GCC Government Social Media Summit attracts masterminds of the world’s best e-Campaigns as governments’ role in social media becomes trending topic
Region’s Facebook usage skyrockets by 300% in just two years while Arabic becomes fastest growing language in Twitter history
The role of governments in social media has been thrust back into the limelight following the ongoing global revelations about the interaction between Facebook and governments, which have ignited public debate. The social networking giant’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, recently issued a public statement reassuring users that their privacy would not be compromised in any ‘data requests’ from the authorities.
This global online debate coincides with the build-up to the region’s leading social media platform that is specifically geared for governments: the 2013 edition of the GCC Government Social Media Summit.This will be held from 2-3 September, with an introductory masterclass on September 1st, at the Ritz-Carlton, DIFC in Dubai. The summit aims to empower GCC governments with cutting edge ideas, success stories, the latest innovations and research that will keep them at the forefront of the social revolution. To shed more light on the latest social media trends and best practices, GCC government delegates will gain insights from industry heavyweights such as Facebook, leading academics, media organisations as well as international government entities that have successfully harnessed social media innovations, such as the UK’s Ministry of Defence.
Governments are particularly eager to build online bridges with their populations considering that the Gulf has emerged as a pacesetter in social media: in just two years, the region’s Facebook users have tripled from 16 million to 45 million. Not to be eclipsed, the Middle East’s Twitter users are contributing a staggering 5.8million tweets per day – a rate of 4,000 tweets a minute. Predictably, the most popular hashtags have been those featuring ‘Syria’. The influence of the Gulf’s Twitter users has seen Arabic surge in popularity, with English and French no longer enjoying an unchallenged dominance.
According to the 2013 Arab Social Media Report by the Governance and Innovation Program at the Dubai School of Government, the UAE has retained its spot as the region’s most social media-savvy country, followed by Kuwait, Qatar, Lebanon and Jordan. Underlining the importance of the youth demographic, 70% of these users are aged 15-29.
Biju Saith, Divisional Director for the event organisers Streamline Marketing Group, pointed out: “The region’s social media revolution shows no signs of slowing down, and on the contrary it is gathering momentum with more innovative campaigns, smarter tools and more proactive solutions. By bringing together global thought leaders in this field, this summit gives the region’s governmental decision makers an opportunity to benchmark their social media activities against the very best practitioners in the world.”
The high profile conference speakers at the GCC Government Social Media Summit will include one of the brains behind arguably the most successful social media campaign in history: Adam Fetcher, who steered the ‘Obama for America’ campaign as a Deputy National Press-Secretary. Giving a ‘behind-the-scenes’ look at how Facebook interacts with governments will be Elizabeth Linder, Facebook’s Politics & Government Specialist. Her insights are particularly topical given that Facebook has recently come under increased scrutiny from users eager to decipher how the company balances its national security ‘data-sharing’ obligations to the government while maintaining its privacy commitment to its users.
According to Fadi Salem, Director of The Governance & Innovation Program at Dubai School of Government, sometimes it is not a change of tools that is required, but merely a change in mindset: “The exponential penetration rates and the creative adoption of social media in the Arab region have opened new horizons for multifaceted innovations by individuals, developmental uses by government entities as well as unleashing new social trends by different forces in Arab societies. Our research indicates that social media technologies today are increasingly acknowledged by different Arab government organisations as core enablers for inclusive policy formulation and better service delivery on an institutional level.”
He added: “We are seeing more cases where the government’s public approval is rising simply because they are willing to keep the public informed and involved as partners instead of just as audiences. For example some innovative governments have started to send Twitter alerts to residents to prepare their trash for collection, as well as various public service updates – thus turning residents into ‘fans’ and ‘friends’ of their governments.”
One of the key speakers, Heba AlSamt – Digital Media Director at Dubai Media Incorporated, explained: “While the region has made massive strides in migrating to a digital community, one area that still has room for improvement is the proportion of female users – considering that only 34% of the region’s social media users are female, which is much lower than the global average of about 50%.”
Elaborating on the organisational benefits of harnessing social media, Pippa Norris – Head of Online Engagement for the UK Ministry of Defence, cited a major success story from her country: “When the Ministry of Defence decided to allow military personnel to use social media, the considerable risks to operational success and personnel security became a tough cornerstone debate throughout the hierarchy. It changed the face of Defence communications. Yet in the last three years, since soldiers, sailors and airmen started to blog and tweet from the frontline, positive public sentiment for the Armed Forces has increased and we continue to reap unforeseen organisational benefits”.
Highlighting the imaginative ways in which governments are using social media, plans are underway globally to develop public warning systems that will alert residents in the event of emergencies like earthquakes. This has already proved a success in New York, where the government’s Twitter alerts proved much faster and more effective than conventional warning systems.