Thursday, 29 March 2012

ArabNet Forum Day One: where's the Arabic content?

Ok so the ArabNet Digital Summit Forum Day One ended. Lots to talk about, great attendance and fantastic speakers.

If I were to pick one of the most predominant topics to talk about, it would have to be – yup, you guessed it – the creation of more Arabic content. This is a challenged that the industry needs to overcome, in order to grow at the rate that it should. Barry Newstead of the Wikimedia Foundation said he’s “here to urge the growth of the Arabic Wikipedia” and that this is “crucial to the growth of Arabic content on the Internet”. There are 347 million ‘Arab’ people and only 154,000 Arabic entries on Wikipedia. This gap is huge. Where’s the problem? Why aren’t more of us creating Arabic content? Arabic-language apps?

Mike Butcher, editor of TechCrunch, suggested we create our own local version rather than ask the global news site to cover more MENA news. Fair enough.

Then we came across Qordoba, one of the Start Up Demo presentations. Amazing effort to translate and also generate original Arabic copy. As the internet becomes more widely accessible, there are ‘new-comers’ to the digital space who prefer Arabic content.

Something is missing in this picture. I’m impressed, but not particularly excited. Because it seems to me that what’s holding tings back is neither lack of entrepreneurial mindset, as some VCs said, nor the lack of local talent. It’s actually the ‘back-end’ – the education, the foundation, the government initiatives that support digital transformation and further growth and development of the industry.

If you haven’t heard of the Arab Digital ExpressionFoundation, look them up. They are exactly the kind of initiative that needs to be replicated, supported and funded. It’s creating the new generation of digitally-savvy youngsters, across multiple cross-sections of society. Not only that, they are 100% focused on keeping all their content and communications in Arabic. 

Ironically, this blog isn’t in Arabic. And that’s my own shortcoming, and that of many like myself. In fact, the official language of all the ArabNet talks today has been English. Even though the majority of speakers and attendees are Arabic speakers.

Somehow – this part of the world needs to get its language back… Maybe then we’ll create more content…maybe then we’ll develop more local apps… maybe then we’ll get our creativity back and generate original ideas. Not just clones. 

Thursday, 8 March 2012

ArabNet Community set for five days geekiness

As the word of digital technology gets more complicated, and even the geekiest of geeks start to get lost in all of's at times like these that start-ups, innovators, global and regional ICT professionals need to get together as a community and share thoughts, visions, best practices and trends in the field of online business.

That's exactly what the ArabNet Digital Summit 2012 will be all about. I've got my ticket to Beirut and I can't wait. I'll be attending the two Forum Days (March 29th - 30th), but I wish I could stay the entire five days of the summit.

Over the five days, a dynamic line up of speakers will focus on fields such as commerce, that have witnessed major shifts to online and adopted new business models in order to keep up with the increasingly digital world.

Personally, I'm looking forward to learning a great deal from these speakers, to get their insight into topics such as entrepreneurship, investment, the future of media & advertising, interaction through social media platforms and more. The latter of course, is of most interest, as this is the business I'm in. How is digital technology changing marketing? A question as PR professionals have been asking for a number of years. And today we're still asking. Of course, some of us are still asking because we resisted the changed and called it a fad. Now we're trying to catch up. Another group is asking because even though we kept up with the change, it's moving a lot faster than we ever imagined. And merely keeping up is no longer good enough.

We've got be selective now. We can't just get on board every digital platform or application bandwagon that comes along the way. Marketers need to be smart about what works for them and what doesn't. And be very realistic about their resourcing. If you've not got a dedicated team, and if you're entire organisation isn't buying into the cultural change, then don't waste your time. You need to achieve that before you can even try to implement a powerful digital strategy.

Clearly, some of the top level executives speaking at ArabNet such as Hatem Dowidar, CEO of Vodafone Egypt are execs that have bought into digital and shifted their entire organisation's behaviour in that direction.

More CEOs need to be doing that  - and as Brian Solis once said - #AdaptorDie.

