Ramez Shehadi Fady Kassatly Danny Karam Michael Cherfan
Digital Spring MENA Governments Must Speak the Language of Social Media
Contact Information Beirut Ramez Shehadi Partner +961-1-985-655 firstname.lastname@example.org Danny Karam Senior Associate +961-1-985-655 email@example.com Michael Cherfan Associate +961-1-985-655 firstname.lastname@example.org Dubai Fady Kassatly Senior Associate +971-4-390-0260 email@example.com
Oliver Menge and Fawzi Halimi also contributed to this Perspective.
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The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has successfully joined the social media revolution. With a cohort of young adults who are both multilingual and technologysavvy, the region has seen a significant rise in social media applications and networks, whether for social, commercial, or political purposes. The private sector is making diligent use of social media to reach key audiences and improve brand and marketing efforts.
Many regional governments, however, have only recently started to engage their constituents through social media, and this engagement is mostly reactive in nature. Although today’s social media users expect engagement that is transparent, crowd-sourced, and responsive, government engagement often tends to be static and slow, and is at times unable to gather user input properly. If governments hope to be heard by their constituents, particularly the one-half to onethird of MENA populations that are under 25 and frequently glued to their mobile phones, they will need to learn the language of social media. The region’s governments and other public-sector players have an opportunity to catch up with the private sector in this regard but must adopt a three-pronged approach to the challenge. First, they must create a social media strategy integrated with all of their traditional media efforts. Second, they must develop the capabilities to deliver social media services successfully to constituents across many areas. And third, they must ensure that their social media strategy and offering make room for future progress, evolution, and growth in a way that allows for the best possible interaction with constituents.
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KEY HIGHLIGHTS • Greater availability and usage of mobile and high-speed technology, combined with a younger population in the MENA region, is helping individuals and the private sector drive a revolution in digital media through social media. • Governments and other public-sector organizations have lagged behind the private sector, leading to a growing gap between what constituents expect in digital media and what governments deliver. • To close the gap, governments need to adopt a three-pronged approach, emphasizing a fully integrated model, investments in the right capabilities, and plans for long-term growth of social media.
DRIVING THE E-REVOLUTION
the 2010–2011 Networked Readiness Index of the Global Information Technology Report, three Arab countries ranked among the top 30. In the UN e-Government Survey 2010, the Kingdom of Bahrain leapt into the top 15 while the UAE and Kuwait also ranked among the top 50. The past investment in communications infrastructure, especially mobile phone networks and broadband access, is also having a striking effect (see Exhibit 1). Saudi Arabia and Qatar are among the top 10 economies with the greatest change in both the “Access” and “Use” sub-dimensions of ITU’s ICT Development Index between 2008 and 2010.1 In the UAE, the largely government-owned Etisalat is leading the effort to deliver a 90 percent fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) penetration rate by the end of 2011 and 100 percent by 2012. Some of these gains are being driven by greater liberalization in competition. In Saudi Arabia, for example, mobile customers today can choose between several providers, such as STC, Zain, and Mobily. These measures have helped establish the region’s foundation for a digital world. Now that the digital infrastructure is built, public-sector players need to appreciate the demographics and
Given the current period of transition in the Arab world, it is more important than ever for governments to connect with their citizens. Today, they have a tool at their disposal that their predecessors could never have imagined: social media. Thus far, however, governments’ use of social media has not been as effective as it could be. For public-sector players to adapt to the realities of social media—and benefit from them—they need to first take stock of their digital efforts to date and understand the causes for the rapid growth in adoption of social media applications in the region. On one level, MENA countries have made significant investments to build the core foundations of a vibrant digital environment. Public investment in new technology infrastructure, digital readiness initiatives, and procompetitive arrangements for network providers have all succeeded in helping the region close the digital gap with North America, Europe, and Asia. In
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underlying digital habits of their major users in order to support their needs. Young adults in the region, thanks to educational opportunities, are comfortable using mobile technologies and are proficient in English, the standard language of most mobile content and services. They treat their mobile devices as a standard tool for commu-
nication, commerce, and overall social engagement and simply expect that others can and will do the same. A study conducted by Insights MENA in December 2010 shows that the average user in the region spends up to nine hours a day interacting with media, whether accessing the Internet, watching television, or texting.
