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Friday, February 3, 2012

Reaching Social Media Audiences

This post aims at explaining what is the best approach for a brand (consumer, political or institutional) to handle the main social media platforms. This is solely based on my experience (ie: don't ask me about the scientific proof!)

I've realized that many people find it difficult to grasp what are the key differences between the various social media platforms, and how they can leverage each to promote their messages. I find that the best approach is a simple comparison to what most people/brand managers know instinctively: traditional media.

Think of YouTube as your TV digital subscription. You have access to a number of channels: news, entertainment, oldies etc...You can zap, record your favorite movie, pause, go to the bathroom and playback anytime.

Let's face it, most of us look at Facebook for the pictures of our friends. Without images, Facebook would definitely not be Facebook. They are what videos are for YouTube; the backbone of the entire structure.  Facebook is very similar to fashion magazines: a model based on still images with short text. Brand pages resemble more the "letter to the editor" section that most major magazines have: the brand manager (or magazine editor) selects what to show, edits, highlights...and sometimes can even answer.

If you follow around 300 people, you can expect to get every 5 minutes around 20 new tweets (or short messages) The whole format of Twitter is based on these snippets of info thrown at you from the various people you follow. Genius....but rehashed genius. You actually consume Twitter in a very similar manner than what you do when listening to radio: you can do two activities in parallel; read the NY Times in one Tab, and check Twitter every 10 seconds in another tab (more difficult to do in Facebook or YouTube)

Google +:
To be honest, I haven't caught up with Google + that much yet. I think their model is closer to the town hall meetings so familiar to the anglo-saxon culture.

What does that say on using these various platforms and their users?

- On YouTube:
The audience: a very captive audience that will stay long on the site, but one that keeps zapping from channel to channel.
To capture the attention: create your own unique and attractive content, or make them watch your ad to get access to their movie (like pay -per-view makes you pay to see the movie)
To advertize:  targeted inserted ads, branded content, brand placement

- On Facebook:
The audience: a mildly captive audience, flipping from page to page. Sometimes reading sometimes just looking at the pictures (image yourself reading a magazine)

To capture the attention: as in magazines, you have to have either a shock message or a very attractive visual
To advertize: see before

- On Twitter:
The audience: people doing various things at the same time. Their attention is minimal. They will only stop and "listen" if the topic seems interesting (as in radio)
To capture the attention: Short bursts of repetitive messages (think of the annoying supermarket ads on radio: today - and today only- special discount of 20% on frozen fish!)

To advertize: Manage to place these short repetitive messages with special offers all day long

- On Google +:
Like any Town-hall meeting, be the best speaker you can be ! (= I don't know what to say here)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Syria: the Libyan link

France's LeFigaro reported briefly today on Libyan troops helping out the Syrian Free Army against Assad's regime.

The report is very brief and does not shed more light on the reasons and implications of this. I will try here to do that.

It is interesting first to note that the links between Syria and Libya are old and complex. During the war between Kaddafi and Libya's NTC (rebels), Syria's Assad provided a major support to Kaddafi. Indeed before NATO's air blocade over Libya, it was Syrian pilots who bombed the civilians. They were more willing to do this than Kaddafi's unmotivated troops or his mercenaries (not very knowledgeable of airplane usage)

During Kaddafi's last days, he regularly provided messages to Syrian TV channels close to Assad's regime, and after his fall, the NTC was the first to officially recognize Syria's own opposition as the legitimate government.

The interesting part of LeFigaro's article is that the Libyan troops helping out Syria's rebels are Abdelhakim Belhadj's people. His implication is very telling:

Belhadj is an Islamist, previously jailed in Guantanamo, and trained in Afghanistan. During the Libyan uprising he led the unit that took over Tripoli. Belhadj was notoriously helped by British and French special troops, and financed by Qatar. Many assume he now works for the CIA. In the Libyan political structure he is the representative of the militant Islamists in the power structure. He was reportedly arrested recently by another Libyan group as he was traveling to Turkey with large cash amounts (source says: $600K)

Belhadj's involvement in Syria is therefore a strong indicator of:
1. US and Qatar's decision to beef up the military aspect of the uprising
2. The strong Turkish-Qatari coordination
 3. the increased involvement of Islamist troops and coordinators in Syria's armed rebellion.