Trouble is, the CEOs coming to ArabNet already know that. Now the ArabNet community needs to collaborate not only to help its own members develop and grow, but also recruit new members and influence the region's adoption of digital technologies. 

Sunday, 19 February 2012

ArabNet Case Study Challenge for Digital Marketing Campaigns

I believe one of the greatest digital marketing campaigns of all time is the Bing Decode Jay-Z campaign.  It was done last year, but I am yet to see something even close to its brilliance. Inspirational. 

Now the scope and scale of this campaign was huge. So not every single idea you come up with needs to be that big. But even really simple ideas can be taken to a whole new level if thought-through and executed so flawlessly, with a clear objective in mind. 

The ArabNet Digital Summit 2012 is seeking entries from the Arab world for the most innovative use of technology and new media for a marketing goal. The ArabNet Case Study Challenge  is open for applications until March 8th. With the surge of new media companies and digital campaigns in this region over the past year, I expect a tonne of entries. 

The interesting part will be whether the entries prove to be focused and objective-driven campaigns, rather than just a series of Facebook and Twitter posts / status updates that generated a really big number of "Likes" or Followers. Trouble is, many of these will have been responses to client requests of "I want a Facebook page...oh and some tweets."

Agencies react in one of two ways to this request. Either a) see $$$ at the prospect of selling more digital services or b) ask the client "Why"? The latter reaction will usually be met with either a) blank stares from the client or b) (in an ideal world) the client will say “well, because we know that 70% of our target audience is on Facebook and we’ve seen brands similar to ours have huge success as a result of engaging with their fans. We want to use Facebook to drive our marketing strategy, and we’re putting all our focus online this year.”

Think of your traditional PR channels. Do you blindly recommend using certain channels to the client without first evaluating if they reach the right audience? Do you ever just say “let’s pitch this to CNN” just because CNN is big? No. You evaluate the audience, the story, the pitch, the angle and then you choose your channel.

Social media platforms are exactly the same. You can’t just decide to add Facebook to the list of channels you communicate through. It’s got to be the right channel for the right message. And more importantly going 'digital' is a change in corporate culture.  Not just a marketing function. It needs to be integrated in the business direction as a whole. 

ArabNet is looking for the best campaigns from the Arab world that have truly captured the power of digital media. The case study entries have got to demonstrate clear objectives, strategies, implementation plan, results and the lessons learned. Six finalists will be chosen by ArabNet and its panel of judges, based on originality, effectiveness, impact and engagement. 

So to all the creative digital marketers out there, you have two weeks to put together your competition entry. Think long and hard about it, and let's get those outstanding digital campaigns from the Arab world out under the spotlight. 

Monday, 13 February 2012

Basic PR tips for Start-ups

I was reading this article on TechCrunch about Why VCs are getting into PR  and it got me thinking.

It makes sense for the people putting up the cash to also invest in positioning the start-up they are investing in. But hang on, there's a step before that, actually. What about how the start-up sells itself to the VC? Yes, of course, it's all about a solid business plan, development strategy and revenue model, etc. Because the VC at the end of the day wants to know it's going to make bank by investing in you.

So how are you going to convince the VC to give you its dollars? Many times I've seen great ideas get flushed down the toilet because of bad presentation. This is where some PR skills come in. Here are some basic tips for start-ups to consider, especially if all you've got is a two-minute pitch, for instance at the ArabNet ME Digital Summit Ideathon. 

1.Know your audience
Who are you really trying to impress? It's not your peers in the audience. It's the VCs. What does your audience want? They want to know that you know what you're doing, and that they'll make money out of your idea. That's what you have to show them.

2. Show passion.
It's your idea. Your baby. Your future. Believe in it, and present with energy.

3. Rehearse
Please God do NOT read bullet points from a Powerpoint deck or stutter nervously because you're not sure what to say next.

