Thursday, May 4, 2017

Clicks, likes, money and validation in the digital world - the case of the MEA trip.

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
The MEA trip to Sharm el Cheikh came and went, I personally enjoyed my time and felt truly respected and well-treated. I was sent a link on the net where one person (who was not invited to the trip) was severely bashing the chairman of the company and the trip at large being composed of "so-called" journalists and "fashionistas". Well, to be fair to the MEA - if you are going to launch a digital app, you are going to pluck your invitees from the realm of the social media spectrum, or frankly, it won't make sense.
Interestingly, the unofficial setting led to conversations that roamed around readership, audience reach, bloggers'/influencers' demands to show up to such invites ("I will not move without my wife" said one apparently when invited to a different venue, "cancel his invite" was the answer!), and - you would not be very surprised to know - there was no consensus.
Someone boasted at making USD 30,000 USD a month from social media channels, the same individual apparently gave the figure of 600 USD per hour to someone else. Some admitted to boosting their content, some said "we always advise everyone to go organic". Bloggers and article-writing journalists were at a disadvantage during the trip as we could not file anything due to absence of computers, so it was facebook and instagam users who were at an advantage.
Fashionistas? Yes, they were there. If you are trying to understand the incredible rise in the Gucci profit reported recently, look no further than the Sharm el Sheikh trip - "blind for love" this and serpent-embroidered jeans that. Gucci was all over the place. Phones were made to extensive use, with photos popping up at all God's hours and that nasty habit of broadcasting live stories either via instagram or snapchat (one person told me, "for heaven's sake why do they bother, the audience for live stories is basically less than the fingers of a hand!").
Naturally, if anyone says the age of the selfie is dead then they must be living on a different planet altogether. The number of selfies taken was obscene. As one selfie-taking individual confessed "for every posted selfie, 50 other failed attempts languish on the phone" - so at this rate the astronomic number posted must be multiplied by 50 I suppose.
I wish there was an easy answer, there is not. A popular online presence is going to leave Lebanon soon to continue education elsewhere, when asked if they are to pursue blogging about the country from there, the answer was a very sure "yes, of course". It kind of baffled me and made me remember that orphan ceremony for the Social Media Awards (was it 2012?) when most of the nominees were in Dubai, Africa, or wherever else, yet were considered "Lebanese blogosphere" as the rest of us were forced to have half a dozen attempts with bad and slow internet to be able to post because we lived in the country.
Someone boasted there that the chairman of the MEA "made a stroke of genius" by inviting us to Egypt. The rationale was that, by getting us there, Mr. Hout was providing something "right up there with the Emirates airlines, which is spending an enormous amount of money on marketing. Let one tweet or post fly on social media and the trip would already be a success!" - I wanted to intervene in the discussion and tell him that Emirates does organize such trips, and if we are not being invited does not mean that the trips are not happening, but again, much like everything else, all was up for debate.
When I met a Lebanese blogger which I really liked on the trip (I would follow her posts but never met her in person), over breakfast, her question was: "How do I monetize my blog?". My answer, from a marketing point of view, was simple: "Think of all "monetizing" as a byproduct, this trip for example was free for you, cost you nothing and gave you a long weekend off. This in itself is monetizing, you have your career and your money comes from elsewhere, so just focus on your content, your brand, and "money" might or might not appear."
The driver for some of the attendees was money - understandable if one has employees and office rentals and what not - for others it was the posing, the clothes, the swimsuits and how they show on social media, for a different crowd it was a weekend off away from the hustle and bustle of Lebanon.
But somewhere along the line, the idea of "validation" in the digital world was present, how one achieved it seemed to have a different answer from one person to the next, what parameters and benchmarks makes it for "success" were never agreed upon.
Interestingly, the spa - sauna, steam room and what not - was free of charge between 7 and 10 in the morning, I shall let you guess where I spent my post-early-breakfast time. This in itself was validation enough for me.