Add to this the various reports of French secret service personnel training some of the Syrian rebels, and what you have is the recipe for a prolonged civil war.

The situation is very similar to Lebanon v.1975, many back then also believed that the war would end took 30 years!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Syrian expat boom

There is a visible surge in the number of Syrian daily workers in Lebanon. Just walk around Beirut's streets and you can notice that the numbers have significantly increased.

This is probably one of the most "visible" impacts of economic & political problems Syria is facing. Its excess man-force is being sent to Lebanon. This can help Syria's Assad in two ways:
1. bring in much needed currency back to Syria (earn in Lebanon, send to Syria)
2. get rid of a large number of young males, that could eventually become protesters in Syria. Interestingly enough, it is easier for Syria's Assad to control this population in Lebanon than in Syria itself. All Syrians leaving Syria needed to register with the Moukhabarat (secret service), and Syria's Lebanese allies are powerful enough to "control" these migrant workers.

I discussed with a small group of these recent arrival workers this morning. While very vague (or rather citing all possible reasons) on the reasons for coming to Beirut, they clearly made me feel that they were strongly "encouraged" to do so...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Communication vs Pragmatism

update: a few hours after publishing this post, the Mikati government with the tacit approval of Hezbollah has approved the financing of the STL.

...or why Hezbollah's self interest actually calls for financing the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) for Rafic Hariri's murder (Lebanon is due to pay its share of the financing of the tribunal. Prime Minister Mikati has said he would resign if it is not approved by the government)

Hezbollah is confronted today with the most basic of all political choices: prefer communications and the party's image or act pragmatically and prioritize the party's political interests.

The communication choice, would be to utterly reject the STL. This has been Hezbollah's stance since 2005: The tribunal has been portrayed by Hassan Nassrallah and every party member as a US and Israeli tool, and Nassrallah has openly said that he will never accept to finance it. Doing so now, might seem for Hezbollah's constituents and allies as a sign of weakness.

On the other hand, the pragmatic choice would be to go for the financing considering the alternatives the party has, and for the following reasons:
1. A strong Assad in Syria is a survival necessity for Hezbollah. Syria's own interests in Lebanon requires the prime minister to remain. In light of the Arab Leagues attacks on Syria, Assad needs a friendly Arab government, and this Lebanese government has proven to be very friendly with Assad's regime.
2. Financing the tribunal will provide PM Najib Mikati with a needed boost within his own Sunnite community. Both Assad and Hezbollah need to counter the influence of Saad Hariri within the Lebanese Sunnite community. Reinforcing Mikati can therefore only benefit Hezbollah on the short term.
3. A quick alternatives political analysis, shows that even if Lebanon does not finance the Tribunal, the Tribunal will probably keep going on. So what ever Hezbollah's moves are, the Tribunal will remain. Better therefore for the party to reinforce Assad and Mikati.
4. By financing the Tribunal, Hezbollah would have stripped the main communication argument March 14th has been using against the Government. M14 will find themselves in a difficult communications situation.
5. Hezbollah can barter this tacit approval of the financing with a major political gain for the party or its allies (like Aoun): revive the shouhoud el zour case, finance Aoun's pet projects etc...Thus ultimately benefiting with the public opinion.

Hezbollah's history has shown that being politically pragmatic has always been a key feature of their policy. Furthermore, considering 1. the communications strength the party has, and 2. the utter trust the Shiite community has in the party, Hezbollah can easily spin this choice.

