Social Media in Times of Crisis

From revolutions to natural disasters, social media is playing a massive role. From initial awareness of such events, to raising awareness and funds, as well as reconnecting loved ones together, there is no doubt Twitter and Facebook are a life line to many around the world.

Going into details about the ‘revolutionary’ role of Social Media in the MENA region recently is not necessary. One only had to have a Twitter and Facebook account to get bombarded with updates on a minute by minute basis. From Iran to Tunisia To Egypt To Libya To Bahrain, it’s been none stop information overload regarding protests, bombardments, arrests, kinds of weapons used, what cities are taken over by who, etc… Seeing someone in a conflict zone active on either social networks came with a sigh of relief for many: Said person was still alive and tweeting! That same thing can be said for the people in Japan right now as well.

Two weeks ago, an 8.9 earthquake struck off the coast of Japan, triggering a Tsunami that tore through the country and ravaged it. Social networks have allowed people to make sure their friends and family in Japan are ok, as well as mobilizing rescue efforts through Twitter and Facebook. Charities have also been solicited using social networks to help reach aid to the affected people and areas. The earthquake in Haiti last year helped highlight the important of Social Media in times of crisis.

Social Media rushed to the rescue again, previously with Speak2Tweet during the Egyptian revolution, and now with Google Person Finder; Google often creates Person Finder sites during emergencies that allow people to leave information about their whereabouts or information about a missing person. The records of people missing are currently running into the hundreds of thousands. The Red Cross also operates similar sites that post the information of people who want to make it known that they are fine and alive, as well as allowing relatives to post information about their missing loved ones.

With all the ‘good’ that Social Media Networks can do, it leaves one to wonder:

How will countries like China, Pakistan and Bangladesh cope in times of crisis with Twitter and Facebook banned? How important do you think Twitter and Facebook are to us in this day and age of unexpected disasters?

The Digital Agency:Mortal or Immortal?

As mentioned in last week’s post, 2011 is predicted to be the year of Digital in the MENA region and arguably the rest of the world. At a time when anything and everything digital is booming, so are Digital Agencies (or New Media Agencies): Any business that delivers internet based creative and technological development services such as web design, online marketing, SEO, Social Media advertising, banner advertising, and the like.

In recent times however, some have argued against that, saying that the digital agencies will ultimately fail for various reasons. One of those being that Digital agencies neglect the communication part of the deal, rather focusing on the evolving technology part, neglecting basic human needs, emotions and behaviors. Another reason is they believe Digital agencies should be behaving more like publishers in the sense of having more consumer generated content. In doing so, and allowing ‘consumers’ to write blog posts for example, reflects authenticity, and said blogger would in turn ‘spread the word’ more effectively (and genuinely) than an in house or freelance copywriter.

On the other hand, the rise in the use of social media in advertising and PR-ing of brands and services allows many new tools with which to reach new audiences with new, effective methods. There are fine lines between the all equal forms of advertising ; Online, print, Social, TV, Mobile, Print … The Digital Agency’s job is to make sure it selects the best tools to promote and advertise. When selected properly, the results can be astonishing.

Still a ‘niche market’ in the MENA region, Social Media advertising, is gaining more recognition as more and more people are beginning to learn how to use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other far- reaching social networks for means other than connecting with friends.

A small example to show the importance of social networks for brands: A friend who works in a Digital Agency went to buy a card from Hallmark the other day, and at the bottom of the card he chose he noticed a small sentence that made him smile- “Friend us on Facebook”.

2011- The Year of Digital Media in the MENA Region

2011 is expected by many in the industry to be the year to see the highest levels of digital and online advertising, especially in the MENA region. 2010 already saw record highs in the amounts of mobile, social, video and dynamic advertising. The rapid growth of technologies has played a major part in the growth of social media platforms in the region.

Simultaneously, Facebook, Twitter, and other Social Media networks have seen a rise in their numbers of new users worldwide. In the MENA region, the Facebook sparked and Twitter promoted revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and currently Libya probably played a big role in the increased numbers of new users.

In addition, and in part due to the above, there has been an increase in the events and conferences in the region, catering to anything and everything Digital. Two of the biggest events are being held this month in Beirut, Lebanon: Twestival 2011 (or Twitter Festival) and Arabnet Shift 2011.

On March 24th 2011, Twestival will go ‘local’ in various cities across the globe. Events are held in any location to raise funds and awareness for a local cause that deserves it. An idea that one can work on an international scale and do good, without having to leave the city one lives in. Their website describes it best: “Twestival is the largest global grassroots social media fundraising initiative to date”. This year, Beirut Twestival will be fundraising for Breast Cancer, allowing women free mammograms, as well as psychological help for women with Breast Cancer.

Arabnet Shift, the biggest digital gathering in the Middle East, will be held over 4 days in Beirut, from March 22nd to the 25th. Each day has a theme, and is a great opportunity for entrepreneurs in the region to get exposure for their ideas and start ups. Each year, ArabNet brings together ‘big names’, and leaders in the digital sector. This year, there will be more than 80 speakers and 1000 attendees, meeting and discussing the latest in the digital sector in the region. At the end of the summit, 2 competitions are held with the aim of supporting and promoting start ups and ideas.

If anything, both events are excellent networking opportunities for anyone involved in this sector. Moreover, both Twestival and Arabnet use the power of social media to organize, promote and advertise these events to the region and the world.