A Dubai company is planning to launch the Middle East's first dedicated social media advertising platform next month, allowing advertisers to target users based on their online community profile. The platform, called Tiger Fish, will offer similar advertising services to those provided by social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. It has been created by H20 New Media, the social media company that recently completed the advertising and marketing community portal, www.adnationme.com, for G2 Publishing and Media. "The Middle East is the second-fastest growing market for social media behind Africa," said Steve Vaile, the chief executive and founder of H20 New Media. "I think the region needs its own online advertising platform, which is why we have been developing the Tiger Fish network. It will allow advertisers to target the users who want to view their ads." Such targeting became especially valuable during economic hard times, when advertising budgets were tight and there was a "huge requirement to optimise return on investment", he said. Targeted advertising platforms also help a new range of more specific, lower-traffic websites to flourish. "Online used to be about eyeballs," Mr Vaile said. "There's been a big switch. The switch for social media is that you can run a much more niche, targeted website, therefore your advertising multiple is much higher. The focus really has gone from quantity to quality of users." Although Tiger Fish claims to have access to more than 300,000 locally based consumers on both English and Arabic content platforms, Mr Vaile said the focus would be mostly on those who speak English. The new platform would offer businesses that previously would have taken products from the US or Europe the opportunity to have local support and consultancy. "There's a lot that goes into an application like this." Zeid Nasser, the founder of MediaME, an online community for advertising and media professionals in the Middle East, welcomed the notion of a locally supported advertising platform for social media, but warned that it had its work cut out. "If indeed H20 have come up with such a platform, it is good news for the region that a home-grown solution for targeting users on social networks is available, but for it to be a big success it will have to be running on some of the region's top social networks," he said. "And those would have to be already existing networks, or ones that are about to launch, and will achieve market coverage." Several Arab social networks already offered targeting capabilities for advertisers, he said. "Some of these communities are already offering some sort of targeting tools, which may not be very advanced." One of the leaders in the region's social networking industry, Maktoob.com, already offers some geographic and demographic targeting to advertisers who buy the portal's social networking advertising packages, according to Ahmed Nassef, the company's general manager. But he warned against looking to the highly targeted Facebook advertising model as a formula for success. "Social networking is still in its infancy globally, so even when we talk about how Facebook handles advertising, Facebook handles advertising pretty dismally," he said. "Basically, they have banner ads that perform very badly in terms of click-through rates and conversions, so that it not the real long-term model." Mr Nassef said the most successful advertising campaigns that have run on Maktoob's social networks were those that engaged users, challenging them to upload their own video content about the brand, for example. "I think social networking and social media present a whole other level of engagement, because it's not about getting a lead on a credit card application or a sale right now for Emirates Airline, but it's about a long-term relationship with a brand," he said. "It's a formula that needs to go beyond the traditional banner, display advertising model. It really goes into a lot more comprehensive concepts." firstname.lastname@example.org
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