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Virtual relationships come alive on social media

Hectic urban lifestyles and intense work schedules turn social activities into mission impossible for a lot of people living in the UAE.


Muaz Shabandri

Published: Mon 26 Jul 2010, 9:02 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 2:55 PM

Social media have stepped in as useful helpers with a growing number of people turning to these networks to build virtual relationships.

Shamim Kassibawi, a senior PR executive from New Zealand says, “Being on social networks is wonderful. Not only do I meet amazing people from different backgrounds but I also get to learn and read about different cultures here.”

UAE has over 1.7 million registered Facebook users, and a Twitter population of over 15,000. With the growing popularity of these websites, more and more people are making their virtual presence felt. Shamim adds, “If I visit a restaurant and I am impressed with the food or service then I will make sure I tweet about it and I feel it is only fair to give a brand the credit it deserves.”

Kellie Whitehead, a freelance copywriter from Britain says, “I use Twitter all day every day. It’s a bit of an addiction, but I don’t mind that because I use it for work purposes too, I have gained many professional contacts via Twitter, and it helps me keep in the loop with local industry happenings.”

When asked about her Facebook profile, she adds, “I have a Facebook profile too but I don’t connect with anyone on Facebook, especially when I don’t know the person in real life.”

Shifting focus from traditional forms of communication, a lot of brands actively engage with audiences over these social networks to enhance their corporate identity.

Commenting on the growing number of users in the UAE, Carrington Malin, Managing Director at Spot On PR says, “It is the volume and frequency of conversations that makes Twitter influential. The most active Twitter users in the UAE are also active on Facebook, have their own blogs and many work in the media, communications and marketing industry. So, news surfacing on Twitter has the potential to reach many other people via other social networks and word-of-mouth.”

GeekFest, a regular gathering of Twitter users and tech-savvy UAE residents is a reflection of the growing sense of bonding in the active online community.

Ritesh Jeswani, an account manager at Socialize says, “Networking events for the online community are taken to an offline community. Events like GeekFest and LeMagnifique are promoted purely online and yet pull in a mass sum of people that you would have interacted daily on a 140 character basis.”

“Twitter as a tool has helped me meet individuals from all over the region and my current employer and I first interacted on the site.”

Many people cannot imagine a single day without updating their Facebook profile, sharing information via Twitter and writing a new blog post.

Mani Karthik, an active blogger and ardent techie says, “The UAE community is very elite and passionate about what they’re into. Everybody is very different in what they do and what they are and the one common thing that interests them is Twitter.”

Just like any popular trend, social networking has led to intense debates. Are social networks our friends? Do they bring more benefits or do they harm users?

Karthik quickly negates the criticism as he says, “Twitter is more than a communication tool. It is a new platform, a new media. It might sound a bit awkward now, but it is going to grow from here, and everybody’s going to crave for it.”

Young Emirati does a balancing act

Fatma Bin Saifan, a young Emirati who finds herself spending most of her time online says, “Social media has become an addiction for me and many other young Emiratis. The first thing I do the moment I open my eyes in the morning is to check my Twitter and Facebook pages.”

A visual artist by profession, Fatma takes pride in her social media skills as she says, “Social media and networking websites have helped me a lot in both my social and professional life. Through social media, I was able to market and promote my work as a visual artist, and thanks to it I’ve been contacted by different entities from all over the world to participate in various projects.”

Citing an example Fatma shares, “A local design studio was promoting ‘SKETCH’, a semi monthly art/social event on facebook. Following a virtual invite, I attended ‘SKETCH’ and to my surprise I got to meet the founder of FN Design. He has now become a very good friend and sometimes I find it hard to believe that it all started with a simple message on Facebook.”

Scrolling through a long list of tweets, Fatma says, “Staying up to date with all the information that flows through these websites needs attention and time. Therefore it has affected my real life presence.

Finding a balance between the two is hard, but it’s essential. Being active online and in real life takes a lot of energy but it’s not impossible.

However, she despises the presence of a growing number of miscreants on social networks.

“Young people are overly active on these social networks. We are hooked onto it. As other things, some people abuse these websites and use it for all the wrong reasons like flirting and sharing inappropriate data.”

Radio gaga....online

For live broadcasters on television or radio, communicating in real time with the audience is a new experience.

The advent of social media has added a whole new dimension to the world of broadcasting as presenters around the world make use of social media to improve their experience.

Jessica Swann, Deputy Programming Director at Dubai Eye 103.8 says, “I remember when I signed up on Twitter in Feb 09, it was the first time I felt able to connect with the way people are thinking, that too instantly.”

“I use Twitter everyday for the show. It is a quick essential tool that helps me to know topics people are talking about and also what is going on in the world. On a personal level aside from work, Twitter keeps me in touch with my personal interests and also what is going on back home in Australia.”

Jessica who also co-hosts ‘Dubai Today’, a show that discusses the day’s top news from a myriad of perspectives, finds interaction essential to creating discussion.

“It’s hard to imagine how challenging my job would be now without that instant feedback that social media offers when it comes to producing local, community based talk-back radio.”

When asked about her experience with the local twitter community, Jessica responds, “I use social media to communicate directly with the Dubai community about what is coming up on the show and gauge their views on topics being discussed live.”

She adds, “It makes the job much more rewarding and it brings in a more holistic approach to creating content that people want to hear.”


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