Following the first successful Qatar Chronicle Social Media Awards, QC’s Aani Khathon finds out the secret behind some of Qatar’s most loved Social Media Brands. Given below are excerpts from a conversation with Jonathan Donovan, Head of Online at Vodafone Qatar.
Aani: When did Vodafone Qatar start your social media page?
Mr. Donovan: Social media has always been an important channel for Vodafone Qatar to communicate and provide customer care to our customers. Our first step into social media was in early 2009, a few months before we actually even had a website, so it was really a social first approach.
Aani: How has the response to social media changed over the years?
Mr. Donovan: The response to our Social media communication which, at first, was delivered through Facebook and Twitter was amazing. Our Fan base grew rapidly and we reached a 14% Facebook-to-customers ratio which was the highest out of all the operating companies in Vodafone Group so we were really proud of the results. At first we put ourselves out there and let our followers tell us the type of engagement that they were looking for and the result was that our Social media pages became one of our top channels for handling care related inquiries.
We have subsequently grown from Facebook and Twitter, to include Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Google Plus. While our Fan base across all properties continues to grow, the numbers that are really important to us are the engagement numbers (views, likes, comments, shares) and responsiveness to questions. These are also the areas that have seen exponential growth. For example, this time last year we had 26,000 views on our YouTube channel while this year we’ve had over 830,000 views. So as we provide better, more relevant content we see the results in engagement and participation.
“…Customers know when they receive a canned response so to ensure customer satisfaction it was important to us to provide care directly from the subject matter experts in our Award Winning call centre, which also includes Qatari specialists.”
Aani: How has Social Media Engagement contributed to Vodafone’s brand identity among customers in Qatar?
Mr.Donovan: The Vodafone brand tagline is “power to you” which we strongly believe is fitting for social media. It’s important for us to respond quickly and effectively to all customers, be adaptive in the content and products/services we provide and to really listen to our customers. Social media has given us the platform to listen to customers, to crowdsource ideas, learn and make changes where necessary.
For us and most top brands around the world, Social Media is considered a mobile medium. People are using and participating in social media either related to Vodafone or other interests and when they do they are using our networks in the background. So it is also important for us to provide a great data experience, whether Vodafone is part of the conversation or enabling it. Today, we’re happy to be known as the destination for Data in Qatar. This underpins our steadfast commitment to provide every one of our customers with worry-free experiences and make them confidently connected.
Aani: Has the extent of your social media reach been different with respect to Qataris and expats? What activities have you planned to engage each group specifically?
Mr.Donovan: The landscape of social media is changing, especially in Qatar. Today, 85% of households in Qatar are connected via broadband (gone up by 5% from 2010) . On average, a Qatar household owns three mobile phones, two computers and one smartphone. This is backed by the Boston Consulting Group’s e-Friction Index highlighting that Qatar tops the MENA region with the least hurdles to internet access and use. On a global level, the Index ranks Qatar 23rd, outperforming several world’s strong emerging economies. This means more usage of data and therefore a more dynamic social media world.
In Qatar, it very quickly went from a niche channel to a mass channel so it has been difficult to create a segmented approach. In the last 2 years with the rise of better analytics tools we now have a more scientific way to understand the nuances of the social landscape and reach different segments. We are increasingly viewing Facebook and YoutTube as mass communication mediums while Twitter and Instagram tend to be channels heavily used by Qataris.
In general we don’t see a real difference in the type of engagement – our Facebook audience tends to be interested in finding out about promotions and support while through Twitter and YouTube we tend to get more complex questions from thought leaders, technology enthusiast and media. While we are testing some different, more Qatari targeted, content on our Instagram channel we believe that adaptive, relevant content, in English and Arabic, created and curated by a mix of Qatari and International content editors seems to work broadly.
Aani: How do you think social media has changed Qatar in recent years?
Mr.Donovan: I think that the shifts that you see in the way people consume media and information in Qatar mirror the rest of the world. Social media was a game changer and it enabled an easy way for people to choose how they keep in touch, how they get news, and how they engage with brands. It really puts the user in control and gives everyone a voice.
