x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Don't ignore online critics, GCC government officials told

Governments across the gulf region must do more to interact with the public on social media and respond to criticism when it comes, say experts at the GCC Government Social Media Summit in Dubai.

Ibrahim Ahmed Elbadawi, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Exantium, speaking at the GCC Government Social Media Summit. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Ibrahim Ahmed Elbadawi, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Exantium, speaking at the GCC Government Social Media Summit. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

DUBAI // Experts yesterday urged government communicators to adapt to the rise of social media.

Rather than ignore any criticism on Twitter and Facebook they were advised to embrace it and to react to it.

“Government departments should confront the problems and discuss those issues with the public,” Ibrahim Ahmed Elbadawi of the public-sector advisory company Exantium told the GCC Government Social Media Summit in Dubai yesterday.

Mr Elbadawi said most government communication strategies in the region had not been set up with social media in mind, and had to adapt to the rapidly changing online environment.

As more people took to Twitter to voice their opinions, it had become easier not just to communicate with authorities, but to do so publicly and openly.

Delegates also discussed the mGovernment initiative, which is aimed at ensuring that all government services can be accessed on mobile devices. Most government departments are now visible on Twitter and other online platforms.

The three-day conference will also address the effect of social media in the Arab region. “There was a bit of scepticism last year about whether social media was the trend of the moment or really the future – and there is far less scepticism now,” said Anna Atabekian, the conference producer, from Streamline Marketing Group.

“With people so connected online in this part of the world, we felt that the government sector was not engaging with their citizens as much as they could. “We are addressing how government cannot just use social media, but to truly engage with the citizen and get the most from the platform.

“We have people who were in the audience last year and now they are speaking. So we are proud to put together this platform that allows people to ask the questions and get the answers they need.”

A key area of discussion for the event is how governments can manage their online presence in a responsible way.

“There is bureaucracy and questions of regulation on social media – what it does is give every department a voice – but this has to be monitored and presents problems from the government’s perspective,” Ms Atabekian said.

“There is definitely room for governments to integrate social media more and this is one of the key topics we will look at over the next two days.”

The next two days will feature case studies, discussions and keynote addresses from experts in the field. Speakers include Pippa Norris, head of online engagement for the UK ministry of defence, and Elizabeth Linder, a politics and government specialist at Facebook.

Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority will be demonstrating how it has harnessed the power of social media to interact with customers.

The opening speech at today’s session will be delivered by the director general of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, Mohammed Al Ghanim.

ksinclair@thenational.ae