The importance of the mobile web for Gulf-based businesses

Remember the good old days, when mobiles were there only for making or receiving calls? Forget them, and start thinking mobile web sites and more business (image source:

It’s official! The UAE is again a world leader, but this time in smartphone penetration. Seventy four percent of UAE residents carry a big, bad smartphone in their hands (some of us have two of them on the go at a time). Saudi Arabia is third, with seventy three percent of people carrying mobile devices according to research conducted by Google for its ‘Our Global Planet’ project.

The good people at UAE-based PR agency Spot On PR have summarized the findings for the UAE and you can do the same by going to Google’s website and customizing your query. What’s most striking is local behaviours. Have a look below.

Have a look at the frequency of local searches and look at the growth from 2012 to 2013

Have a look at the frequency of local searches and look at the growth from 2012 to 2013

Actions taken after Local Search in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and 2013 across all age ranges and gender types

Actions taken after Local Search in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and 2013 across all age ranges and gender types

What is strikingly obvious from both of the graphs above is that local search is now essential to local businesses. And yet, we’re still pretty awful when it comes to developing websites for mobile browsers.

So how do you change this? The first piece of news is pretty obvious. Go and get a website (it’s amazing how many businesses still don’t have sites in this part of the world). Secondly, if you’re not sure about how mobile-friendly your website is then test it using a tool such as W3C’s Mobile Ok Checker. These will be able to tell you what you’re doing right and what you’re getting wrong when it comes to rendering or displaying your site on a mobile browser.

If you’re stuck on how to develop a website that renders well on mobile browsers why don’t you consider using a content management system such as WordPress. WordPress has website styles that automatically adapt or respond to different browser types. WordPress is free and you don’t need to even pay hosting fees if you use WordPress’ own servers.

Even if you have a mobile-friendly website remember to use back-end analytics programmes from Google or other providers to better understand what your customers are doing on your website and what you can do to improve their experience. If you’re looking for more advice on what you should be doing to generate business from mobile have a look at this crib sheet for mobile e-marketing by local developer Saad Bhatti or get in touch with the good people at Spot On. But the general message is, do more on mobile!

Why do Middle East executives not blog and five reasons for starting a corporate blog today

Is this question even relevant any more? Middle East execs, what are you waiting for? (image source:

There’s no doubt about it, blogging is huge. But don’t take my word for it, let’s look at the numbers. On blogging platform WordPress there are almost seventy million blogs, which are read by 360 million people each month. There’s even more blogs on the Tumblr (over 100 million as of April 2013) and Livejournal platforms (approximately 62 million blog sites as of April 2013). While blogging may not hug the headlines as much as social media, the online writing format continues to grow. By the end of 2011, NM Incite, a Nielsen/McKinsey company, was tracking over 181 million blogs worldwide, compared to only 36 million in 2006.

Similarly, blogging has become one of the most popular tools among corporations in a number of geographies. Research by the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts has pointed to growth across both the Fortune 500 and the Inc. 500 in 2012. Forty-four percent of Inc. 500 companies, the fastest publicly-firms in America, were blogging, while twenty-eight percent of America’s largest publicly-listed firms had a corporate blog. The most interesting statistic was that sixty-three percent of CEOs of companies who did blog contributed personally to content.

These statistics from the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth underline how popular blogging is with corporations in the US (image source:

It’s fair to say that the Middle East corporate world, and the Gulf in particular, doesn’t share this same level of enthusiasm for blogging. Few publicly-listed companies have a blog – we’re literally talking a handful – and even those blogs that are online are rarely updated.

While it’s hard to speculate on the reasons why so few CEOs blog here, the one assumption that I’d make is either they don’t feel a need to communicate with their stakeholders or they don’t want to reveal information through a medium such as a blog (this subject does need more research, but the lack of blogging here maybe reflects a wider lack of understanding of digital communications).

For a pastime that was once considered on the fringe of journalism, blogging is a pivotal online media channel for breaking news, sharing content and developing an audience. Blogs are often quoted in the media and it allows a corporation to control the message and yet promote a healthy dialogue with its internal and external stakeholders.

There are many reasons for starting a corporate blog, but we’re going to focus on the five basics which should underline to your chief executive officer the value in having a blog for your company and including blogging as part of our communications strategy.

1) It’s all about transparency

We all want and sometimes need more information, and yet corporations often keep too much of a lid on what external stakeholders see and know. A blog allows you to let others look inside the company and give them a better understanding of any and every issue you care to tackle, from sustainability to product development and customer relations.

The benefit of transparency is increased trust. Your (potential) customer base should better understand why you do what you do. Customers and investors will feel much better informed and they may be more willing to buy your product and invest in your company.

