UAE leaders harness the power of social media to deliver their message

Sheikh Mohammed has 3 million Twitter followers. His son, Sheikh Hamdan, has 700,000. Many UAE leaders are using online platforms to stay in touch with their people, Dana Moukhallati reports.

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DUBAI // The past decade has seen an unprecedented rise in the use, power and influence of social media.

So it is no surprise that the UAE’s leaders are harnessing social media to reach out to people and deliver their message directly.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, reached 6 million followers on social media this month alone.

Burson-Marsteller’s 2014 report Twiplomacy placed Sheikh Mohammed in the top 10 most followed world leaders on Twitter.

He uses the social media to express his opinions and make announcements on Cabinet meetings, laws and initiatives.

“Social media is different to mainstream media in that it offers public figures an opportunity to put out there whatever and whenever they please,” said Mr Haitham Masoud, an online content expert based in the Middle East.

“It’s easy to secure 100,000 followers when you are a celebrity – the challenge is making sure to engage with your readers, keep them interested and increase your following.”

Mr Masoud, chief executive of the Arab Digital Content Forum, said timing and content were the most integral parts to using social media.

“It is important that public figures do not continually post generic and redundant information. They do not want to annoy their following,” he said.

“They should put out there something that is beneficial to the reader, something that will be retweeted and shared. Readers are looking for quality, not quantity.”

Dubai’s Crown Prince, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, does not tweet daily but has secured more than more than 700,000 followers.

Known as an extreme sports enthusiast, Sheikh Hamdan also has more than a million followers on Instagram, where he writes poetry and posts pictures of his adventures and activities.

Meanwhile, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs, has more than a million followers on Twitter.

“Hearing it straight from the guys who can make a change gives me a better understanding of their visions and policies,” said Saeed Rashid, 30, an Emirati sales manager. “I think they do a pretty good job at being transparent.

“I think we in the UAE are very privileged to have this kind of transparency, something that a lot of people around the world do not have.”

Queen Rania of Jordan and Sheikh Mohammed, both of whom have about 3 million followers on Twitter, are the only two Arab figures in the top 10 most followed world leaders.

But they still have a long way to go to beat the United States president Barack Obama, who tops the list with more than 45 million followers on Twitter and 42 million “likes” on Facebook.

In Mr Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, he took to those platforms to communicate directly with the American people and drive his political agenda.

Mr Masoud said social media had become a form of self-service information, making it necessary for public figures to have a presence online.

“It is very important for any public figure to be on social media, because they are already being mentioned on the various forums,” he said.

“It is better to take control than have someone else take control of an account under his or her name, which is why we now have verified accounts.

“If he does not exist, than someone else might make an account for him.”