Aani: What do you believe is the future of social media in Qatar?
Mr.Donovan: Social media moves so quickly so it is really challenging to predict the future of Social media. There are a number of topic areas that will drive the future in my view and these are: the increasing Monetization of Social properties, the rising focus on Information Security, the increase of Mobile capabilities, and Media Fragmentation.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (now owned by Facebook), FourSquare, Google Plus and many other social media properties are now putting a greater focus on ad sales and monetization of their platforms so the way they enable sharing, the numbers of people who see your updates and the access they give brands to advertise will change and evolve as they find ways to make money through advertising. It is important that when applying changes to their platforms to support this ad-driven approach, that they do not alienate the end user and ensure that any advertising and brand engagement is valuable and will not turn users off.
The second element is the rising importance of information security. As social media users mature and become more social media savvy they are placing a greater importance on privacy, this is creating growth in more intimate social media platforms. So exclusive platforms like Path which only allows 150 friends and Line which is primarily driven from the contacts on your smartphone are really growing. I think these types of platforms will continue to grow and I think the future will see social media companies respond to this demand with much more clear and much stronger privacy rules. This will become interesting for brands because it will be harder to be accepted in the customers inner circle, it will become more important for brands to provide value to earn the right to follow end-users but if they do, the brand equity opportunity will be much higher.
As mobile capability and smartphone penetration increase, social media has become primarily viewed as a mobile medium and I believe this trend will continue. Mobile driven applications and integration with location and camera based services will grow. The rise of wearable mobile technology will also play a larger role. Already we see social media aspects added to devices like FitBit, Nike running and Nike Fuel, where social media friends can track and support your results. I remember the first time I ran with Nike running for iPhone and I posted that I was about to run on Facebook directly from the app. Every time someone Liked my post a cheer sound played over my music. It was a very powerful feature and the possibilities for this type of interaction are endless.
Finally, I think that we will see in Social media a fragmentation trend, similar to other media. People will look for social media related to specific interests, there will always be a demand for a mass sharing platform similar to a Facebook but I believed properties that focus on specific Interests or activities like N3twork or Instagram will grow.
Aani: Finally, allow me to extend our congratulations to everyone at Vodafone on winning the inaugural QC Social Media Awards. What do you believe makes Vodafone Qatar, one of the country’s best loved social media pages?
Mr.Donovan: Thank you! The team is ecstatic to say the least.
I think there are two elements [to our success], Care and Content, particularly our Video content.
Timely care and support through social media channels has grown from really important a few years ago to a basic customer expectation, so we have set-up a team dedicated to provide the best care. It is important to us to keep that care team in-house. There are a lot of companies that will outsource page management to a social media agency, but customers know when they receive a canned response so to ensure customer satisfaction it was important to us to provide care directly from the subject matter experts in our Award Winning call centre, which also includes Qatari specialists, who could actually provide first contact resolution for issues.
Another key part of our social media strategy is to post and share content that is relevant and valuable to the people in this country. People do want to hear about promotions, career opportunities, networks updates and Vodafone news as well, but as Vodafone we also have access information about the latest phones, apps, mobile, and smart city technology. We noticed that there was a real gap in the region when it comes to locally relevant smartphone phone and mobile related information especially in Arabic. Seeing this gap, and given that we have access to the latest phones in advance of launch and great relationships with tech experts from around the globe, this year kicked off a program of unboxing and review videos focusing on everything mobile, delivered in Arabic and English. The responses have been outstanding and it’s great to be at the heart of those conversations so we plan to extend this program next year through Youtube and all our social media channels.
Note: The results of the Qatar Chronicle Social Media Awards 2014, the first of its kind in Qatar was decided entirely by readers’ votes. Vodafone Qatar won 39% of the total polls cast, earning a staggering 5442 votes.
Vodafone Qatar was awarded the first place in the Qatar Chronicle Award for Most Engaging Consumer Brand on Social Media.