Influencing Marketers

Yesterday’s inaugural #ITPLiveSummit event here in Dubai tackled one of the core reasons why ITP Live has come to exist – influencer marketing. The business unit was borne from the longstanding ITP Media Group, until the end of 2016 known as ITP Publishing Group, in order to capitalise on perceived digital growth areas of video content creation, digital sales representation, ecommerce, live events and training, and also launching the region’s largest social media influencers’ agency.

ITP already publishes 85 titles, or brands as the official communication now refers to them, and the Live element is intended to augment these and also usher in a richer experience through enhanced content and data. I have yet to examine the set-up properly but, at risk of already sounding like an old dog faced with the new tricks of objective editorial and branded marketing content from the same entity, have to assume that commercial gain trumps ethics once more.

I “attended” the ITP Influencer Marketing Summit via Twitter, following and engaging with the hashtag as unfortunately could not easily find a live stream of the keynotes and panel discussions. One of the reasons I still adore Twitter as a media platform is its immediacy and transparency, where I was able to engage with various attendees and swap ideas and opinions from the comfort of my home office. I also managed to grow my network a little, too, with likeminded Twitterati from the UAE and beyond.

The main topics that seemed to crop up throughout were measurement, transparency and branding, areas that crop up in all marketing discussions where ROI and efficacy are important. We all know how easy it can be to grow a social media account with empty followers, ensuring massive reach on every post, but if no-one engages or buys the end product what is the point? I imagine the intention of yesterday’s summit was to announce the new kings of organised influencing but as far as I am concerned it is still Wild West Country crying out for a standard measurement of influence as opposed to a shiny socialite with a smart phone and a rate card.

Print PR for years has had Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE, sometimes AEV or similar), where we have the standard value of the column inches of an article mentioning our client and the price we migh thave been charged by the outlet if we put the same size advert. This, most PR practitioners agree, is an utterly outdated measure today but has provided something of a benchmark to work from. Digital and social channels cannot be measured the same way and the speed and importance of new media shouldn’t have but it seems to have caught us out, allowing various players to shout about their proprietary measurement as the best:

  1. Social Media Channels – with nearly 2 billion users on his channel, whatever Mr Zuckerberg decides will have a huge impact invariably will. Facebook adjusted algorithms to organically promote video content across Facebook in recent years and encouraged advertisers to produce moving images to take advantage of this, claiming incredible engagement figures that were exposed as lies in 2016. In an ongoing battle with YouTube, it brought up a valid discussion: what is classed as a view? According to Facebook and Instagram it was 3 seconds, YouTube around 30 seconds and Twitter was when the user clicked on the video to play it… further discussion on the confusion here, albeit from 2015. This debacle rolled on into 2016 and incurred Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP’s wrath. Still not 100% fixed, but Facebook are now focusing more on Live Video and Fake News… Don’t misunderstand me, channel-specific analytics do have their purpose but cannot be held up as an objective metric of influence alone.
  2. Klout – announced as the measure of your online influence in the Early Noughties, but riddled with issues ranging from the blackbox secret algorithms to privacy concerns over aggregating all your social media accounts into one place, Klout never quite made it as outlined in this article from 2014. My Klout profile is still active, however, and to this day I say anyone working in marketing or communications with a score under 30 needs to make more effort (I’m currently at 59, at one point Justin Bieber was more popular than Barack Obama, to give you some context). Not being considered anymore as a measurement tool, but at least they tried.
  3. Sysomos – a power player across social media managment, reputation assessment and almost every area of digital interaction, I used this tool on a daily basis whislt at Edelman Dubai. They offer their own take on influencer power and provide an unquantified authority ranking from 1 to 10 based on frequency of posting on keywords and other metrics. Unexplained, reliable, expensive solution not open to all. What about the likes of Meltwater and other monitoring tools? What standards can you offer up? And they are unlikely to be free for all to access, so why would you bother? Clients and brands switch platforms every few years so this solution might not be workable either.
  4. Agencies – whether PR, marketing, creative or media, we all need to justify our spend to clients. Long gone are the days when success of a Facebook brand page was gauged by follower numbers alone. Well, 6 years ago feels like an eon, doesn’t it? Who will pick up this mighty gauntlet and save the day? Media agencies tend to hold the bigger client budgets so their interest is clear in terms of reporting ROI, but influencer relations in my opinion sits firmly with PR agencies. In which case, is there a standard measurement for influencers already in place, produced by the likes of MEPRA or the PRCA?

An agency’s ability to manage and work effectively with the right influencer for your brand should be how you judge and select your communications partner. A PR agency unable to cover this only-slightly-broader-remit-than-before, when the work was predominantly media relations, is possibly not the right agency for your brand in the current communications landscape. I’m not talking about Instagrammers who attend launch parties, but authorities who will shift your products and offer a real rate of return. Choose wisely.

