Aug 20 2012

Twitter’s rotten eggs

Manipulating public interest is one of the oldest tricks in marketing books. I remember when a friend of mine first opened a coffee shop, he would call us every day to hang out at his place. “Get your friends too. I need to make this place look busy!“, he’d say. And it worked. A couple of months later he bluntly asked us to stop hanging at his place because he needs the tables for real customers. (Cheap bastard!)

But faking influence has taken a whole new meaning on the interwebs. The Middle East’s Twittersphere was abuzz last week with what has now become the biggest social media scandal the region has witnessed so far.

The debacle started when a Saudi Twitter user who also has a lot of time on his hands – Abdulrahman Al Kharashi – grew suspicious of the dramatic surge of followers of some famous Saudi Twitter users and concluded that they have bought their followers. That does not mean that they paid users to follow them; it means that those following them are bots (short for robots), not real human beings. There are companies that offer services like selling followers. To prove his point, Al Kharashi went and bought Twitter followers, which sent the number of his followers from 600 to 210,000 followers in a couple of days! The process is now being called “egg-buying”, in reference to the unhatched egg in the display pictures of most of the bots.

One particular Saudi Muslim scholar who was prominently featured in Al Kharashi’s alleged findings is Mohamad Al Arefe. A couple of months ago I came across his Twitter feed and I clearly remember that he had a little over a million followers, which was astonishing to say the least considering that his fame hardly goes beyond the geography of the GCC. Fast forward a few months and that number has more than doubled and now stands at a whopping 2,453,032 followers! Whoa!

In my humble opinion, that is very strange and begs suspicion for a number of reasons:

  1. The Sheikh never tweets in English and only posts in Arabic which would obviously limit his audience to those who understand the language.
  2. The Sheikh tweets mostly about religion, which would again limit his audience.
  3. Let’s assume that Mr. Al Arefe’s popularity reaches beyond the realms of the Gulf, and let’s also assume he has followers from Kuwait all the way to Morocco, he still wouldn’t have 2.3 million followers. Simply because all Twitter users in the region combined do not add up to more than 1.3 million users!
  4. And of course more importantly, because there are online tools now that give you the exact percentage of your fake and inactive followers. My followers (and I only have a 1,137 of them at the time of writing this post) are 82% “Good”, meaning they are active and not bought. Al Arefe on the other hand has 28% of “Good” followers!
  5. You can’t but rub your chin in doubt when you see the people mentioned below with millions of followers, while Wael Ghonim, for example, the man who basically kicked off the Egyptian revolution with 619,000 followers, and world renowned women’s rights activist Manal Al Sharif, who started the Saudi women’s rights to drive debate, with 115,597 followers! That is not to say these numbers are bad, but the 2.4 million is ridiculously high.

I know I’m picking on Al Arefe here, but that’s because if those accusations are true that means the Sheikh has no respect to people’s intelligence and that is not what a role model does. Others accused of buying followers include: Dr. Salman Al Odah, a very famous Saudi Muslim scholar (1,515,339 followers); Ahmad Shugairi, show producer and presenter best known for his Ramadan program Khawater (1,621,405 followers); Aaidh Al Qarni, Muslim scholar, author and plagiarist (1,616,324 followers), Turki Aldakhil, Saudi journalist and author and host of Al Arabiya’s Eda’at program (747,753 followers), Battal Al Goos, Saudi sports presenter (738,871 followers), Abdulrahman Bin Mosaad, a Saudi poet and president of Al Hilal FC, Fahad Albutairi, Saudi comedian (436,242 followers).

The scandal has made it into several prominent media outlets (Al Eqtisadiah, Al Hayat, Al Arabiya, Al Sharq, Al Jazirah, and many others. It even prompted a Saudi cleric to label the unethical practice of egg-buying as sinful. A cleric issuing a fatwa forbidding other clerics from buying followers? It’s all too strange!

In another article Al Arabiya quoted Dr. Fayez Al Shehri, a Digital and Social Media expert, as saying: “A number of famous Saudis and GCC nationals from different interests are resorting to wrong methods in order to increase the number of their followers“.

But mind you, most of those on the list are famous in their own rights and have a great deal of following in their communities and among their fans, and it could be the case that some of those have been genuinely followed by many people. I personally follow Ahmad Shugairi because I believe his teachings are moderate and are a source of inspiration.

Even Al Kharashi who started the fracas said: “I’m not saying every one of them is buying followers, but what I am doing proves that there are large numbers of fake followers for many celebrities“.

So I turned to my friend and social media expert Khaled El Ahmed, better known as Shusmo. Khaled refused to join the Twitter debate because he believes the accusations are baseless. Here is the Q&A that followed:

Who-sane: So how likely is it that those Twitter celebrities referenced in the articles above have bought their followers?
Shusmo: Very unlikely. The article is not valid. It is true some can buy their followers, but those listed are legit.

