When I arrived in the Middle East AdLand almost three years ago, the Olympics were just about to kick off in London and social media was a critical component of that process from the outset. In MENA, however, social media briefs were a separate, last-minute add-on to overall marketing plans. But that has fortunately changed.
Social Media Strategies and Businesses
What is a social media strategy? It’s a combination of a company’s marketing strategy (where it is a medium), sales strategy (social media is tied to a business’ financial goals), and friend contact strategy (it’s personal, not just business or marketing). There is ample evidence to suggest that social media is integrated in marketing tactics, where not so long ago it was just an afterthought. We are seeing significant budget allocated to it, be it paid support, management of owned presence, or analysis of earned data.
While just a few years ago, many companies were ‘doing’ social, now they are ‘being’ social. Social business means that a business can be social without having a Facebook page. Boardrooms are asking questions like “What social technologies are in place within our organization?” or “What is their purpose and how integrated are they?”
The “rise” of social refers not only to volume but quality. The user base speaks for itself – most social platforms have doubled their usage numbers in MENA over the past three years. The market exists but what about the distribution? Are we still lacking practitioners within organizations? Mindshare, for example, didn’t have a social media department in 2012. Now, there are 20 specialists across the region. We are not alone. More social talent naturally results in better social media strategies.
The Evolution of Social Media Marketing in MENA
There are many signs that highlight the evolution of social media marketing in this region, beginning with the use of social data by the government. The public sector uses social media to disseminate information, and content, to citizens. Ministries employ consultants to analyze this data for future use. Campaigns are becoming increasingly user-focused – the #MyDubai story’s success stemmed from its manifestation through people. Thinking local isn’t the only important thing – local technology like Brndstr and Snappcard are savvy regional startups. The most successful strategies are global-aligned and locally adapted.
Social networks are leading the way with Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter showing strong regional representation and orchestrating events that are commonly-celebrated in the Middle East, like Ramadan, on the global radar. These accounts are often handled in the region by massive in-house teams: airlines, for example, offer 24/7 service to travelers. Having this ownership over data is a great platform from which to build social strategies. In response to the growth of social media usage and brands’ appetite to get on board, the value of social capital and the growth of the social media influencers’ economy are at an all-time high.
Brands are looking at social media beyond simple marketing and evolving towards social business, whether in the R&D, CRM, or sales force management departments. It could be argued that there is still room to improve upon the quality of strategic ‘social thinking’, but foundation in the region has been laid and there are strong signs of a fertile ground for social media marketing.
This article was published in The Arabian Marketer February print issue.
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