Established and growing businesses in the region are making full use of the popularity – and opportunity – of social networking sites.
Words: Farah Shanti
It has become one of the first things we do when we walk into our offices every morning. Reflexively logging onto social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Myspace and the 2009 breakthrough hit, Twitter, demonstrates how ingrained constant connectivity has become. Few can argue against the impact this concentrated online community – socially and professionally. For companies, particularly startups, social networking provides a marketing and communication opportunity that more and more are embracing, especially in fiscally conservative times.
The world of online networking has innumerable advantages for new businesses, the most obvious being the competitive pricing of its advertising – virtually nothing when compared to traditional advertising campaigns. “Google derives most of its billions of dollar of revenue from small businesses,” says Ahmad Humeid, CEO of Syntax, a branding company that specialises in online communication strategies. “This means that in certain markets, SMEs are totally shifting their promotional activities online. Online advertising and social media word-of-mouth can be the primary tools for a small business to acquire and keep customers.”
That is certainly the philosophy of Lazmak.com, a new e-marketing service recently created to develop regional online marketing and promotion strategies. “Sites like Facebook were imperative in introducing our company to what is our target audience,” says CEO Ahmad al-Masri. “We were able to find potential clients, learn what they expect from e-market sites – what was their experience with Amazon, for example – and how would such a service fit with their everyday lives.”
Although they will also develop more traditional advertising campaigns, such as print and radio, al-Masri is convinced that their social networking profiles will play the most important role in the company’s marketing future. “It is a vital investment, no question, and one we intend to continue supporting. When you’re living a region with one of the fastest growing number of people on Facebook, it’s not something you can ignore.”
And social networking is not simply about raising awareness. Al-Masri says that the feedback from this online community has been imperative in quickly moulding Lazmak.com into a user-friendly service that better understands its customers. “Comments, criticism and ideas have all come instantly from social networking,” he says. “Because the feedback is so simple to deliver – with a click of a button, a short message, another click and your done – it’s been very forthcoming, and it’s definitely helped us avoid a few big hurdles. Especially with the accountant!”
"Increasingly, we’re living in the truth economy,” says Ahmad Humeid, who has advised pan-Arab corporations such as Aramex and Mobily on the need to embrace social networking to communicate with their customers. “Companies cannot simply broadcast their messages to receiving consumers. People engage in conversations about brands and companies online, free from corporate control. They voice their likes and dislikes on blogs, on Facebook and a million other places. Corporations, or more accurately, people inside corporations, must re-learn how to have conversations with consumers. Social media is forcing them to do so.”