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

When it comes to social media, advertising and the Middle East, why don’t we have any ethics?

The region loves social media, but its influencers and advertisers are less keen to say when a post is paid for (image source: www.business2community.com)

The region loves social media, but its influencers and advertisers are less keen to say when a post is paid for (image source: http://www.business2community.com)

Who needs ethics right? Ethics are boring, they’re dry, and they mean we have to use disclaimers. Ethics really aren’t fun. But you know what, without them we’d be in a fair amount of trouble. With the Arab Social Media Influencers Summit happening this week in Dubai, and a fair few social media influencers being in town (including quite a few from Kuwait who don’t make it clear that they accept money for posting on their social media channels), I want to reprint this post which I shared with the Media Network Middle East last month. I’d love to hear your views on ethics, or the lack thereof, when it comes to social media and advertising in our region.

While European and American consumers are benefiting from crystal clear regulations on sponsored social media content, there’s little to no clarity here on the same.

We’re awash with social media in our region. Everywhere you go, you’ll see people sliding their fingers left and right, pushing up and pulling down on their smartphone screens. We’re all at it, checking our Instagram accounts, refreshing our Twitter feeds, and posting Facebook updates.

Today we have social media celebrities, people who have become famous through their online activities. There are Instagrammers in Kuwait with over a million followers, Facebookers in the UAE with hundreds of thousands of likes, and Saudi Tweeters with followings equal to the population of Bahrain.

Alongside these social media celebrities we have witnessed the rise of paid posts. Those of you with a keen eye will have noticed how many celebrities online have become more commercial, and have begun to share updates, images and videos promoting brands.

There’s nothing wrong with promotional advertising. Using paid influencer marketing is a common tactic to spread awareness, promote a brand, and to engage social media users across the globe. Online advertising can be more cost effective in terms of measurement and reach.

However, there’s no distinction between an advert and paid-for content. Both involve a payment of some kind by a company for a promotion of its brand or services. Regulators across Europe and the United States have essentially ruled that if money is changing hands, obvious disclosure must occur in-ad. Their reasoning is simple; consumers have a right to know what is an advert and what is not an advert.

While European and American consumers are benefiting from crystal clear regulations on sponsored social media content, there’s little to no clarity here on the same. Consumers here have no authority to turn to or no regulations to guide them on what is and what isn’t sponsored.

There seems to be little eagerness for brands or social media celebrities to advertise what is paid-for content either. This is understandable, as their followers may be less inclined to engage with a post if they know it is sponsored, or even follow a person who they know accepts money for posts.

While this lack of disclosure may appeal in the short term and help to maximise revenues (paid-for posts in Kuwait can fetch up to three thousand dollars per posting), it does nothing to building goodwill and trust with consumers across the region. A lack of honesty and transparency on what social media celebrities are paid to post will negatively affect trust in both the sponsoring brand as well as the celebrity who is accepting the payment in return for sharing the content.

In the US the burden is on brands to ensure that their endorsers, such as bloggers and online influencers) are in compliance in terms of disclosure. Paid-for posts have to include language such as #Ad, Ad: or Sponsored. Even brand posts and shares by a company’s employees have to be clearly labeled to account for the bias.

Either brands can take action and begin to self-regulate, or they can wait for regulators to finally step in and possibly take a harder-line approach to sponsored influencer endorsements. Is risking a reputation and trust, built up over years of marketing, worth risking over a lack of disclosure? I hope the answer is no.

Educating the Gulf on our humanity through social video – examples from Bahrain, Saudi and the UAE

Here in the Gulf region we’re increasingly seeing the use of online video content, particularly to tackle issues that are both social and controversial. This week there have been media stories on three examples from three different countries.

The first video has been produced by the Saudi Human Rights Commission to Saudi nationals to be kinder to their domestic workers, most of whom have to leave behind a family of their own to earn a living and support them. The video is well shot, and aims to give humanity back to domestic workers, especially those from South East Asia, through concepts such as motherhood.

The second is from Bahrain, but shot by one social media influencer called Yousef Al Madani. The clip focuses on the treatment of white-collar workers in Bahrain, most of whom come from the Asian subcontinent. Yousef looks to take the place of one of these workers at a local grocery store, where they often have to rush out to take orders from customers who sit in their cars and wait for the items to be brought to them. The clip, which has been talked about in the media, has been viewed over half a million times. This video is dubbed into English as well.

The third and final clip is from a corporate, Cola Cola to be exact. To quote the National:

An online advertising campaign by Coca-Cola showing the company handing out excess baggage tags at the airport to travellers has been viewed almost one million times on YouTube.

The clip “Coca-Cola –Taking Home Happiness” begins by showing passengers checking in at Dubai International Airport to head off to various destinations to see family. By Thursday, the video had generated more than 987,000 hits since it was uploaded a month ago. According to the website for Campaign Middle East magazine, Coco-Cola shot the video on December 22 with the cooperation of the airport.

