Leaders converge at GCC Social Media Summit to mastermind a new era in social engagement

Dubai: 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, a senior UAE official said today.

Salem Al Shair, Deputy Director General for Information and e-Government sector, Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, said in a keynote address to the opening session of the GCC Government Social Media Summit, which gathered the region’s most high-profile assembly of social media experts.

Public and private sector experts are pooling their brainpower and willpower together, to elevate the region to the forefront of the social revolution.

Underlining the growing importance of social media, Facebook users in the Arab world have tripled in just two years from 16 million to 45 million – with a 50% boom in the past year alone, according to the Arab Social Media Report. Meanwhile Twitter remains a reliable barometer of the region’s biggest talking points, with approximately 6 million tweets per day – about 70 per second.

However despite this progress, some challenges remain. One imbalance is that the overwhelming majority (70%) of the region’s social media users are youths (aged 15-29); therefore governments are keen to encourage a more equitable usage of social media among diverse age groups, making it a more accurate reflection of the population. Another area for growth is language usage: Arabic is the fastest growing language in+ Twitter’s history, making it vital for governments to engage their populations in their own language.

These sentiments were echoed by the Conference Chairman, Fadi Salem, Director of the Dubai School of Government: “Governments can no longer afford to be reactive, and must now be proactive. That means preventing any miscommunication or misconception before it even occurs, through regular two-way dialogue on social media.” In a strong signal of the summit’s importance, Elizabeth Linder from Facebook participated in a lively discussion on “Evaluating the Benefits of Social Media”. This discussion was particularly enlightening, since one of the most challenging and elusive breakthroughs in social media has been accurate measuring tools for reliable evaluation.

Delving deeper into the social media penetration rates, the Top 5 of Arab countries was dominated by the GCC; with the UAE paving the way ahead of Kuwait and Qatar. In an encouraging sign, Facebook penetration rate grew by 50% in a year, from 8% to 12%. Analyzing penetration rates in greater detail was a panel comprising of representatives from UAE University, Dubai School of Government and the Kingdom of Bahrain.

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