Archive for March, 2011

It is obvious to say that social media has become a force to be reckoned with in the engine we call mass communication. What wasn’t so “obvious”, however, was exactly how powerful Facebook, Twitter and YouTube would one day become.

I started working for Facebook a year ago, and little did I know what this year would have in store. Throughout my various interviews for the first Arabic role at Facebook Dublin, I constantly reiterated the importance of allowing people an open forum to speak freely and honestly. Countries such as Egypt (where my family comes from), Tunisia, Syria, and Bahrain, to name but a few, were the specific ones I had in mind when making this previous statement. When people thought of the Middle East, they didn’t necessarily see technology and digital media in the centre of the Middle-Eastern agenda. But little did they know that these very two things would change the deep-rooted, political landscape of these very countries.

In a country such as Egypt, Facebook and Twitter initially highlighted the massive class divide, where on one side, you had Egyptians of an upper class using Facebook in English to stay up-to-date with friends, events and celebrities – whilst on the other – you had Arabic-speaking users who seemed less trusting of this new social revolution, and began to use it with caution when it came to private data and interaction. As Facebook continued to expand in Egypt, people began to voice their political and economic concerns, as it was the only open forum to discuss such taboo topics. Slowly these opinions turned into calls for action, and the rest as they say, is history.

The excitement of having the job I had at Facebook really reached its climax when the protests in the Middle East started to kick off. I spent entire days monitoring and watching the dramatic effects of this uprising on Facebook, as well as the effect of Facebook on this epic revolution.

Naturally, when the Egyptian revolution kicked off, it hit close to home for me. My family was still in Cairo at the time of the events, and I was sitting at Facebook HQ’s watching history unfold, wondering what the outcome would be. From both Facebook and Twitter I could get the latest updates, and was even able to inform my family about the scheduled communication black-outs. It sounds like a cliché, but honestly, I’m not quite sure how well informed I would have been without these social platforms.

Leaving Facebook in March, I felt that I had accomplished a lot. I walked away knowing that through the actions that we had taken at the back end of Facebook, we had truly aided the voices of the people – their qualms and concerns – and achieved true freedom.

As I move on to another exciting role, this time at Edelman UAE, I now know the importance and full effect social media can truly have, and I am excited to share this experience with others.

In our everyday life, we are constantly bombarded with subliminal and obvious messages on television, radio and through print… But isn’t it a touch more personal when we see an interesting status update or tweet? Does that not shape our opinion more, knowing that these tweets are not controlled, and have no particular agenda in mind?

I believe this revolutionary medium will continue to expand and grow, and a company that does not accommodate the use of Facebook and Twitter into its blueprint has no real relevance in the world of today. For a tool capable enough to change the scope of an entire country, can sure do miracles for any product, service or public figure.

Welcome to the first of our regular weekly round-ups of things we’ve spotted this week of interest to us and what we do here.

Happy Birthday.

Happy Birthday Twitter. The micro-blogging platform turned 5 this week. Going from 1 to 200million users in that time and a valuation in the region of $10 Billion (bubble anyone). Whilst 5 years can seem like 50years in technology terms, in the history of Twitter I can’t help thinking we’re still at the start – as Brian Solis says

“What’s far more eminent however is not everything Twitter’s attained to date, its promise and legacy lies in all that it has yet to fulfill. Not only will it continue to change how we discover and interact, Twitter will continue to shape culture, the nature of relationships, and also further democratize business and media to revolve around the EGOsystem.”

To commensurate the anniversary Twitter has released its own video – with testimonials from the likes of Richard Branson, Snoop Dogg and Piers Morgan. Surprising considering it has over 200million users, the video has only had 300,00 views so far.

Now that’s how to do it.


Us PR types have been talking for a while now about how all companies are (or can be) now media companies. Google UK has gone ahead and proved that fact in an elegant and sophisticated fashion with the launch of Think Quarterly. A beautiful piece of publishing – with well written editorial, great layout and presentation.

I recommend everyone takes a look.




National Net Ventures adds to portfolio


N2V  invested in this week – adding the Arabic restaurant rating portal to its ever expanding portfolio of Arabic web companies.

For those that don’t know N2V is an internet holding company in the UAE with a core business of creating innovative web and mobile web ventures for the region.



When East meets West

I loved this. PSFK reported on the Mumbai Skateboard – in what it called a cultural mash-up.

Tobias Megerle, a German-born artist living in Mumbai – commissioned a local wood carving shop to produce a number of these traditional carving style skateboards.