The campaign – which is available only in the UAE and Oman – is expected to expand with additional prizes like flight vouchers, TVs and mobile phones, the company said. The video follows a similar online campaign last year which showed labour camps with Coca-Cola phone booths, into which bottle tops rather than coins could be fed to pay for international calls.

The video, which is probably the best shot out of the three (this is Coca Cola after all), is also dubbed.

What are your thoughts on the above? Are these videos effective? Would they have been more effective on television as well, or less effective? And is one more effective than the other, possibly due to its topic, its producer, its intent as well as its authenticity? Do let me know your thoughts.

The #truthbetold – How Saudi’s UTURN and @omarhuss are tackling taboos through social media

By its very nature, a taboo can be difficult to talk about. Breaking a taboo is traditionally objected to by elements of a society. What we’re seeing in Saudi is an effort to tackle taboos through social media. One of the leading digital and social media agencies is Jeddah-based UTURN, and its founders and presenter Omar Hussein have taken it on themselves to tackle sensitive subjects. Their idea is simple – create scenarios whereby they provoke Saudis to respond to the situation through actors and staged behaviours, record their reactions, and package this for distribution over the internet.

Named #truthbetold or #الحق_ينقال in Arabic, Omar Hussein and UTURN have tackled several issues to date since they began their series at the end of November. The first, in partnership with Ikea Saudi Arabia, was the issue of Saudi women working as cashiers. An actor in the queue would begin cursing the female cashier to prompt a reaction from the audience around him. The video is below and is only in Arabic. However, it is worth watching just to understand the issue and the responses of those featured.

The second, launched a month after at the end of December, is on the issue of alleged racism towards foreign workers in Saudi Arabia, and was staged in the roast chicken chain Tazaj. Again, the video is in Arabic but the body language of those in the set and who are not aware of acting can be read by any person watching.

Released at the end of January, the third episode tackles the issue of child workers in Jeddah. Done in partnership with the Fatoor Faris restaurant, people are seen responding to a Saudi actor abusing a child actor who is pretending to sell him gum.

Each video has been watched over half a million times, and, even more importantly, UTURN is using Facebook as a means for Saudis to discuss these issues. The idea is so simple and yet so powerful. Thank you UTURN and Omar Hussein for doing this. I wish others were as creative and as brave as you.

And I wish that communicators would look at Saudi, a country which is viewed as the most traditional and conservative in the region, to understand how we can better use social media to change perceptions, attitudes and behaviours. You and others in the Kingdom are leading the rest of the Gulf in terms of how we use social media for change.

The Abu Dhabi Reem Island Murder Video – the ethical and moral considerations

The past week was witness to a tragic incident in the UAE’s capital. On the first of December a women, a US national, was fatally stabbed by a suspect wearing an abaya and niqab, the traditional cloak worn by women and a full face covering. You can read the full background here at The National.

This incident is unique; the country is known for its safety for both nationals and expatriates. A major operation was launched by Abu Dhabi police to locate and capture the suspect(s). Two days following the killing, Abu Dhabi Police shared with the media and via their YouTube channel CCTV footage from the mall of the suspect entering and leaving the location. The video has been seen more than two million times in the space of 48 hours.

The next day, on the 4th of December and 48 hours after the murder, the Ministry of Interior made the announcement that everyone was waiting for. The suspect had been caught. The Ministry shared more details of events on that day, including how the suspect had placed an explosive device outside the flat of another American national.

But that wasn’t all. Abu Dhabi Police shared a video, which was an edit of the CCTV footage along with video from the raid on the house where the suspect was arrested. Do watch the video, which is posted below.

Personally, I’ve never seen such footage broadcast before a trial has begun. The video, which runs for over six minutes and has now been watched almost two million times, plays music for dramatic effect on top of the footage.

I have a number of questions and issues, which I’d like your opinion on. Firstly, was the timing right? The video sends out the message that we will catch the perpetrators of such crimes as soon as is possible, but how will this affect a family which is still grieving? Secondly, does this prejudice the defence’s case and the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty?

Most importantly, the video doesn’t answer why the crime was committed. If certain individuals hold views that are anti-foreigner, how are these views to be addressed?

For me, there’s more questions than answers about this case. I’d love to hear your feedback.

Coca Cola’s #OpenUp campaign to promote sharing and caring in the Middle East

Coca Cola has hit upon an interesting initiative for its latest digital campaign, with the aim of promoting openness between families. Released with the hashtag #OpenUp on YouTube, Coca Cola has developed two videos over the past eight days. The first, and for me the most moving, is that of Saudi chef Badr. Badr left behind the family tradition of architecture to study and become a cook, which is a rarity in Saudi society. The video and story are both well conceived and directed.

The second video features a social media star from Kuwait, named Ascia. Ascia recounts the challenges she has had to overcome in society as she has pioneered her ideas through Instagram. She thanks her husband Ahmed for the support he has shown her.

What do you think? Are the concepts powerful enough for you to share your #OpenUp story? Do you find them sincere or too scripted? Let me know your thoughts on the content and on Coca Cola’s work here. I’ll keep you posted on any additional videos that Coca Cola posts for this campaign.

