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‘Govts must open up to social media’

Muaz Shabandri / 18 September 2012

DUBAI— Social media is not just about ‘likes’ and ‘followers’. It is about engaging people in good content and right information.

Tapping the power of online communication, the first day of GCC Government Social Media Summit discussed different ways to engage people using Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

Keynote speaker Salem Al Shair, Deputy Director General of Information and e-Government sector at the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, explained: “Governments should not only move with the times but actually stay a step ahead of the times, by anticipating social media trends and planning accordingly.”


Elizabeth Linder; Tarek Daouk, Chief Innovation and Integration Officer, SMG MENA; Dr Hassan Dawood; and Fadi Salem at the summit in Dubai on Tuesday. — KT photo by Leslie Pableo

Statistics show, the number of Facebook users in the Arab world have almost tripled in just two years, from 16 million to 45 million — with a 50 per cent increase recorded last year, according to the Arab Social Media Report.

“Social media is increasingly used to address development issues and it is becoming more institutionalised and mature with time,” Fadi Salem, Director of the Dubai School of Government, said.

Explaining the importance of opening up to social media, Elizabeth Linder, Head of Politics and Government of Facebook, said: “It is a matter of building awareness. Today, more politicians and Governments are connecting with people through Facebook.”

However, one of the key ‘pitfalls’ is the belief that social media is just to send out information, she added.

“Social media is not just about sending messages. It is also about understanding what people think about. It brings with it a very good feedback mechanism. It is important for people involved in the social media space to have open communication with leaders and decision makers,” she said.

Several initiatives have been launched in the UAE to bring officials and government agencies online. The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs encourages its ambassadors in foreign countries to use online tools to connect with people.

A special session was hosted at the annual Ambassador Forum this year where the UAE Foreign Minister, Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, tweeted discussions and reviewed feedback from people ‘Live’.

Elaborating, Dr Saeed Al Dhaheri, Advisor to the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, Information Systems, said: “Social media has shifted the focus to public opinion.”  He called on government officials to tweet in a ‘responsible’ manner and advised Emirati people to use Twitter to follow UAE ambassadors serving abroad.

Dr Hassan Dawood, Deputy CEO of Al Sayegh Media, who has conceptualised and planned online communication strategies for several government entities in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, called on government agencies to invest in building local talent and developing in-house communication teams to deal with online needs.

The two-day summit is being hosted to help government organisations’ staff understand how to effectively communicate using online tools.


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