And finally – What’s been Trending this week:

Rebecca Black

I couldn’t not mention the Rebecca Black video – I know you would have all seen it by now, but still – it has to be shared. Quite possibly the “worst” song of all time (Barbie girl was a good song) and a correspondingly awful music video to accompany. It’s been an internet hit this past month, and this past week has seen the views explode. The 13 year old singer now has had over 39million views and her song is charting in the US.

With any strong meme on the internet, one piece of content is all the community needs and the community has had a field day with this song/video, with parodies/covers and remixes popping up each day.

Charlie Sheen

And finally, another great example of the community taking content and running with it, is the Songify This homage for Charlie Sheen – Winning. Using commentary from the actors recent interviews with ABC/CNN – the immortal lines “I’m not bi-polar I’m bi-winning” and “I have tigers blood bro” the outfit has put together an amusing, if not catchy, song. 15 million views already.

Edelman’s Global Vice Chairman and Chief Content Officer, Richard Sambrook, recently came over to the UAE to attend the 2011 Abu Dhabi Media Summit.

Sambrook – who worked at the BBC in the United Kingdom prior to joining Edelman – shares his views about the summit on his official Edelman blog, The World at Large.

Here’s what he had to say:

Abu Dhabi played host to a clutch of media and telecomms executives from around the world at its second annual media summit last week. It’s a sign of a rapidly developing media environment in the Middle East that James Murdoch, Tom Glocer from Thomson Reuters, Jean-Bernard Levy of Vivendi and Hollywood luminaries like director James Cameron and Jim Gianopulos, Chairman and CEO of Fox were there.

As Dan Sabbagh, one of the panel moderators and media commentator for The Guardian put it:

Emiratis with western-style disposable incomes go to the cinema three times a week, which shows the Arab appetite for storytelling in a familiar western context. Sovereign capital … is also chasing after media now, forming alliances with western groups or just forging ahead.

If the themes were familiar, they were convincingly argued and illustrated:

  • We are seeing huge growth in bandwidth and infrastructure which will allow mobile, cloud-based services to take off – including live streaming and rendering of video games in higher quality than from current consoles. Social Gaming will continue to grow strongly as a consequence. Cisco estimate by 2015 we will see 26 times the mobile data used now. Nikesh Arora of Google said we should see 15 billion connected wifi devices within 5 years.
  • As a result we are about to see an exponential rise in video on the web – with video described as key to customer retention. Jonathan Miller from NewsCorp said: “We are entering the age of video consumption”. (Btw he is behind the launch of the Murdoch iPad paper, The Daily which he said would be launched in Europe by June. Their metrics show The Daily attracts a younger audience who spend 4 times longer with it than on other News apps)
  • TV is about to change fundamentally as it too gets connected to the web, or the Cloud. This will herald the death of the schedule according to Google (which of course has been long predicted though it shows remarkable fortitude to date).
  • Nokia CEO Stephen Elop said we were moving from the battle of the devices to a war of ecosystems – hence their partnership with Microsoft in spite of their own Symbian system being successful. For Nokia the challenge was reaching the next billion people as much as refining their handsets. Content was key.
  • And on Content, Tom Glocer, Thomson Reuters, drew the contrast between news and the output of organisations like Demand Media. “Do you need an underlying event in reality to be reported – content following fact – or do you begin with a search query and create content around trends which may not reflect events in the real world?”
  • Reinventing the model for Content was discussed in a white paper on the future of publishing, from Consulting firm Booz. As senior partner Karim Sabbagh put it “The rapid social and economic development that regional economies are witnessing is creating ubiquitously connected communities with one of the strongest level of media consumption in the world.” Crucial, as ever, audience focus and deepening relationships, new revenue streams, and innovation.
  • There was a compelling demonstration of 3D for movies by James Cameron and animator Carlos Saldanha of the Ice Age films. As the Avatar director put it, “we went from silent to sound, black and white to colour, now 2D to 3D is the last step in making the movie experience closer to our natural senses.”

This leaves the Gulf as a rapidly developing market for media and telecomms, with its own dynamics and characteristics, rich in capital for investment and reaching out to the West. The question is which western companies are prepared to meet them half way.

A recent article by David George-Cosh in The National discusses upcoming upgrades from Etisalat and du which are set to make Internet connections in the UAE up to seven times faster thanks to new cables. Beyond the obvious benefits of allowing all of us here in the UAE to download faster and watch streaming videos, investments in internet connectivity are a positive development for the trends toward greater internet usage and consumption, already one of the highest in the region.