Now that the Internet is no longer tethered to fixed-line connections, both the number of Internet users and the time spent online are increasing dramatically. This is creating significant opportunity for applications and services that serve users who are always on some kind of connected device.
Exhibit 1 Consumers in the MENA Region Have Widespread Access to Mobile and Broadband Technology
BROADBAND CONNECTIONS IN THE MENA REGION (IN MILLIONS OF LINES, 2009–2014)
MOBILE CONNECTIONS IN THE MENA REGION (IN MILLIONS OF LINES, 2009–2014) CAGR +11% 370 343 308 269 229
143 CAGR +47% 95 117
67 42 21
2009 Penetration 8%
2009 Penetration 79%
Source: Informa (World Cellular Information Service [WCIS], January 2012; World Broadband Information Service [WBIS], January 2012); Ovum, March 2011; Booz & Company analysis
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THE NETWORK EFFECT: SOCIAL MEDIA
social media applications by developing social media applications of its own—a dramatic response, given the company’s dominant share of the search engine market. Traditional companies are turning to social media as a primary means of marketing products and interacting with core customers. For example, in 2009, Dell turned to Twitter to deploy a marketing program called “Dell Swarm.” The program used the group-buy model in which customers were invited through social media to join a “swarm.” The more people who joined the swarm, the lower the price was for each member, giving each member an incentive to draw in more members and buyers. Using this simple technique of self-motivated
marketing, Dell was able to reach out to around 2 million users—a highly effective campaign. The Private Sector Gets Social A number of companies in the MENA region have followed the lead of Dell and others (see Exhibit 2). For example, du has launched campaigns on both Facebook and Twitter to improve customer service and feedback, boost sales, and increase brand awareness and promotion. In the region, locally developed crowd-sourced platforms are now emerging. Aywaa.com is a social network that supports a user interface very similar to that of Facebook. Yallatunes.com supports peer-to-peer sharing of Arabic songs and video
The most successful of these services have been social media applications such as Facebook and Twitter. Social media has created a realm where users constantly share information, track responses, and explore news and opinion in a transparent environment. CNN reported in the summer of 2011 that Facebook accounted for more Web traffic than Google, the search giant. Google has responded to the rise of Facebook and other
Exhibit 2 GCC Companies Are Catching Up to Global Peers in Using Social Media
Companies Worldwide Companies in the GCC 69%
62% 59% 52% 53%
39% 32% Percentage of companies that use social media websites to connect with customers Percentage of companies that encourage their employees to join social networks Percentage of companies that allocate up to 20% of their marketing budget to social networking Percentage of companies that agree marketing strategies cannot be successful without social media
Source: Michael Byrne, “Get Social, Get Selling,” SME Advisor, July 2011
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clips. Arabfriendz.com is a social media site geared to the region’s singles. Although still in their infancy, these websites aim to repeat in the region the social media successes of the West. Consumers Prefer Digital Media for News and Information In a sense, social media has already taken root in the region, as evidenced by the use of social media in political engagement. Social media is increasingly used as an alternative to traditional, often state-sponsored, news outlets, which governments have typically used to shape their messages to citizens. This trend builds on the
widespread use of digital media: General readership or viewership of traditional media is declining save for the online environment (for more details, see the Booz & Company Perspective “The Advent of Digital News in the GCC”2). Booz & Company recently conducted a survey of news consumers with broadband access in the GCC that drew responses from more than 520 news readers in five major cities. The survey revealed that approximately 40 percent of respondents still read print newspapers as a matter of habit; more important, however, nearly 76 percent of respondents with broadband access
have either decreased or stopped their consumption of print news already, or plan to in the next two years3 (see Exhibit 3). People’s transition to social media as a news source is driven by their preference for eyewitness accounts of news and citizen journalism—reports from people via Twitter, Facebook updates, Flickr photographs, and other real-time updates to their own networks. The rising use of social media by news makers themselves suggests that those who make the news as well as those who consume it want less intermediation and more direct access. Digital media users,
Exhibit 3 Survey Respondents with Broadband Access Have Scaled Back on Print News or Will Do So
HOW HAS YOUR READERSHIP OF PRINT NEWSPAPERS CHANGED OVER THE LAST TWO YEARS, AND HOW DO YOU EXPECT IT TO CHANGE IN THE NEXT TWO YEARS?
