How Islamic marketers can harness the potential of social media without causing offence?
Paper presented at 8th Global Islamic Marketing Conference, Alanya Turkey May 2, 2017
THE SOCIAL REVOLUTION
It would be no exaggeration to say that nowadays many of us spend a significant amount of time every day staring at a small-lit screen on our smartphones. Apart from revealing our anxieties to us, this also tells us that we are in the middle of a social media revolution. The addictive nature of this medium implies that people are really stuck to it, and this poses great opportunities that marketers are ever ready to exploit.
Social media networking is a more recent phenomenon. Just go back a few years and marketing was a different ball game altogether. In those days, say for example, if a small cause related outfit aspired to promote their cause in front of an audience of millions, it would have to do a lot of hard work and require substantial amounts of money.
Imagine that you have a cause close to your heart that you wish to share with others and you are looking for an audience in a city that you intend to visit. To get your message across to the residents of that city you would require physical travel, booking of venue, spending money on print or electronic advertising, payments for billboards, and hoardings for announcing your presence. You would labor hard to woo the local press and do much more. All this would requires mega amount of funds, and energy which individuals, inspired by a charitable cause, often do not have at their disposal.
But that was then, and this is now. Gone are the days when billions would be needed to reach out to people, even across international borders. Now connection with millions of people is merely a few clicks away.
THE FEATURES OF SOCIAL MEDIA
With the social media revolution, a level playing field has been created, and in-roads are being made by smaller organizations that are in-tune with its power. With meaningful messages and a very small investment of time, Islamic marketers can make themselves heard and be responded to by millions across the globe. Social media allows those striving for Muslim causes to not only engage with, but also considerably influence a relevant audience, all with a small handheld device! Harnessed properly, it has the potential to capture hearts and minds. A global phenomenon, with billions of people on it, the absence of any cause-related organization or individual from social media networking will result in oblivion from the public eye. Some prominent features of social media networking include:
Interactivity is at the center of social networking sites. It enables ongoing dialogue rather than monologue and facilitates interaction between users by actively involving them.
Social media networking is communal. It allows a number of individuals to be connected virtually, radically diminishing the constraints of time and space and allowing the formation of a community centered on common interests. Thus families, friends, work colleagues, fans, customers all form their own communities engaging in conversations that flow around their connections.
- Relatively low cost
In comparison to other traditional forms of marketing, social media provides a relatively low-cost solution to engage with customers in different parts of the world. For organizations that do not boast large budgets, social media is an ideal choice for customer outreach and interaction.
- Free speech
Social media is a relatively democratic medium, which facilitates freedom of expression. Initially there was little or no censorship, however legislation is increasingly tightening its grip on social networks regarding what gets posted online. But as it is a network of individuals communicating in real time, who say whatever it is they wish to say, freedom of expression is not that easily curtailed using this medium.
In recent times social media networking sites facilitated a number of political movements. Through this medium, leaders are able to influence and goad people to action. The Arab spring, the Turkish Military coup and the US elections are prime examples in which social networking sites played a key role in moving people to take action.
According to recent reports, nearly one third of the world’s population or about 2.34 billion people regularly use social media. As of the fourth quarter of 2016, Facebook had 1.86 billion monthly active users. Getting on social media truly means going global and marketing across borders.
Social networks are habit forming and massively addictive. People spend a lot of time online often to the detriment of other day-to-day tasks. Social media has the propensity to disrupt lives of users. Sites create content that is meant to draw users and advertisers in turn profit from people’s vulnerabilities. Its appeal to emotion and functionality to share information at a deeply personal level draws people to social networking and makes it addictive.
Why wait long on the phone for customer service representative to shuffle you back and forth to another colleague or pay for the ordeal when you can simply tweet your query and get a quick response. Immediacy is one of social media’s greatest features as it allows things to get done quickly.
TACKLING SOCIAL MEDIA ABUSE
While social media has given an opportunity to smaller organizations and individuals to reach out to massive audiences, it has also attracted unscrupulous elements that exploit its potential for their vested interests. There are many forms of abusive behavior that one encounters online. Prominent of them are:
- Online Deceit
It is commonplace to discover fake news, fake social networking accounts and fake followers. There is also identity theft and fraud. Increasingly social networking sites are being used to defraud and lie to people. In contrast to such behavior Muslims marketers are to be honest and truthful in their presentation for such is exhorted to, tremendously in Islam’s holy text, the Qur’an.
“…and speak words of appropriate justice.” (33:70)
“..and avoid false statement.” (22:30)
“So he (the devil) made them fall, through deception…” (7:22)
Acting on these commandments, it is unlawful for a Muslim marketer to engage in any form of deceptive practices using social media networking sites or otherwise.