Who-sane: But how can Mohamed Al Arefe have 2.4 million followers when (according to the Dubai School of Government’s statistics) there are only 1.3 million Twitter users in the world?!
Shusmo: The number of active users in the Arab World is 1.3 million, whereas the registered number of users far exceeds this number.

Who-sane: How reliable is http://fakers.statuspeople.com? According to their website, @TamerHosny has %24 “Good” followers, does that mean he bought the other %75?
Shusmo: The articles are all based on this bogus app. No third party app can scan all your followers. It is simply “APImpossible”. Faker can only read a sample of the last 500 records of any given account and build assumptions on it. And as it says in its About Us, this method proved accurate for anyone who has 10,000 followers or less

So there you have it, some strongly think it is indeed a scandal worth exposing and those involved should at least apologize to their followers for deception and faking influence, and some believe that those people were targeted for different reasons, but whatever the truth is, it sure does smell eggy.

What do YOU think?

P.S: Eid Mubarak! Kol 3am w ento bkhair!


Feb 6 2011

Kenneth Cole is a jerk

By now you must have heard about the cruel, insensitive, tasteless, inhuman, tweet that Kenneth Cole posted.

If you haven’t then here’s a quick recap: last Friday, the Friday of DepartureKenneth Cole‘s official twitter handle blurted:

To make it a perfect storm of a PR disaster for KC, the tweet was personally sent by the man himself, as described in his twitter bio: “Thoughts that end in -KC are from me personally“, which it did, because in my opinion, no social media guy, as ignorant as they may be sometimes, would tweet a line that obnoxious.

Obviously, once tweeted, all hell broke lose! The most interesting of all responses, though, was the creation of a parody Kenneth Cole PR twitter handle, tweeting Kenneth Cole-like heartless puns:

Parents of Hiroshima — you’ll melt when you see our new kids collection!
You’re gonna want to Abu Ghraib one of our hoodies before they’re gone.
Hey, Pope Benedict – there’s no way to fondle our spring shoes inappropriately!
Of course there are no gays in Iran, they’re all shopping at my new outlet in Dubai!
Rolling through Germany? Gestapo by our new Berlin store!

Later on, of course, KC deleted his tweet and issued an apology (interesting comments there by the way). But it was too little, too late. He has already misused a noble cause, stolen an honorable hashtag to associate with his shoes and mocked the hopes and aspirations of millions of people, of whom dozens have died so far and some are still MIA till this moment, struggling to outcast a dictator. Too little, too F—-N late, Kenneth!

Mind you, this is all not new to Cole. A bit of googling around the internets showed that insensitivity and lameness is his thing. Without them he’s just another shoe maker. It was not the first time he used obnoxious puns to promote his work. War in Iraq? Homelessness? AIDS? 9/11? Religion? Katrina, Bird FluFlight 1549 (the one that landed on the Hudson)? You name it! … It’s like this guy is anxiously waiting for the next disaster to occur to use it for his benefit.

But, LOL, unfortunately for Mr. Cole, and for our amusement, it doesn’t end there. That same night, an outraged prankster has, deservingly so, affixed a decal of the same tweet, word for word, on one of KC’s branches. Thank you, Mr. Prankster!

Kenneth Cole single-handedly managed to hurt his brand and he hurt it real bad. And unless he dedicates some time and effort to the Egyptian cause, I’m betting this is going to be a tough one for him to get out of.

Finally, here are some good tips to follow when tweeting, especially if you’re doing so on behalf of a brand:

  1. Be Sensitive. Never, ever use a political, environmental or civic crisis to promote your company or your products. It reeks of opportunism.
  2. Be Positive. As a business entity, you should never post negative comments about others on Twitter. You’re the only one that will end up looking bad.
  3. Be Clear. Make sure you have a policy regarding who in your company may post using the company’s official Twitter account, and make sure you offer them training on what is and isn’t appropriate. Make clear the ramifications for misuse.
  4. Be Clean. Never use profanities or other vulgar terms in a tweet. Once again, it will only make you look bad, and you’ll likely offend customers, too.
  5. Be Literate. Don’t follow in the footsteps of Sarah Palin or George W. Bush: Make sure it’s a word before you make it public.
  6. Be Careful. Last but definitely not least, remember that using social media is a little bit like driving. Don’t do it while intoxicated, and always think twice before you tweet.

Now having said all that, what’s the first adjective that comes to your mind which rhymes with Cole? Yep, that’s right.


Jan 31 2011

A Very Unnecessary PR Disaster

People are asking, demanding, the boycotting of a newly opened restaurant in Kuwait. Internet citizens are grilling, bashing, slamming a restaurant which is a little more than a month old! WOW!