2% Other I have never read print newspapers I plan to reduce or stop reading print news over the next two years My readership of print newspapers has decreased or stopped over the last two years
Note: The survey base for this question consists of those respondents who access news in print, online, or via mobile phone. Source: Booz & Company News Readership Survey, February 2011
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especially in the social media realm, value variety in news sourcing, as well as transparency. This search for more crowd-sourced news is putting pressure on regional governments to be more deeply engaged in social media instead of just relying on traditional channels. This is starting to happen, though only occasionally. For example, in August 2010, the UAE government announced it was banning BlackBerry services. Rumors started emerging in traditional news outlets that this ban would extend to other countries in the region, such as Bahrain. The Bahraini minister of information sought to dispel this rumor by posting on the ultimate social media platform, Twitter. The
willingness to engage personally and directly, rather than through a spokesperson or through a media interlocutor, is a critical element of any social media strategy. The random tweeter, blogger, or mobile user uploading footage to YouTube is now on a par with the traditional news providers. During the 2011 Arab Spring, social media played a critical role in disseminating news—even selectively— and marshaling popular support for specific causes. This in turn led to significant increases in social media participation: • Facebook subscriptions in the region increased by an average of 30 percent between the months of January and April 2011 (see Exhibit 4). Given the size of
some of the region’s countries, this increase in subscriptions is statistically significant (e.g., as of April 2011, 29 percent of the UAE’s population was subscribed to Facebook).4 • In Egypt and Tunisia, the number of daily tweets peaked with an increase of 140 percent and 160 percent, respectively, between January 1 and mid-March 2011.5
The use of social media is clearly more than a passing trend, and governments are scrambling to formulate their response. Those that can mobilize these tools to reach their citizens stand to realize a number of benefits.
Exhibit 4 Facebook Got a Regional Boost During the Arab Spring
INCREASES IN FACEBOOK SUBSCRIPTIONS BETWEEN JANUARY AND APRIL 2011 (IN MILLIONS OF SUBSCRIPTIONS) April 2011 6.59 January 2011
28% 4.09 3.21 12% 2.14 2.41 1.82 1.41 7% 0.28 0.30 29% 2.36
38% 1.95 27% 0.22 0.28
Source: “Arab Social Media Report,” vol. 1, no. 1, Dubai School of Government, January 2011; “Arab Social Media Report,” vol. 1, no. 2, May 2011
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GETTING SOCIAL MEDIA RIGHT
Regional governments have only recently started putting social media to use, often in an ad hoc fashion: They have been reactive or used social media to monitor constituents’ activities and to anticipate future events. Fewer examples exist where regional governments have used social media in a proactive manner, to relay information to constituents directly. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, prime minister and vice president of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai, has launched a Facebook page in order to reach his constituents and announce upcoming cultural, social, and public events. His Highness’ Facebook page has attracted hundreds of thousands of “likes” and his posts often receive thousands of comments.
The Egyptian Supreme Council for Armed Forces has launched a Facebook page, and the Egyptian Prime Minister has created a Twitter account. During the September 2011 UAE Federal National Council elections, many candidates used social networks such as Twitter and Facebook to unofficially introduce themselves to voters. Saudi minsters and officials are also gradually embracing new media platforms. Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Abdulaziz Khoja has more than 65,000 Twitter followers, and keeps them continuously updated with general and sometimes personal observations about his daily activity. But although social media use is starting to grow among regional leaders, its adoption remains the exception to the rule, and use of the technology has been largely haphazard.
