Changing the world, one Tweet at a time

There’s been a lot made of the impact of social media on the political change that washed across the Arab nations starting last year, as disgruntled activists and equally disgruntled citizens coalesced in their opinion that their countries required deep-rooted systemic change.

[ABOVE: Jared Cohen, Director of Google Ideas, talks about social media and Arab Spring. “Technology accelerates everything,” he says.]

It also means these states are emerging as a new connected superpower — the Arab region is already the biggest consumer of YouTube video content, after the US.

The impact of social media is changing from networking resistance to helping those who live in those states become more involved in political dialogue, more involved in their nation and more tolerant toward each other’s beliefs.

Dialogue for change

The latest Arab Social Media Report explains how things are changing, telling us that not only did social media help spark a revolution, but now appears to be setting the scene for deep-rooted societal and cultural change.

People feel more open to different points of view, more empowered to express their own opinion and more connected to their community and society through use of social media, the report suggests.

This clearly indicates the potential for social networking to add to the socio-political dialogue in any country, enabling citizens to feel connected to the political dialogue of their day.

That’s the case across the socially-connected world, or is at least in those environments in which freedom of speech rights are not undermined by local governments fearful of criticism.

Signs that governments are taking notice of this social media-enabled conversations are clear: just about every major developed world leader has some form of public-facing social media feed.

The negative signals also reinforce the point: Twitter users face the courts for harassing celebrities, and one careless comment about an airport saw one user dragged through the courts and threatened with jail. Attempts by youth to use social media to organise riots in the UK last year also saw several arrests and prison time.

Father Ted writer Graham Linehan last year described the Internet and freedom of speech as “an incredible tool…we should fight any attempt to take it out of our hands.”

Empowerment, autonomy, connecting a state

At root the Arab Social Media Report confirms numerous ways in which use of social media is helping countries reconsolidate themselves after years of oppressive government and sometimes armed struggle to overturn them.

It reports enhanced feelings of intellectual autonomy; tolerance to others; a sense of community, and a reinforced sense of identity. Use of tools such as Twitter has enabled some in these communities to find others who feel as they do.

“People’s use of social media, emboldened by the political change it helped bring about throughout 2011, has become more widespread and influential on societies and communities in the Arab region. Social media users generally hold positive views on its impact on, and potential for creating social change. Ultimately, social media is being seen and used as an agent of change,” the report explains.

These services aren’t just good for communities, but good for those businesses attempting to reach out to them. The total number of Facebook users in the Arab world stands at over 45 million (at the end of June), up from 37 million in Jan 2012. The total estimated number of Twitter users there exceeds two million.  There are 167 million YouTube video views a day in the Arab region, the second biggest market.

Business could look to the social media experience in the Arab lands for another insight: that use of social media within communities enhances engagement and involvement between stakeholders inside those communities is surely a sign that enabling freer two-way dialogue within your business should also enhance the involvement of your workers, while also boosting their feelings or autonomy and consensus.

If social media can enhance challenging conversations on a national level, then surely they may also serve to boost your relationships with customers and staff? Rest assured, if you aren’t already active within social media, then your competitors are, or will be.

Tristan Blakely MD of Dreamtek UAE, based in Abu Dhabi says “We are seeing increased demand from clients and especially digital marketing and communications agencies for social media and digital marketing projects. Dreamtek UAE recently developed the very successful Close Up DJ Mixing app for facebook and iPad.

The facebook app has been a huge success so far, gaining 40,000 likes the first day after being launched and is continuing to gain momentum with fans. The biggest advantage of utilizing a social media channel for the campaign is to get direct conversion rate of the audience. 100.000 people liking the page mean that every 10th facebook user in Dubai knows the ‘Close Up Arabia’ page (considering 1 million people out of 1.8 million citizens are active on facebook).”

He also states “It’s not just about creating the app but bridging the gap between the organisation and the audience.  Interactivity, personalisation and great experience is our focus when developing mobile, smart and Facebook apps for our clients.”

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