Khambalah – a glimpse into Saudi’s youth through YouTube

My wife has found a new hobby, and I must admit I’m happy about what she’s now up to. It doesn’t involve Louboutins, branded Abayas, or any other habit associated with the size of financial deductions that would even make Premier League footballers nauseous. She’s finally discovered Khambalah, a show produced by Telfaz 11, the makers of La Yekthar. The producers of Khambalah, a word which doesn’t have much of a meaning (my wife translates it as bumming around), use comedy to discuss local issues – some of which are sensitive. Despite the seriousness of the subjects, the shows always hit the mark, even to watchers who may not know Saudi too well.

The trailer debuted about two years ago and the team have produced about 20 shows to date, covering issues such as employment, stereotypes, cultural misunderstandings and the rise of Twitter. The shows have been viewed over 50 million times to date, and the team at Telfaz 11 have again proved their ability to come up with another hit after the success of La Yekhtar.

If you’re a non-Arabic speaker you may find them hard to follow (I’d love it if Telfaz 11 could produce subtitled videos). But the video below, about how Saudis view and think of each other and their reputations is hilarious! Enjoy, and get watching on YouTube!

A camel drive-thru, changing tyres whilst driving and new Youtube regulations for Saudi

Not only does the Gulf have a 24/7 addiction to watching YouTube, but it seems the content out there is becoming ever more ‘interesting’ to say the least. Two new videos may tickle your fancy. The first is from Saudi, and could be construed as a Dummies Guide on how to change your car’s tyres whilst driving.

The second fun clip is slower-pace. The video, highlighted by Doha News, is more a spoof clip (even in Saudi I never saw an example of this) by a well-known Qatari comedian. If I was the burger chain I’d be paying to promote this online.

On a more serious note, Saudi Arabia’s government is planning to more closely monitor video content produced locally and meant for uploading to channels such as YouTube according to a fascinating report by the Wall Street Journal.

To quote from the piece:

The General Commission for Audiovisual Media will monitor the quality and quantity of content produced in Saudi Arabia on platforms such as YouTube via a code that will include guidelines on alcohol, tobacco, nudity and sexual acts, said Riyadh Najm, the commission’s president. It will also promote private-sector-led investment in the media industry.

“We will make them aware of what’s acceptable in Saudi Arabia and what’s not acceptable,” Mr. Najm said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “Criticism is acceptable as long as it’s professional and constructive.”

The irony of the above is that while Saudi Arabia has become one of the most important markets in the world for online video consumption via the likes of YouTube, Keek, Vine and other social media sites, Saudi content produced for mass entertainment has generally steered clear of Saudi taboos such as alcohol and sex. Will the above help or hinder the explosive growth of locally-produced content (you could even argue that censorship isn’t typically undertaken in parallel with promoting the industry to potential investors).

In the meantime, I hope you’ll continue to enjoy uncensored YouTube in Saudi. And if you still can’t get over the two-wheel tyre change, check out this video. Shisha-to-go? No problem. I just want to know why the choice of music!

Saudi Arabia and the Penguin Dance Craze

Saudis and penguins? As they say, opposites attract. And nothing attracts more than moments of random fun. The Wall Street Journal’s Ellen Knickmeyer has written a wonderful piece about how the Penguin dance has taken the country by storm. Read her piece and the watch the video. Don’t ask why and just enjoy!

#MyDubai and the issue of whether to pay the public for content

The first images from #MyDubai's initiative provided for free by Dubai residents (image source: www.facebook.com/DefinitelyDubai)

The first images from #MyDubai’s initiative provided for free by Dubai residents (image source: http://www.facebook.com/DefinitelyDubai)

To pay or not to pay? That’s the question. The city-state has launched an interesting project based on social media, dubbed as a social-media autobiography of Dubai to be written by its residents and visitors. To quote The National newspaper:

The year-long project will bring together people in the emirate through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. A call has gone out to share pictures and videos using the hashtag #MyDubai.

According to The National the project will tell the real and human stories of the city through residents’ contributions which are posted onto Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (there’s no mention of YouTube and Pinterest which is a shame).

The National followed up today with a second piece on the initiative. Tourism bosses from Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) will select the best photographs and videos from the Emirate’s residents and showcase them in exhibitions and roadshows as part of the year-long #MyDubai project. The public’s images will be used to promote Dubai throughout the year.

What isn’t mentioned is if the public are going to be paid for their images which are going to be used for advertising the Emirate. As any content producer knows, photography and videography are expensive. While those lucky few whose images get chosen – to quote The National, “more than 25,000 images and videos were uploaded to Instagram using #MyDubai just 12 hours after the campaign was launched” – will be referenced and have been so far online on DTCM’s Definitely Dubai Facebook site is it right to use images provided by the public for free (even if it is with their consent).

And on another note, who owns the copyright to the images? Are the images commissioned by DTCM for their explicit use or do the copyright owners of the images, have the ability to pull the images as and when they please if they object to how the images are portrayed?

I love the concept of #MyDubai but should the public be paid for images that are used, even if only a token amount? If it’s for corporate usage, then I think they should do.