The real challenge is going to be with the anti-Hezbollah camp. How to re-mobilize the street if the STL issue is "deflated". Time for an urgent meeting between Hariri, Geagea and Gemayel!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

LBC : Christian mirror

I finally got to see yesterday the LBC report on Myriam Al Achkar's assassination. For those not following Lebanese news, Myriam was killed by a Syrian worker while going to a Church called "path to heaven". The killing has outraged the Christian community and generated a series of anti-Syrian comments: Myriam was a pious Christian

The Lebanese blogosphere is up and raging against this "racist" and "xenophobic" report:
view Beirut Report or BeirutSpring's accounts.

Even though I agree with all those criticizing LBC's report as completely unprofessional, it is interesting to note that this report really reflects the mood of a majority of Lebanese Christians in general. Marcel Ghanem (the show host where the report was aired) and Philippe Abou Zeid (the senior reporter) are both Christians living in the heartland of Christians, and usually capture very well the mood of the community:

  1. Most were enraged by the fact that reports indicated that the Syrian killer (he has confessed) worked for the notorious Syrian moukhabarat (secret service) believed to have killed many Lebanese over the last 30 years. As trouble brews in Syria itself, a large number of Christian Lebanese are deep down looking at the cross border event with a sens of revenge (it is their turn, finally. Though they are also afraid for the future of Syrian Christians). The calls for revenge in the report are really an expression of 30 years of frustrations.
  2. Because Christians are afraid for their future in the region, the community has become oversensitive. Any  non political event even if remotely linked to Christianity, becomes a community trauma, and is perceived as a "proof" of the fragility of the community.
  3. Lebanese Christians - in a self defense reaction - are becoming more and more in3ziliyin (separatists) and perceive any foreigner (to the community) as a potential aggressor.
LBC's report - though biased and racist- has therefore at least one big merit: it is a mirror to how the Christian heartland is evolving.

Somehow it reminds me of 1975....

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Aoun and Syria: joker please!

If you follow the semantic change in Michel Aoun's stances in Syria in the last 2 weeks, you will realize there is an attempt to reposition his extreme pro-Assad position into that of a philosopher watching and saddened by the events.

Aoun seems to have understood now that whatever the outcome of the events in Syria, Assad is bound to come out at minima as weakened. In his own savvy knowledge of the way Lebanese Christians think, Aoun has understood that positioning himself as an advisor to Syrians "I understand your fears and please don't fight" can help him stop his dwindling Support amongst Christians.

Aoun is actually playing on:

1. Christians fears of what will come next after Assad

2. fear of a civil war (spill over) in Lebanon

3. Trying to portray himself as a knowledgable, experienced and responsible politician

...All while trying to hedge his bets: continue supporting Assad but send mix messages.

So expect in the next few weeks: press conferences supporting Assad and insulting others, but also media press releases advising peaceful solutions in Syria and hinting at the need for reforms.

Friday, November 25, 2011

STL & why it is still relevant

Just read Elias Muhanna (aka Qifa Nabki)'s feature in the NY Times  "Just another day in Lebanon".

Quite interesting, Elias makes a point that Lebanon's future is at best uncertain, and wonders about the future of the STL (Special Tribunal for Lebanon)

Though I agree with him, I wonder why the pessimistic tone around the STL's role and influence. I think it is playing a much more important role in Lebanon's current political crisis than it shows:

  1. It is still used as a rallying cause for various M14 leaders
  2. It is used by Walid Jumblatt as a justification for his political re positioning (caused by Syria's troubles)
  3. It is (if well utilized) a negotiation tool in the post Assad redrawing of Lebanon's influences
  4. On the long term it acts as a continuous looming threat over Hezbollah and Syria's Assad (never know when it can be fully utilized)
  5. When there is nothing else to discuss, it serves as a back up for journalists!

My main problem with the STL is the "communications obsessed" way Mustakbal leaders use it. They are the main reason behind diluting its perceived importance among the public opinion. Overuse it, you'll kill it.

Part of the communication's success of the STL (in my opinion) is to keep a shroud of mystery around it. Hezbollah works hard to destroy that...By over communicating, Mustakbal leadersare doing a better job!