Increasingly texts and images are plagiarized from websites and blogs and styled as one’s own creation without giving due credit to the original creator. The online world is rife with copyright violations and plagiarism, especially when committed by individuals who are in jurisdictions where laws do not exist to tackle this theft. Creators spend much time and energy to create intellectual property only to discover later on that someone has stolen their ideas and is now styling it as his own! In contrast the Qur’an counters the problem of stealing other people’s creation when it receives a pledge from believers about not stealing:
“O Prophet, when the believing women come to you pledging to you that they will not associate anything with Allah , nor will they steal..” (60:12)
- Hate Speech
One frequently encounters online harassment in the form of cyber bullying and abusive commentary when perusing the likes of micro blogging platforms like Twitter. Also common are incidents of racist, misogynous, defamatory and hateful commentaries online. The Qur’an forbids such when it instructs Muslims against using offensive names:
“..nor insult one another by nicknames. Bad is the name of lewdness after faith” (49:11)
Defamation and slander are clearly forbidden in the divine text:
“Woe to every (kind of) scandal-monger and-backbiter.” (104:1)
“..neither defame one another..” (49:11)
Hate speech is curtailed by instructing that people should speak good words to each other and not words that sow seeds of dissent:
“And tell My servants to say that which is best. Indeed, Satan induces [dissension] among them. Indeed Satan is ever, to mankind, a clear enemy.” (17:53)
- Bombardment with unsolicited messages
Many marketers shoot themselves in the foot when they resort to spamming i.e. by repeatedly sending unsolicited messages to users of social networking sites. In contrast, the Qur’an commands Muslims to respect peoples right to privacy and not to enter their space without permission.
“And if you do not find anyone therein, do not enter them until permission has been given you. And if it is said to you, “Go back,” then go back; it is purer for you. And Allah is Knowing of what you do.” (24:28)
Legislation is now increasingly being implemented to counter the misuse of social media, but for Muslims, divine guidance is the check on behavior, which is far more important than worldly legislation. To be embraced willingly rather than being enforced by an external authority, there is plethora of guidance in Islam’s holy text, the Qur’an on acceptable behaviors. Such Qur’anic guidelines relate with social media marketing behaviors and inform Muslim marketers about the parameters within which they are to operate.
A STRATEGIC APPROACH TO SOCIAL MEDIA
As with other marketing media, Muslim marketers should not have a reactionary approach with social media but a planned one. A strategy that identifies organizational capabilities and matches them with market opportunities should be developed, which should then be operationalized.
- Research the customer
Muslim marketers should investigate who their target audience is, what are their needs and demographics, the devices they use and the networking sites they subscribe and tailor their content around all of these factors.
- Your content should add value
Social media content should not be posted for its own sake but it should add value for the users. It should give some sort of a solution to a problem such that the social media account is seen as a useful tool and resource by the user that helps him or her in daily life.
- Use visuals
Images tell more of a story than just text. Communicate visually with your customers by adding good-looking images, and visuals. Images process quickly and people are drawn to them. This way your social media content becomes more responsive than simply posting dry text.
- Embrace Diversity
Social media transcends countries and cultures. Islamic marketers should incorporate cultural diversity in their content so that it relates to everyone who is connected with them.
- Tell stories
It is vital to avoid technical jargon, complex numbers, facts, figures and statistics that strain the mind. Instead simple yet captivating stories around products and services should be narrated. People have a short attention span on social media and aren’t always geared for straining the minds with complexities but relate more to stories and narratives than numbers and formulae.
- Facilitate Sales
Muslim marketers should not have a social media presence to showcase their products and services but it should also facilitate the actual purchase process. They should not hesitate to ask for the sale and give calls to action to the users and the guidance required for making a transaction.
- Use video and Audio
Previously videos were the sole domain of video-blogging sites like YouTube, but now almost all social media networks have video featured on them. A more recent phenomenon is the live video feature. Along with text and images, video and audio leave a more lasting impression on customers.
- Improve Continuously
Social media is a dynamic medium that evolves continuously. Social networking sites keep adding new features. This requires Islamic marketers to keep abreast with the changes and continuously strive to improve their social media presence for their users.
Social media offers an amazing opportunity to Islamic marketers to connect directly with their customers, engage in real-time conversations, and vitally to hear the perspective of the customer about their organization and its environment. It is vital that Muslims embrace social media marketing with a strong customer focus and a sound marketing strategy. However, while social media brings tremendous and exciting opportunities for Islamic promoters, there are also challenges that the improper or uninformed use of this media poses to their cause. It is expedient that their marketing methodology be informed by God’s guidance and they must ensure that while developing and implementing a social media presence, no divine injunction is violated. Only with such an approach will they qualify as Islamic marketers.
Al-Qur’an: Electronic Mos’haf Project http://quran.ksu.edu.sa
“Nearly One-Third of the World Will Use Social Networks” (E-Marketer, June 30 2016) https://www.emarketer.com/Article/Nearly-One-Third-of-World-Will-Use-Social-Networks-Regularly-This-Year/1014157
Statista: “Number of monthly active Facebook users worldwide as of 4th quarter 2016 https://www.statista.com/statistics/264810/number-of-monthly-active-facebook-users-worldwide/
“Tackling Nasty Trolls isnt Censorship its Common Sense” (Telegraph, June 25 2016) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/07/25/tackling-nasty-trolls-isnt-censorship-its-common-sense/
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kashif Shahzada MBA, MCIM, DipM, Chartered Marketer is a consultant with a specialism in working with faith communities. He is the chief executive of Natmark, a consulting firm based in Karachi, Pakistan. He blogs at KashifShahzada.com Twitter @KashifShahzada