The United Arab Emirates

The second largest country in the GCC by population, the United Arab Emirates has taken to social media like a duck to water; the country’s leadership are online, the country’s businesses are online and the country’s population are also online tweeting, updating their statuses and uploading pictures of every single meal and building around them mainly on their smartphones. The UAE’s population communicates about literally everything, except to criticize.

There’s so few people in the UAE who aren’t supporting the country’s leadership that the thought of any social media being pulled seem ludicrous. For those that do dissent the UAE introduced in 2012 more stringent online laws which include jail time for those that defame the country. These laws have been put into effect.

Kuwait

Maybe surprisingly for those who don’t know the region, Kuwait has the freest media industry in the region, with columnists regularly criticizing government policy. Kuwait’s parliamentary system and the level of public discourse in the country means that few subjects are off-limits. Kuwait’s social media scene is also buzzing – Twitter reckons that over half of the country’s population, 1.5 million out of 2.7 million, are active users.

Even in Kuwait however, there have been cases of people being jailed for their tweets, either for insulting the Emir or for blasphemy. Still, it’s hard to see how or why any social media channels would be banned in a country that is known to enjoy a ‘debate’ every now and then.

Oman

On the periphery of the Gulf, Oman was affected by the Arab Spring. The country’s ruler Sultan Qaboos introduced sweeping reforms to appease Omanis calling for a better standard of living. The country has contended with online activists and the authorities have warned people not to spread libel and rumours that prejudice national security. Would Oman seek to shut down social media? Again, it’s unlikely.

Qatar

Last but certainly not least, Qatar has championed its own brand of journalism aka Al Jazeera for over a decade now. The country with its vast gas reserves has not had to contend with any political discussions about its governance and future. Qatar has jailed one person, a Qatari national, for publishing a poem on Twitter.

In addition, the country’s government is seeking to introduce a revised cybercrime law which would increase and expand the capacity under which a person communicating online could be jailed for (for a detailed news piece read this article by Matt Duffy on Al Monitor here). However, there’s little chance of anyone in government shutting down any social media channels in the country.

In short, social media has changed the Gulf just as it’s changed the world. The region’s citizens and residents have much more freedom to talk about issues online. The Gulf’s governments and their business interests have also become adept at using social media to promote their own messaging and market themselves. The region’s citizens are aware that even online they’re being monitored (this BBC article describes this notion of being watched) and most of them will tread carefully about what they say and how they say it. For others, they’ll go online anonymously and tweet to their heart’s content.

For governments, social media has become a release value on societal pressures and the message to nationals is clear – talk about whatever you want but don’t criticize. Examples have been made of those who do. But, while the governments have the ability to cut off social media and even throttle or close access to the internet, thankfully the Gulf isn’t Turkey. No one here is going to ban Twitter or any other social media channel any time soon.

The Middle East and its addiction to Facebook – 2013 stats and figures

Yes, we Arabs have adopted Facebook as our own (image source: muslimscrisisgroup.wordpress.com)

Most of us in the region already know how effective and powerful Facebook is. The social media site played a prominent role in the Arab Spring, particularly in Egypt, and its popularity has endured in the face of challenges from other services such as Twitter and YouTube (I’m not even going to mention Google+ in the same sentence).

Facebook released some figures this week about the site’s usage in the Middle East. According to Facebook’s head of MENA Jonathan Labin over twenty eight million people in the Middle East and North Africa are using Facebook every day. Fifty six million use the site every month and of those thirty three use a phone or tablet device to check their profile. Fifteen million people access the site on a daily basis from their mobiles.

I’m going to give you a little more insight into a couple of different regions: Saudi Arabia; Egypt; the GCC; North Africa, and the Levant. The below figures, which were compiled last month, give a good deal of insight into gender split, age, marriage status, number of friends and page likes, access methods, and interface usage. If you’re a marketer in this region and you’re not using or leveraging Facebook (especially on mobile) then start rethinking your advertising and communications approach.

Social media and diplomacy – @IsraelintheGCC, Israel’s virtual embassy in the Gulf

The launch of the @IsraelintheGCC twitter account is a cheap but potentially effective media channel for the Israeli government

The launch of the @IsraelintheGCC twitter account is a cheap but potentially effective media channel for the Israeli government

No matter your political persuasion, you have to admit that the Israelis are an ingenious bunch. Their latest idea is a simple concept, a virtual embassy for a part of the world where there’s little/no Israeli State presence, the Gulf. Israel, which doesn’t enjoy official diplomatic relations with any of the Gulf states, has launched a ‘virtual embassy in the Gulf’ through Twitter. The account, which is named @IsraelintheGCC, aims to “open lines of dialogue” with people living in the Gulf according to a report by the UAE-based English-language daily Gulf News. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, the person behind the idea is Yoram Morad, Director of the Department of Digital Diplomacy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel.

Not unsurprisingly, Israel has always faced challenges when trying to communicate its point of view to its Arab neighbours. However, that hasn’t stopped the State from engaging various mediums to argue for its policies. Israel launched an Arabic-language television channel in 1994 following the announcement of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The establishment of the @IsraelintheGCC twitter account follows news of a potential re-engagement between the Israelis and Palestinians as well as mounting pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear enrichment programme.

It could be argued that Israel has been much more active than the Arab states in terms of communicating its key messages – there were plans to launch a Hebrew-language channel in Egypt as of last year according to the Christian Science Monitor, but I haven’t heard much in the way of an actual launch.

The messaging employed by @IsraelintheGCC, which is being run by the Twitter account of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, would appear to be aimed at propagating a more diplomatic tone than that of Israel’s internal politics. The account, which has tweeted 21 times to date, has only quoted the country’s Prime Minister twice (its fair to say that Bibi Netanyahu wouldn’t win many popularity contests in the Gulf), but it has talked about social media in the Arab world, sustainability issues, and wished followers a Ramadan Kareem. The one time Netanyahu has been quoted was in relation to European sanctions on the Lebanese organization Hizbollah which isn’t well liked in the Gulf due to its pro-Iranian stance. There are tweets in Arabic too. Have a look at some of the posts below.

Over the past couple of years social media has allowed companies, politicians and celebrities to directly bypass the media and reach out directly to anyone that wants to listen. Now the same can be said of social media for States who, for diplomatic reasons, cannot establish a physical presence. I’ll be following the account, and am looking forward to seeing how long this project lasts, how much dialogue it generates and how successful it becomes for the Israeli government.