Featured image of striking a match in the darkness kindly taken by Jamie Street and taken from http://www.stocksnap.io

Top Middle East CEOs and their online profiles – chapter 4

When a Google search begins with the search engine giant questionning your spelling you already know there may be some ambiguity around someone’s online profile, intentional or otherwise. Digging down page one as we do, and let’s face it not many people will go beyond that unless they are truly desperate to find something they know is definitely online somewhere if only they could find it, we begin to see a rather solid picture of Mr Khalil Ismail Al Meer forming. Our 4th CEO on the TopCEO list we are using as a starting point for this leadership digital reputational analysis is looking good.

Obligatory screengrab of SERP here:

khalil ismail al meer ceo khaleeji commercial bank ashton and ashton digital reputation analysis google seo

Interestingly Mr Al Meer’s results do not begin with a LinkedIn profile or owned channel, but with 4Traders, a mix of business directory and news portal that manages lots of traffic through clickbait and leadership profiles such as this. I am not sure to this day if this is an approved profile of Mr Al Meer, but, profiel photo and brevity aside, it certainly isn’t doing him any harm.

Next on the list we are served an image selection by Google, showing us how well our subject has been tagged across the Internet in terms of visuals. You can see a full selection of images as the featured image of this post, as usual. It begins well and then descends into a multitude of random people with or without moustaches.

Beyond this we are left with several articles on the Khaleeji Commercial Bank company website, offering slightly more information than 4Traders did earlier, but we are certainly not overwhelmed with details. After some slightly arduous searching on my favourite professional network I did manage to find a clue as to why there was no LinkedIn profile surfacing on Google for our 4th most successful CEO of the Middle East in 2016:

Khalil Ismail Al Meer CEO Khaleeji Commercial Bank Ashton and Ashton Digital Reputation Analysis LinkedIn profile

Need I repeat myself on the importance of a polished and professional profile? Mine is hardly a work of art but has some merits, I hope you’ll agree. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Ashton and Ashton should you need any help or advice on boosting your online reputation, sir!

CEOs and online profiles in the Middle East – Chapter 3

Our exploratory journey through the top 100 CEOs in the Middle East, as defined by Trends Magazine and Insead in their Top CEO awards of 2016, continues apace as we step into the digital estate of 3rd place Mr Nasser Abdulrahman Rafi, CEO of Emaar Malls Group. Mr Nasser, welcome, we’ve been expecting you.

Without further ado let’s step into page one of a Google search for his name, and here it is:

Ashton and Ashton Mr Nasser Abdulrahman Rafi Emaar Malls Group CEO blog and online profile

I find particularly striking that the most popular/ relevant piece of content as deemed by Google (get in touch if you need more of an idea of how their algorithm works, as this whole exercise of reputation building and blogging is based upon Google’s selection) is a video from 2015, by Trends Magazine themselves no less. We are told repeatedly by the experts that video content is much more important than mere text, something I do agree with if done well. Where a content strategy anchored around video tends to fall down is due to investment (of time and budget), and the ability of a company to identify useful and insightful content that can be turned around in a timeframe that means the video is still relevant. In other words: is it evergreen?

There will be many factors at play as to why this ranks top out of everything Google can find on Mr Rafi, including:

  1. Content type – it is video and every channel, such sa Facebook, pushes video content to the top of feeds because people stay with it longer which means they can charge more in terms of advertising around it; Google also likes to include a content mix in search results wherever possible, such as images, videos, news, blog posts, social media chunks – bear this in mind when planning your content to dominate page one of Google and control your own brand.
  2. Author – the video was posted by Trends Magazine, an authority as a media outlet and an authority in the business world due to its annual CEO awards and relationship with Insead.
  3. Keywords and tags – clearly labelled with Mr Rafi’s name and title, making it easy to find and share.

Although it doesn’t have rthat many views, all the above elements add up to something Google has deemed useful to us as we search for “Nasser Abdulrahman Rafi”. And, to be fair, although it isn’t a recent video it is of interest in my humble opinion. It shows he is a human being and can talk to the camera without any issues.

Beyond the first result, we have a collection of images and media interviews. Unfortunately, as for our CEO in Chapter 2, we also have a LinkedIn result which links to the wrong man. A little more detective work into LinkedIn, by far my personal favourite after blogging for boosting your online reputation, and we find a basic profile but a profile nonetheless. I am not surprised Google didn’t pick up on it as it did not include the middle search term “Abdulrahman”. It lists an impressive series of leadership roles but is lacking a photograph which to me means literally it is a faceless profile. One reason for my undertaking this survey is to discover how many leading CEOs are in fact showing their real face in public.

There are many other great profile pieces in the media on the rest of page one of Google, even some social media links to the top-listed video, but we are lacking a couple of paragraphs from the CEO himself, an insight into what challenges make him get out of bed every day. A small ask and for something that many communicators would deem too trivial for a leading regional CEO. But an ask nonetheless.

