Transcending digital borders: How the Arab World’s PR industry is gradually integrating modern social media tools with traditional PR practices

6 years, 1 month ago

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nternet penetration in the Arab World is projected to rise rapidly over the next couple of years. As a result, maximizing social media opportunities is increasingly important. By Nidal Abou Zaki.



The rising popularity of social media and its seismic impact on the public relations sector have long been the subject of many discussions among peers and stakeholders actively involved in the Arab markets. In response to the trend, PR professionals in the region are now gradually incorporating social media strategies into their business communications campaigns to avoid being left behind by their competitors. 
 
The move is highly significant especially now that the Arab World is, like the rest of the globe, getting more and more interconnected via the internet. According to the first-of-its-kind Arab Knowledge Economy Report released in 2014, the number of internet users in this part of the world will jump to more than 197 million by 2017. That is equivalent to a penetration rate of over 51 per cent, up from 32 per cent in 2012, which amounts to a three per cent increase above the world average. The report was developed in collaboration between Orient Planet PR and Marketing Communications and Madar Research and Development. 
 
Many of the region’s new internet users are expected to create their own personal accounts on any of the existing digital channels today such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube. At present, more than half of internet users are utilizing social media to connect with people, gain information, watch videos, listen to music, and share photos, among other reasons.  Moreover, the first Arab Social Media Report shows that one-third of users spend an average of less than 30 minutes per session when using social media, while five per cent spend an average of over four hours per session.  
  
Enormous opportunities 
 
Social media thus presents enormous opportunities for the Arab region’s relatively young PR industry. Not surprisingly, communications strategies are being reshaped to make them more relevant to a wide spectrum of audiences living in different parts of the now seemingly borderless world. Establishing a virtual presence has become imperative to thrive in the 21st century, especially since about 57 per cent of 7,000 respondents surveyed for the Arab Social Media Report say that having a social media profile is a necessity these days.    
  
Since social media is mainly about a platform for conversations, the mechanism by which the content is delivered also has to be ‘social.’ While traditional PR has control over content, it must stimulate conversations and discussions in the social media sphere. The content must be engaging and interesting enough to elicit opinions from netizens.   
 
For example, in October 2014 Orient Planet PR and Marketing Communications launched the first online PR and Communications Academy in the Middle East in collaboration with the Irish Academy of Public Relations. Orient Planet Academy aims to bridge the growing skills gap in the regional industry by offering communications and PR courses to practitioners and university students seeking to improve their knowledge and skills. 
 
A combined approach
 
In launching the Academy, Orient Planet successfully executed a campaign that combined both the traditional PR approach and social media. The team, however, relied heavily on the power of social media to raise awareness about the significance of taking up any of the Academy’s courses amidst today’s modern public relations environment. 
 
Official Facebook and Twitter accounts for the Academy were created, with the team consistently coming up with a content strategy aligned with the set objectives. Instead of just focusing on the Academy’s offerings, the text and images posted to the online accounts have been emphasizing self-development and lifelong learning – two important subjects of interest to many who are yearning to gain an edge and be competitive in their careers.  
 
The posts have been encouraging feedback and conversations among the Academy’s fan base located all over the large expanse of the Arab World. Through the strategic digital campaigns, the Academy has been successfully promoted as a brand relevant in today’s information age. 
 
Orient Planet Academy’s student population continuous to grow and shows no signs of slowing down in the near future. The number of applicants across the Arab World expressing interest in learning from the Academy’s pool of renowned and respected instructors is significantly increasing.  
 
Growth in followers
 
Furthermore, the Academy’s social media accounts are steadily gaining followers, with the Facebook fan page now having more than 15,700 supporters. On Twitter, the Academy´s official page has been constantly receiving quality followers, indicating immense interest from potential students. It is in this respect that Orient Planet Academy has been able to engage more people, in real time, and in a faster, cost-efficient manner.  
 
Reaching a broader audience is one of the main advantages of social media networks. A social media campaign that goes viral can touch base with millions of people all over the world – generating tremendous publicity and great exposure for the brand. Word-of-mouth through an online presence is undoubtedly more influential and bears more weight especially in terms of making purchasing decisions. Furthermore, it adds more credibility to the message if followers share the content.   
 
Another international study on the ‘Impact of Social Media on News’ shows that 50 per cent of journalists identify social media as a ‘main source of information,’ while a high 70 per cent say social media is important to their daily performance. These remarkable findings are very helpful for PR practitioners formulating strategies for pitching a story to the media.  
 
The regional PR industry’s gradual integration of social media, however, should be perceived as something that should enhance, and not compete with, a traditional PR approach.  Due to the enormous and widespread effects of online channels, the possibilities of spreading one’s message across the world have never been as accessible and as pervasive as now. 
 
The bottom line is this: PR companies must give special focus on virtual social platforms as much as they would the traditional business communications strategy. The power of social media is something that they must effectively and efficiently harness, right here and right now. 
 
 
About the Author
Nidal Abou Zaki is the Founder and Managing Director of Orient Planet, one of the Middle East’s fastest growing public relations, marketing and communications consultancies. He has over 22 years’ experience in developing high-impact PR and marketing campaigns in the Arab region. 
 

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The Author

Nidal Abou Zaki

Nidal Abou Zaki, Managing Director, Orient Planet PR & Marketing Communications.

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