By Nidal Abou Zaki, managing director, Orient Planet Group
The emergence of social media platforms has taken the Arab region by a storm. In fact, according to a recent survey that looked into the Arab digital lifestyle, a whopping 83 percent of respondents use the internet daily while 61 percent spend at least two hours a day on their social networking accounts.
Like in any other part of the world, where 10 percent of logged Internet hours are spent on various social media platforms, most people in the Arab world today go online to connect with friends, catch up with the latest news, and keep up with the newest buzz. Social media is also neck-and-neck with conventional media outlets in terms of being the primary source of news for millions of Internet Arab users.
As more and more people converge on social media platforms, it is not surprising that these digital channels, with their great influence and wider reach, play a prominent role in any public relations (PR) and marketing campaign. They are not only cost-efficient but also highly effective.
Worldwide, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, alongside blogs, are considered the fourth most popular online activities. A Technorati report, for instance, showed that an average 900,000 blog posts are being created within a single 24-hour period. Facebook and WhatsApp are two of the most widely used apps by the Arab population.
Under the new modern set-up, social networks as a communication channel have become among the most valuable venues to send out and convey messages to a larger audience in the easiest and fastest manner. It is an excellent investment for smart communications professionals to maximize the power of these platforms and use them to their full advantage.
How does the regional PR industry make use of these channels? Similar to other regions, the Arab PR world engages the target market in a two-way communication via these channels. Enriching customer experience in the process, brands join in the conversation and establish positive relations with both existing and potential clients.
Social networks have become ideal portals for product updates and the latest company announcements to increase brand visibility, reach out to all segments, directly address customer issues and inquiries, and get customer feedback on products and services to measure their experience and satisfaction.
Sustaining open communication leads to a faster resolution of issues. It helps brands avoid what could be a potential PR nightmare. And when things go wrong, social media can be part of a crisis management plan by providing minute-by-minute updates on a specified issue anywhere, anytime. Additionally, monitoring social media trends is the key to nip issues that can have a damaging impact on a brand’s reputation in the bud.
Simply put, it pays to be paying attention to and getting genuinely involved in social media chatters and conversations. This is especially important given that, as per an industry report, 51 percent of Arab users spread the word about their good and bad experiences with companies or brands online, particularly through their social networking accounts.
As in any PR campaign – whether using traditional or digital media – measuring success or return on investments (ROI) is fundamental. Such an exercise will help the team know if their campaign is meeting the set objectives and targets, generating positive outcomes, and determining if necessary adjustments have to be made on the current plans and processes to guarantee optimized resources.
For some of us from the industry, determining ROI used to be a tedious undertaking. Today, with the advent and popularity of social media, we are now able to monitor the results more efficiently and with less of a headache. Modern tools are available to us to accurately and clearly identify the outcomes for each set metric.
In an era best described as an age of rapid digital and technological innovations, the region is all geared up and more than ready to take on these changes than anywhere else in the world. For one, the region enjoys young demographics that can easily adapt to new technologies and modern tools. Another is that the Arab World has witnessed extremely rapid ICT advancements in recent years, enabling it to close the digital gap with other progressive regions. The latter can be attributed to rising investments in telecommunications infrastructure as well as implementing significant digital readiness initiatives.
Institutions throughout the Arab region have adopted social media as a result of this digital explosion, with the belief that these channels can make a strong impact on their growth. More often than not, their target market and potential clients have an active social media presence, and here lie considerable opportunities for many PR agencies.
Social media continues to have a strong influence on the entire PR industry. The platforms will consistently affect the PR community as they evolve. In response, PR practitioners should also progress and advance alongside these changes.