 

CEOs and online profiles in the Middle East – chapter 2

Coming in at second place in the Winners List compiled by Trends Magazine and Insead, we find Mr Ali Mohammed Ali Al-Obaidli from Ezdan Holding Group. As is my wont I like to do a basic Google search to see how his reputation is shaped by the world’s online filing cabinet. Let’s take a look:

Ashton and Ashton Mr Ali Mohammed Ali Al Obaildi Ezdan Holding Group CEO blog and online profile

And what does Google reveal? That the best piece of content associated with him is from 2014, an arms-length profile piece positioning Mr Ali Al Obaidli and Ezdan Holding Group comfortably as leaders in construction and real estate in Qatar, with a growing focus on high net worth individuals of late. The second link Google offers up is a CEO letter as he wraps up 2015 and outlines the successes and future growth plans for Ezdan holding Group. Well-written, but possibly by his impressive team or external PR agency – definitely no shame in producing these kinds of communications but it leaves me craving for something more personable from the public face of the company.

Most of the rest of the URLs in the screengrab are to similar pieces of corporate content, so let’s now turn our attention to other channels Mr Ali may be present on.

LinkedIn offers company leadership the opportunity to display their business pedigree, personal and professional successes and also, during the last few years, provides a platform for longer form content to reach your focused network in the form of a blog post. It is unfortaunte in the first instance that Google adds in a link to the wrong Ali Mohammed Ali Al-Obaidli LinkedIn profile, but do not fear, we will go direct to the horse’s mouth, or social network if you prefer,  and discover that after a laborious search effort Mr Ali does not have a personal profile. I would only claim this was a missed opportunity should he be interested in raising his own profile alongside Ezdan Holding Group and have the interest to maintain his profile. One element of digital estate management I always preach, apart from blogging builds reputations, is to avoid over-exposure if you cannot uphold it. There is nothing worse than a derelict social media profile. Having said that, LinkedIn is slightly different and can be used for SEO (Google loves it as it identifies skilled and authoritative individuals) and does not necessarily need frequent updates.

And so, I will leave Chapter 2 with this advice: please create a LinkedIn profile as a minimal requirement. It will let you tell your story and also link directly to the Ezdan Holding Group company page. All good for corporate reputation and discovery.

 

Bassel Gamal Qatar Investment Bank Top CEO Middle East

CEOs and online profiles in the Middle East – chapter 1

I hinted at starting the search for prolific CEO bloggers in the Middle East and how this might affect their company and also their individual standing in the business community. I also noted previously that there was a dearth of obviously accessible Best-Of lists on this topic so I would start with the Top CEO awards as selected by Trends Magazine and Insead, the 2016 winners list available for your pleasure here. With this in mind, I wanted to assess the full list of individual CEOs via their digital footprint and present my findings in this blog.

Chapter 1 opens with the winner, Mr Bassel Gamal, CEO of Qatar Islamic Bank.

I always like to begin a reputational audit by Googling the person or company in question: search engines effectively decide which specific pages from the whole of the Internet we see and therefore represents an important indicator on the digital estate in questions. Let’s have a look:

Ashton and Ashton Bassel Gamal Qatar Islamic Bank CEO Google Search Results

What we can see here is a clean collection of images and articles, both from the media and the QIB website, outlining the profile of Mr Gamal. There are no interviews or insights on page one of Google except for the Oxford Business Group piece of content which is straightforward text Q&A which may or may not have been handled at arms length by a PR agency. A glance over Mr Gamal’s profile on LinkedIn gives no clues as to his deep business expertise or interests outside successfully management of one of the largest financial institutions in the Middle East. This, by the way, is not necessarily a criticism, but merely an objective observation.

My purpose here is to try and dig a little and see if the Edelman Trust Barometer findings, that people look even more towards CEOs for brand authenticity, actually holds true but specifically if it holds true here in the Middle East.

On very first glance it appears that a CEO does not necessarily have to blog to be known as the best in his field, in fact he just has to do his job very well. Should we conclude that leaders for lesser-known companies that are not as successful might be the ones in need of blogging and more direct lines of communication?

More digital data in the Middle East by 2020 than grains of sand in the Arabian desert…

With their full report released recently at GITEX Technology Week here in Dubai, Digital McKinsey have assessed the potential and pitfalls in the Middle East in terms of digital innovation as an economic driver. Here in the UAE we are almost at 100% smartphone adoption and everyone and their cat has an Instagram account, but how does that translate into real-world use for the greater good?

At this point I cannot answer that as am still nose-in-report, but wanted to share with my network now in case you missed it, so once I post something a little more meaty there might be greater discussion.

One point I noted, apart from the killer headline, was that less than 20% of SMEs (small medium enterprises) in the UAE have an online presence. Scary stuff, but massive potential to develop, as well as the brand and communications side of things too, which go hand-in-hand in my humble opinion.

Enjoy the report: Digital Middle East – Transforming the region into a leading digital economy, and let’s catch up soon…

This blog post originally appeared on my personal LinkedIn blog and will subsequently be followed by a more detailed repsonse to this important report.