However, don’t take transparency to mean republishing your press releases in a different format. Some of the most successful corporate blogs are those that take a nuanced approach, that tackle the good and the bad. The less biased you are, the more likely you are to be trusted when publishing a blog.

2) Bringing some humanity to the Corporation

Corporations are often seen as soul-less, grey worlds. And the same can often be said for a corporation’s communications approach; the bland press releases, the staid web-site which rarely seems to be updated. As people we all thrive on interaction and dialogue and that’s why blogs are so successful. They’re your corporation’s personal voice, a voice that need not use corporate-speak and jargon but instead adopt a tone that is more informal and conversational.

Your blog will need a face. It could be the CEO or another senior person. But a blog doesn’t need to be written by an executive. Some of the most insightful blogs are written by product managers, researchers and others who are passionate enough to make what they are saying interesting.

The beauty of blogging is that you don’t need to stay on message all the time. You can write about diverse topics which don’t need to be about the company. Customers will see through marketing pitches so step away from the self-promotion. Instead, offer human insights into recent events, industry news and other related information. Let your customers know more about you than just your product line-up and they’ll begin to become more loyal to your brand.

3) Starting a dialogue

Unlike many other forms of communication, blogs are there to receive feedback as well as to be a voice for the company. When you engage readers and respond to dialogue – both positive and negative – you’ll be doing much more than just promoting your company.

Blogs are a great way to test the water, to understand your customers’ perception on certain issues. And even if the comments are negative, at least you’ll know what your customers are thinking and be able to respond and bring them back on board. Get talking on a blog and even those stakeholders who may not agree with your company’s strategy will appreciate your efforts to talk with and about these issues in a forum that allows for and encourages debate.

4) Drive that web traffic!

Want a business reason for blogging that your sales team can measure? How about the web traffic that a blog will drive to your site. Many web engines such as Google rank sites based on content, on relevance and popularity. A blog that is updated regularly, that has content that is popular and that links to other sites you’ll find your own corporate site being ranked much higher by search engines such as Google. Once your own blogging site has become established you’ll find others linking to you, which will further propel your blog to the top of the search rankings and towards the nirvana of a first page listing.

5) Measure your blogging success

The beauty of communicating on your own site is that you can analyze your visitor statistics, to understand where your visitors are coming from, what they’re doing on your blog, what they’re using to read your blog (are they viewing your blog on a PC, a tablet or a mobile?) and how they’re reaching your site. The beauty of web analytics is that the more you have, the better you can make your blog and improve your visitor numbers. From there you can start defining your blog’s goals and measure your goal conversion, review how you’re promoting your blog and understand which topics and keywords are the most successful in driving traffic to your site.

Unlike traditional public relations metrics, online measurement tools are instant and can give you a full picture of what you’re doing right and how you can improve your blogging outreach. Blogging technologies are evolving but don’t feel daunted by the technological challenge. Blogging can be simple enough to begin with, and most blogging platforms have their own in-built analytics to help you out.

Freshly Pressed and why it’s good for you and your WordPress blog!

I was Freshly Pressed last week by the good people at WordPress and all I can say is WOW, what an experience! Not just content in offering one of the best blogging tools and content management systems around, WordPress has a wonderful feature called Freshly Pressed.

Basically Freshly Pressed is a means by which WordPress promotes a handful of blogging sites on a daily basis through their home site (have a look here at!/fresh/). Freshly Pressed aims to bring to a wider audience some of the great content being produced and published in the blogosphere.

The team at WordPress have a great write-up as to why you should care about being Freshly Pressed and how to be noticed by their editorial team – you can access their tips and hints here at So You Want To Be Freshly Pressed.

To date there’s 425,657 bloggers on WordPress and 891,995 new posts being published daily, so there’s a lot of content to be read and reviewed by the editorial team at WordPress.

However, if you are one of the lucky ones to be featured on Freshly Pressed you are going to find yourself being viewed by a whole new audience of bloggers who will engage, read and follow you. It brings a whole new meaning to the concept of content distribution and is an example of the importance of promoting your content. No matter how good you are, if your words are comparable in quality, wit and style to Shakespeare, Chaucer, or Sophie Kinsella, you’re only good if you are read. Get out there, be read, and gain an audience!

My experience with Freshly Pressed was just remarkable. A hundred fellow bloggers liked the post, I had fifty insightful comments, and then there was the traffic. Put simply, it’s the blogging equivalent of Christmas Day.

Thank you once again you lovely people at WordPress, and all of you bloggers who engaged with me. You really do make all of the time, effort, energy and research that I put into blogging worthwhile.

A screen shot capture of my blog on Freshly Pressed. Once you’ve gone Freshly Pressed blogging will never be the same!

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 At the moment is limited to analyzing people’s Twitter feeds only. However, 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 and peoplebrowsr, especially in the Middle East.

Screenshot from social media analytics site 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 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, 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.