It’s brand new for God’s sake, so how on earth did it manage to get itself tangled, literally, in a web of disasters in a record time? Alexander explains in his blog.

It started when a couple, who also happen to be bloggers who live in Kuwait, decided to visit a newly opened restaurant, Benihana. Now the couple, being the bloggers that they are, did what a blogger would do: talk about their experience! The review wasn’t even negative, and a very balanced one if you ask me. (You have to read the comments on the original post as well, some really funny stuff, obviously by the restaurant’s staff, or Mike Servo, the restaurant’s General Manager).

Now the restaurant has sued the bloggers (read the court order in Arabic here) and are outrageously demanding the following:

  1. An amount of 65,000 Emirati Dirhams! (or 5001 Kuwaiti Dinars. Five thousand and ONE!)
  2. Shutting down the “slanderous” website (the blog)
  3. Paying for lawyer’s fees

I am sitting here typing and I’m fuming with rage! Have these guys been living under a rock?! Do they know what a blog is? What the internet is?

What should have been a simple: “Dear xxxx, we appreciate your feedback. Your comments and those of others are valuable to us and we’ll be working hard to make sure you have a great experience next time! Thank you for visiting our restaurant!” turned into a threat.

What could and should have been a great opportunity to promote Benihana’s offering (had they improved their food and reinvited the blogger) turned into a PR disaster. And a new business that just needed a few good cooks now needs world-class crisis management. But certainly making this tale one of the best case studies on what companies should never do.

Here is what the clever general manager wrote on 2:48AM’s blog.

“Thank You for visiting us in our restaurant and dining in with your wife .I had found your comments and in your web site on Benihana. I also found it out that our rights and name is being used in a wrong way and broadcasting the video without a proper consent from us is really annoying specially Benihana is just opened up its doors to the public. We are seeking and consulting our legal dept. on how we can form a type of law suit against your website to be brought up to the Kuwait authorities. We respect opinion, but we see it in a way that Benihana name have been destroyed and abused on your website. We are eager to know your name and meet you personally if you don’t have anything to hide.”

Now people are grilling the restaurant all over the internets. Several bloggers have posted about it already. Twitter in Dubai was trending with the restaurant’s infamous name. Their Facebook page is plagued with people  leaving disapproving comments (at the time of writing this post). You too can join in if you want ;) (although you’ll have to “Like” the page to be able to comment, something which I don’t really like!)

After all this very negative publicity, I really hope the restaurant would have enough sense to drop the case and learn a few things form this experience, basic things like … you really can’t force people to like your service, and you certainly can’t force them to shut up.

They wanted to shut down one website, now good luck shutting down social media!

Thank you Alexander for pointing this out.


Jan 24 2011

On Blogging

Why do we blog? What do we blog about? Who do we blog for? Where do we blog? When do we blog? What blogging platform do we choose? Is it worth it? How do we do it? How did it change our lives? What are we looking to achieve? Did it effect us or those around us? Positively? negatively? …? ….? ….?

Lots and LOTS of questions relating to blogs and blogging me and a bunch of awesome bloggers from the region will be trying to answer on Dubai Eye‘s Techno Tuesdays! Yes, that’s tomorrow morning, from 10 am to 12 pm Dubai time (+4 GMT).

Ubiquitous social media celebrity, blogger, tweep, GeekFest Dubai “unorganizer” and Dubai Eye’s Tech Tuesdays’ co-host, Alexander McNabb, thankfully, invited me to take part in the conversation and give my two cents worth.

So if you’re in Dubai, tune in to 103.8 FM, and if you’re not, listen to Dubai Eye’s radio stream on http://dubaieye1038.com and you can be part of the conversation by calling in or tweeting the #DubaiEye hashtag. Alternatively, you can listen live from your iPhone by downloading Dubai Eye’s app.

In the studio will be Alexander, yours truly, Seabee, HellwaFashion and Sarah Walton. Joining us on the phone will be Sara Refai (Ussa Nabulsiyeh), Mich Café and Roba (and far away).

The show will be podcasted, so I’ll link to it along with my observations and learnings.

So stay tuned! (A word I’ve always wanted to use!)


Jan 4 2011

Romance, Jordanian Style!

Jordanian romance might sound like an oxymoron, but let me assure you that it is alive and well. And here’s a recent video to prove that (may provoke suicidal thoughts, or like in my case, hysterical laughter):

(I liked the echoing “Titjawwazeeni?” LOL!)

Although now I’m really wondering, did Hala stand him up or are they now living tacky ever after?

Or, hmmmmm, could it be a PR stunt from Grand Hyatt Amman?

It doesn’t matter, because it was a good laugh!