From a technology standpoint, the platforms and tools that allow businesses to thrive in the modern age are readily available to us. One need look no further than Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to see the possibilities. But these platforms are only that – platforms.
What we do with them is up to us, and limited only by our imagination.
Let’s take Facebook as an example. When I first joined the social networking site not long after its inception in 2005, it was little more than pictures, wall posts and ‘pokes’. Since then, as Jonathan Labin, Facebook’s managing director for the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan notes in this week’s cover story, the company has transformed “from a social media company to a technology company” which is rolling out product after product designed for the needs of businesses, ranging from SMEs to global corporations.
The services that Facebook has unveiled – and will unveil in the future – are simply tools. From there begins a step-by-step process in which regulations and business models must be formed, and, most importantly, ideas must be put into practice.
For entrepreneurs, it cannot be denied that Facebook is a game changer that is allowing many brilliant new ideas to come to fruition. In this region in particular, the future implications are enormous. Facebook’s #SheMeansBusiness programme is providing women with the tools and resources to grow their businesses, which, as Labin says, is happening organically with minimal input from Facebook aside from providing the platform and a bit of advice.
Studies show that 300,000 SMEs in the MENA region – one third of the total – are owned by women. Given these numbers, the impact of making these platforms available to women is enormous. According to a McKinsey study, if women’s participation in the labour market equalled that of men, regional GDP could grow by as much as 47 percent over the next ten years – an impact that isn’t measured in the billions, but in the trillions.
For businesses, whether they be solo female entrepreneurs or large corporations, the successful use of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or any other form of social media by is, of course, dependent on those businesses having the knowledge necessary to use them effectively.
It’s never too early to educate oneself on what’s coming just around the corner. As Labin explains, new products – such as Whatsapp for Business, which is currently being tested – are constantly in the works. Businesses would be well advised to keep abreast of what’s up next, and start thinking of what it means for them. How will this help reach customers, grow the brand and earn revenue? In this hyper-connected region that we live in, staying ahead of the curve of technology is vital, and potentially hugely rewarding.
Facebook’s history is already full of success stories of companies that have been able to leverage existing platforms and tools successfully. KFC UAE, for example, was able to reach 3.6 million people with a viral video of a bucket of chicken attached to a helicopter, which led one company representative to call its partnership with Facebook a “secret recipe” that allowed it to reach a wide audience in a short time and get its message across.
This “secret recipe” is ever- evolving, with new ingredients constantly coming into play.
Of course, Facebook isn’t doing this as a public service – they’re running one of the most successful business models in history, after all. Customers – publishers too – must now pay for the privilege of speaking to the audience they could once reach for free.
Nevertheless, understanding the dynamics of how social media works, and what it might be able to do in the future, will increasingly be key to making businesses work in an age that will likely one day be defined by its unprecedented interconnectivity.
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