In fact, last month the Dubai School of Government’s Governance and Innovation Program released an interesting report that showcases the state of internet and Facebook penetration across the GCC. The UAE is already far ahead of the rest of the region with 75% internet penetration, and its 45% Facebook penetration (ie 45% of the population has a Facebook account), places the UAE in the top 10 countries in the world. An investment in better connectivity surely won’t hurt this trend and points to even greater possibilities for growth as uses are empowered to surf faster and consume more.

Living in a country where the sun shines pretty much 360 days of the year I’m often surprised at the waste of this super (and dependable) resource. When half the homes in Wiltshire in the UK (authors exaggeration of the truth) are laden with solar panels (trying to warm a kettle the two times a year the sun comes out to play) it seems insane that no-one really bothers out here. Of course this is a lot to do with how cheap (and readily available) the main energy source – oil – is out here. But still, when something is so plentiful and as good as free, it seems a waste.

The good news is that this is, by the looks of things, changing with Masdar signing a $615million deal last week to build a solar plant in the UAE. This should, when it’s built, go a long way to helping Abu Dhabi reach its ambitious target of achieving 7 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Anyway, this was just a nice segue into being able to mention the cool Panasonic solar powered charging table – covered on Engadget earlier today. Evidently they plan to put this into production later this year to sell, initially, in Japan. It will work with a range of devices (tablets/phones etc) which would charge – via the power of the sun – just by placing them on the table. This is cool technology and I hope a glimpse into the future for gadgets and the industry.

Being here in the Middle East we’ve been able to witness history unfold at a rapid pace over the past few months. From Tunisia to Egypt and now Libya, it seems impossible that news can move any faster than it already is. But now Al Jazeera has gone a step further and released a mesmerizing new tool that tracks tweets about Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Bahrain in real time. Apart from being fascinating to watch, it’s also an interesting tool to see topics and trends as they evolve in real time.

Check out the tool here and read more coverage on The Next Web Middle East.

John LennonIt was John Lennon who sang: You say you want a revolution/Well, you know/We all want to change the world.

There’s no doubt the world has changed in the Middle East, perhaps fundamentally. People are saying there was a time before Tunisia, and now a time after Tunisia.

In other words, the peaceful revolution that provoked Tunisia’s leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to throw in the towel and flee to Saudi Arabia has changed everything in the region. Only Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have escaped any kind of protest, which perhaps indicates that it is a question of good governance and not just a quest for democracy that counts (obviously large oil or gas wealth also helps). Whatever new form of government emerges in Egypt, Tunisia and even perhaps Libya, they will still face the fundamental dilemma that is troubling elected governments from the Americas to Asia: how to create growth and jobs. Sclerotic Europe, particularly in the south, the so-called ‘Siesta States’ such as Portugal, Greece and Spain, are finding this an almost insolvable problem.

In the Middle East, the demographics are especially bad. It is all very well having a swelling population, well educated with a median age of 25, but how are they to earn a living?

Recovering some of their leaders’ stolen assets will help, as will clamping down on corruption and liberalising the economy, although even this may not be enough as Ireland has shown. Once a Celtic Tiger, the Irish eyes are no longer smiling, saddled with enormous debts and stuck with an overvalued currency. Still at least there was a one-day victory in the cricket against the English to delight them and also us watching and laughing Australians.

But as we watch these new forces play out, there is a dilemma for public relations consultants. Should we abandon some clients on the grounds that they are allied to unpopular regimes? Some firms are adamant that everyone deserves representation, just as even a murderer should be represented by a lawyer in court.

Our position is quite clear. Our reputation is as important as our clients.

In other words, we should do everything to preserve it, and if that involves telling a potential new client that we are unable to represent them, then we shall do so. We have seen how easy it is business to tarnish an otherwise spotless reputation, and how difficult it can be to recover. Take McKinsey for example. The blue-chip consulting firm is reeling from accusations that senior
management betrayed Goldman Sachs’ secrets.

Can it recover? It will certainly need a change of leadership, direction and time.

Here at Edelman we think trust is paramount, hence our Trust Barometer, the 11th annual survey of which has just been published.

Revolutionary or not, leaders need the trust of their people or they are lost.

**UPDATE: We’ve just read this very timely & relevant article from @ben_flanagan from @thenationaluae

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