The importance of social media to the region’s public relations industry and the thirst for more knowledge among PR practitioners on the subject was reflected in the highest attended MEPRA event to date, the MEPRA Social Media Forum on Monday.
Carine Duvignaud, general manager of MEPRA said that almost without exception, everyone today in the region is a user of social media at some level and interest in the subject – especially within the communication industry – remains high: “As revealed at the Forum, there are 1.5 million active twitter users in the UAE, one million in Kuwait and a staggering 6.6 million in Saudi Arabia. Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels have become an essential tool for everyone, from regional governments to fast food companies and the general public,” she said. “Social media is becoming embedded in the communication and marketing mix for a growing number of Middle East businesses. As a consequence, the public relations industry has been quick to adapt to these communications channels and also to remain abreast of developments.”
An expert panel comprising representatives from Twitter’s MENA agency partner Connect Ads, Facebook, social media monitoring agency Social Eyez, the Qatar Foundation and Wild Peeta discussed, amongst other subjects, the difference between social media and more traditional communications and gave advice on how to adapt to the speed with which events can occur and develop and social media’s ever-growing public reach.
“Companies need to firstly understand how social media fits into an existing public relations strategy,” said Alex Malouf, Corporate Communications Manager for the Arabian Peninsula at Procter & Gamble and MEPRA’s Professional Development & Knowledge Sharing Co-chair “Social media cannot exist in a vacuum, and things can go very wrong when social media isn’t aligned with a company’s overall communications message.
While the methods of interaction may differ, social media is not a strategy by itself. Many PR agencies in the region have noted the need to educate clients on how to best fit social media into the communication mix.
“An overarching message from the forum was that the public relations industry should take a lead in terms of social media,” adds Duvignaud. “Our industry specialises in developing content and messaging that will resonate with consumers and other stakeholders in promoting dialogue that will protect and strengthen the reputation of clients. Like other forms of public relations social media isn’t however a quick win and business leaders need to realise that social media requires time, effort and patience.”
Facebook and Twitter’s MENA agency partner Connect Ads presented social media best practices and case studies and the event concluded with a group discussion with Tariq Al-Sada, corporate and public relations manager at the Qatar Foundation, Mohamed Al Awadhi, a co-founder of one of the UAE’s most successful social media brand Wild Peeta and Fadl Al Tarzi, CEO of social media monitoring agency SocialEyez.