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THE FRAMEWORK FOR CHANGE
Establishing effective social media channels at the core of a government’s engagement strategy is not as simple as setting aside the necessary funds and creating a department tasked with the responsibility of building it. In many cases, it will require a fundamental rethinking of how the government communicates with residents, an embrace of transparency and collaboration, and a willingness to establish a platform without a clear sense of how it will be used. Governments, in general, are more focused on desired outcomes, and will have to adjust to the less predictable realm of social media. What’s more, a successful social media strategy will involve fully integrating all existing and traditional engagement channels with the government’s online network. In order to do this, governments will need to focus on a framework for change with three dimensions: 1. Positioning social media within its engagement/communication and media strategy 2. Establishing the right capabilities to enable proper social media channels
3. Ensuring sustainable social media channels capable of growth Engagement Positioning social media within an already established engagement framework requires more than just creating a Facebook page and Twitter account out of the fear of being left behind. Governments will have to make all relevant content that was once communicated traditionally (for instance via TV and radio) available in digital media formats and ready to be used in social media environments. Governments must also have a clear understanding of their online constituents. They must know who they are, as understanding their demographics will help to position online content for maximum impact. Governments must grasp what constituents want to know and discuss to make sure online content is relevant and determine which traditional communications can be left offline. Finally, they must know where constituents reside online, including the forums where consitutents typically go to get news and information, engage in debate and discussion, and learn about government functions.
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The Booz & Company ENGAGEMENT Approach 1. Establish clear objectives for social media 2. Nominate a Social Media Steering Committee responsible for setting/updating the social media strategy, monitoring performance, and making key content decisions 3. Govern the use of social media by establishing social media policies that ensure content is in line with national objectives and community policies to guide constituents toward common objectives 4. Appoint content owners within departments who are responsible for end-to-end writing, design, and publishing of content 5. Gauge the fit between social media objectives and currently existing social media platforms. Leverage as appropriate. 6. Educate internal employees on social media platforms and train to write, develop, publish, and respond to social media content 7. Manage the social media content life cycle—e.g., content development, publishing, archiving, and the like—by establishing a set of processes 8. Exercise readiness to engage in social media by simulating crises and evaluating responses 9. Nurture capabilities by allowing departments to deploy social media on their own, within outlined parameters, and providing consolidated resources, such as experts and publishing guidelines, to stay coordinated and share best practices 10. Track set KPIs to measure successful adoption of social media tools
Source: Booz & Company
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Governments that have successfully managed this transition, and whose success sets a valuable benchmark for MENA governments to match, have tended to build a digitally integrated social media strategy around three core areas: • e-Communication: Governments providing information must make sure that they do so in easily accessible digital communication channels, and build into their distribution regular updates of information. Ideally, information must be accessible via mobile devices and social media applications. • e-Contribution: Providing constituents with the means to offer feedback and raise concerns is a critical element of a social media strategy, because it permits constituents to draw attention to issues overlooked by policymakers. This is typically accomplished by providing constituents with a dedicated and searchable platform open to anyone. As an example,
President Barack Obama’s Facebook page has 24 million fans, and features social, economic, environmental, and foreign policy opinions and articles that invite thousands of comments per day. • e-Participation and e-Inclusion: Giving constituents the ability to participate and be included in government processes via electronic means such as social media is essential, allowing citizens greater access to their governments’ socioeconomic and political developments. Options such as the online delivery of social programs, online voting, and electronic involvement in the development of government policies increase constituents’ feelings of inclusion and their investment in their societies. For example, in 2008, following Iceland’s devastating financial crash, the Icelandic government randomly selected 950 citizens to brainstorm ideas for a new constitution. Twentyfive citizens and government
officials were then named to the Constitutional Council to draft the actual document. Each new draft is posted to the Constitutional Council website, and citizens are invited to comment and propose edits on the constitution’s Facebook page. Capabilities Once governments have determined how to incorporate social media into their engagement strategy, the right capabilities need to be established across four areas. • Governance: Notwithstanding the open-source ethic of most online media, it is critical that governments establish clear and effective governance to maintain and monitor overall quality and performance so that online channels meet government and national objectives. This may require a Social Media Steering Committee or similar body to set and update the social media strategy and make key decisions on content and constituent feedback.
“With greater access to the Internet comes greater access to Facebook and Twitter. Never before has the world seen the extent to which these and other social networking sites can impact politics, as was seen this year.”
—Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General
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In addition, such a committee could establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure success of adoption of social media tools across government functions and departments. • People: It is vital that those responsible for originating and sourcing digital content are capable of working within social media, or can be trained to do so. This may well need to be a decentralized effort, with individual departments in charge of their own social media deployment, supported by central best-practices sharing. • Processes: Governments will need to establish the means by which social media content is developed, published, and later archived. In addition, governments need to be assured of processes to produce and manage social media in case of crisis and emergency.
• Technology: Governments must be sure that they deploy the most appropriate technological platforms for social media strategies. Otherwise, their efforts will fail to drive engagement and lead to missed opportunities. A Growth Strategy Once social media has been established within the government, it must be managed and nourished to ensure it remains sustainable and relevant to its audience. That will require governments to allow constituents to rate and comment on published content. This is a critical element of the social media culture and will help guide managers on existing weaknesses in content. Constituent insights can also help bring forward ideas, topics, and solutions. Government managers should not expect overnight success with their
social media efforts and should know that where success occurs in one entity it may not reoccur elsewhere. Therefore, social media content owners and managers should document experienced successes and failures. An internal social network for government employees to exchange such best practices and experiences would help make such sharing possible. Finally, the best way to measure whether a social media strategy is catching on is through metrics. The number of Facebook fans and Twitter followers are a good indicator of whether constituents are attracted to the published information; a better indicator is the amount of reciprocal interaction (e.g., comments, points of view shared, suggestions). This reciprocal interaction generates new content and supports e-participation, e-contributions, and ongoing communication with constituents.
“We’re going from a situation where [average citizens] didn’t have that much power to a point where they can know everything and they can organize very quickly.”
—Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman, Google
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The rise of social media as a communications channel has occurred often without plan or management by either the private or public sector. Yet these networks have created new means for crowd-sourcing content, engaging with customers and constituents, and generating realtime awareness of news and debate. As such, they represent a significant new social, commercial, and political opportunity for private- and publicsector players. The key to success in adopting a social media strategy is to adopt many of the features of social media—e-communication, e-contribution, e-participation, and e-inclusion. Not every organization can do this effectively, and this is especially true for the public sector. As governments in the MENA region approach this issue, new engagement strategies that place social media at the center of their efforts are critical. No organization will be able to
graft onto its existing traditional media and engagement channels a social media approach—the two channels must be integrated. This will require investments in capabilities as governments assemble the right people, processes, governance models, and technology platforms to enable and sustain the growth of social media activities. Without these actions and efforts, the gap between traditional engagement and social media engagement will continue to grow—as will the number of constituents who increasingly rely on social media— and governments will struggle to reach their constituents effectively. As the demographic bulge of young people grows and their numbers reach one-third to one-half of MENA populations, governments that don’t understand the language of social media could find themselves speaking into a vacuum.
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“Measuring the Information Society, 2010,” International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
Gabriel Chahine, Christopher Vollmer, Jayant Bhargava, and Amer Lahham, “The Advent of Digital News in the GCC: Newspaper Publishers’ Path to Winning,” Booz & Company, 2011; http://www. booz.com/media/uploads/BoozCo-Digital-News-GCC.pdf.
“Arab Social Media Report,” vol. 1, no. 2, Dubai School of Government, May 2011.
About the Authors Ramez Shehadi is a partner with Booz & Company in Beirut. He leads the business technology practice in the Middle East. He specializes in e-government, e-business, and IT-enabled transformation, helping corporations and government organizations maximize leverage of IT, achieve operational efficiencies, and improve governance of IT services. Danny Karam is a senior associate with Booz & Company in Beirut. He specializes in green ICT, e-government, e-business, social media, industry digitization, and IT-enabled transformations serving clients in the technology, public-sector, and telecom domains. Fady Kassatly is a senior associate with Booz & Company in Dubai. He specializes in e-government and ICT strategies, shared services, social media, and operating and governance models definition, typically serving clients in the technology, public-sector, and telecom domains. Michael Cherfan is an associate with Booz & Company in Beirut. He has experience developing ICT strategies, portfolio prioritization processes, and governance model definitions in the technology, energy, and public-sector domains.
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