4. Get to the point - fast
Go straight to the idea  - no lengthy intros. What is it? Who is it for? Why's it going to work and how?
Pick a maximum of THREE messages you want to communicate about your idea and focus your entire pitch on those THREE messages.

5. Talk to the journalists
Get the media to talk about you before, during & if you can, after the summit. If you garner their interest, chances are the VCs will want to talk to you because the press is already writing about you.

Good luck.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Entrepreneurs at the ArabNet Digital Summit 2012: Ideathon & Startup Demo

My plan worked.

I did go down the legitimate route of applying to become an official blogger for the ArabNet Digital Summit 2012. But I also wrote a blog post demanding attention and it worked :) Thanks, guys for paying attention.

More people need to pay more attention.  Not just because this is the region's biggest web and mobile event. But especially to ArabNet's annual competitions: the Ideathon and Startup Demo.  The Ideathon aims to turn bright ideas into functional products. It will introduce the top 20 entrepreneurs and digital start ups in the region, exposing the latest in digital entrepreneurship and giving entrants the chance to win big cash prizes and the attention of investors, incubators and developers.

If you have an idea, this is your chance to bring it to life. Take it seriously, develop a plan and submit it to ArabNet. In the world of web and mobile, there are no boundaries to what you could achieve. I've been writing and editing this very simple blog post for three days, unable to publish. I couldn't bring myself to write about anything other than the recent events in Egypt and Syria that have taken over our Twitter timelines and TV screens.

But then I decided that there are some great ideas out there that need to find the right forum to come alive. There are young Arab entrepreneurs looking for opportunities to make their dreams come true. And if I can reach even one of them and drive them to submit an idea, then maybe I can contribute something a little more constructive than a melancholic post about more Arab youth losing their lives.

Last year's ArabNet Digital Summit brought together over 1000 attendees, 100 speakers, featured 18 panels and 17 talks , in addition to 20 entrepreneurs pitching their ideas and startups.

This year the summit will also feature cutting-edge panel discussions, specialised workshops,exciting competitions, focused networking sessions, social activities and more over five days:

- Two Developer Days with technical discussions & workshops for programmers
- An Industry Day about how web & mobile are transforming traditional industries like healthcare, travel, education & banking
- Two Forum Days, the largest gathering of digital business leaders in the region
- A Community Day raising public awareness about the power of digital.

So in essence, it's an event that presents real opportunities.

Watch this space for more updates as we're less than two months away.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Blogging for ArabNet Digital Summit 2012

I haven't blogged in eight months. Not that I was a regular blogger anyway. I'm more of a Tweeter.

But then I spotted an opportunity to become an official blogger for the ArabNet ME Digital Summit in Beirut in March 2012. And to apply, they ask you to reference your blog. So I thought I don't want them to see a dead page that hasn't been updated since May 2011. I rushed to "new post" and here I am. Blogging.


I've been busy. Busy living the Egyptian revolution. Busy setting up a company. Busy trying to get business in the middle of a revolution.

But anyway - back to ArabNet. I attended ArabNet Cairo last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. Not only was the content interesting and challenging, but the profile of people attending was really impressive. Having been in the PR field for over eight years, I was getting sick and tired of going to technology conferences where the only people you meet are the big shot C-level execs. Because technology has been, for the past I dunno four years at least, been driven by the young talent. Developers, designers and supergeeks. And those were the guys at ArabNet Cairo.

And now back to Beirut for the third year, over five days, with some bloggers too. I'm no supergeek and certainly no developer. In fact, there are some technologies out there that scare me . But let's face it, our lives depend on them. Not just our personal lives, but professionally as well. Our careers will not move forward if we don't keep up with how the web and mobile technologies are changing the world.

Businesses that are ignoring these trends or leaving them up to the IT department will loose significantly. Just like entering the world of social media was not just a 'marketing tool', adopting new web & mobile technologies for any business is not just an "IT tool". These are cultural shifts that need to take effect across the entire organisation. One day, I pray, CEOs will understand this.

So Omar Christidis, if you're reading this, make me an ArabNet blogger.