Seeds of Change – North African Women Entrepreneurs

The following is cross posted from Intel’s Corporate Social Responsibility blog.

The Arab Spring has set into motion an awakening….an opportunity that hasn’t been seen historically by women in North Africa and the Middle East. Women feel more empowered than ever to change their circumstances, change their status and change their communities. I personally witnessed the “stirrings” during a recent opportunity in Morocco to represent Intel as a Corporate Ambassador and speak to a conference of numerous business women about leveraging social media to grow their businesses.

Intel is actively involved in programs to empower girls and women. For over 40 years, Intel has been creating technologies that advance the way people live, work and learn. Intel believes that to foster innovation and drive economic growth, everyone, especially girls and women, need to be enabled with education, employment and entrepreneurial skills. It is evidence based that improving women’s economic status produces positive outcomes for society. Unfortunately, technology has been underused in unlocking women’s economic opportunities. My recent trip to Morocco was a chance to shrink that digital divide.

Morocco is an interesting blend of old and new. On the Atlantic Ocean, a brand new modern mall (The Moroccan Mall) recently opened with Jennifer Lopez headlining, while a short distance away shop keepers are selling clothing and produce at the local Souk. Over half of the population of 30 million people (the size of California or Canada), are Internet users, with women rising to 33.5% of all users. However, there are existing barriers with 61.7% women being illiterate and 15% of the population living below the poverty line. In recent years significant measures have been taken to improve the status of women in Morocco. Efforts to reduce gender inequality within the legal system and laws to improve a women’s personal status have provided new equality opportunities. In 1995 revisions to Morocco’s commercial code provided women with the right to start a business and enter into a contract of employment without a husband’s authorization. On top of the commercial code, recent legislation now allows for women to have control over their property and money, plus eliminated a wife’s obligation to obey her husband. Despite the legislation, women owned business represent only 0.8% of the total female workforce.

 The seeds of change that the Arab Spring planted have ignited a renewed sense of “cautious” empowerment amongst women. They witnessed the power of the internet and social media in driving change within the region – which continues. They are now turning to those same powerful technologies to grow their businesses. Vital Voices, a non-governmental organization (NGO) working on women’s issues in the region, runs a Corporate Ambassador program that provides the unique opportunity to bring expertise from businesswomen in the US and Europe to the businesswomen in North Africa and the Middle East. I had the pleasure of speaking as Intel’s Corporate Ambassador at the International Conference “Business Women & Social Media” and train women at a hands-on workshop. I shared Intel’s social media journey and offered tangible advice on how to leverage social communities like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogs for their business.

I must make an important note based upon the misperception that the women’s businesses are along the genre of hand-made crafts – quite the contrary. The businesses included a bottled water company, a coffee shop, an advertising agency, and a coffee pod distributor. We even had a young woman entrepreneur, Karima El Aji, speak about her start-up Internet business – Cadolik. Most of the businesses have had success within Morocco and they now want to leverage social media to utilize e-commerce and expand their reach to an international audience. I realized that Morocco is at the beginning stages of not only social media, but the internet too, meaning that they have the challenge and benefit of starting a total digital experience all at once. It is an opportunity for them to create a truly integrated experience along with a strong device agnostic approach (mobile is BIG in the region). Unlike the U.S., much of the online presence will be promotional & informational vs. transactional. They need to devise plans to drive online traffic to brick & mortar locations – a vastly different model from what we have here in the U.S.

After 3 days, the women walked away excited to put their new knowledge to work and hungry to learn more. I realized there is a huge opportunity to help women in this region leverage online technologies effectively. While the opportunity is significant, I was reminded by the women that challenges still remain. Morocco is not a democracy, so freedom of speech is limited; social media dangles some potentially dangerous territory in front of them. In addition, women are concerned that more extreme Islamic rule across the region will increase its influence in Morocco and force women’s rights to regress. Time will tell. But the seeds of changes have been planted. My hope is that these seeds can be sown by the continued efforts of companies like Intel, NGOs such as Vital Voices, and initiatives of the U.S. State department. Thanks to social media, I plan to remain in contact with my new Morocco businesswomen colleagues and help them along the journey.

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Social Media Changes Digital Marketing

Starting in the fall of 2010, I have been asked to speak at several events & academia about the future of the web.  It centered on the strategy work I was doing to define the next user experience & on-domain social media strategy for   I put the stake in the ground that social media is a key driving force for changing the corporate digital experience.  In fact, I made the case that the train has already left the station. 

I marvel at leaders who believe that because they personally don’t engage in pervasive social media & online use, then their customers won’t either.  This is not about you, it’s about effectively reaching your customers. I tell people if you want to see the future, watch the trends.  Peter Drucker stated, “Identify the future that has already happened.”  Here are some facts on what trends have occurred and are occurring:

  • 50% of the human race is under the age of 30. 
  • Kids are leading the world’s transition to a digital existence, largely in part because they were born with a mouse or touchscreen in the palm of their hands
  • China as 21.4% of the world’s internet users, even though only 31%, compared with 77% U.S. citizens are online.
  • Japan has more percentage of population online than U.S. and likely to be the first that makes Twitter mainstream
  • One out of every fourteen people in the world has a Facebook account (500 million users, 95 countries).  Facebook surpassed Google & Yahoo as the top spot for time spent & number of visits.
  • Ad dollars are shifting to where consumers are at.  In 2006, $2.53B was spent and by 2011 spending grew to $4.26B.
  • Nielsen 2010 Global Trust study determined that customers trust each other over 3x more than brands.
  • Time spent on social networks and blogs is growing at over 3x the rate of overall Internet growth
  • Social capital will supplant brand equity as the measure of brand success.  With only 19% of the adult North American population inactive on the web, we are quickly reaching a point where marketing can no longer compete with social media voices.

So what does all this mean to the online marketer?

Integrated Engagement: We have shifted from a unidirectional conversation; to a bi-directional conversation. Subsequently we must shift to an integrated engagement.  If the trend is accurate, your current & future audience is rapidly moving online & more pervasively interacting with social media. So ask yourself why would you maintain a corporate website that was absent of the very experience your customers want?  I am not talking about starting up a CEO blog (that is a WHOLE other blog post).  I am talking about making all your digital content, content that can be engaged with and most importantly shared.   Don’t ship your customers off to a social media island for this “engaged” experience.  The key is to integrate engagement as the new norm.  

Content is King: If the new corporate website is engaging and has shareable content; then what is the next order of business?  Your content has to be good.  Good content doesn’t look or feel like a glossy, agency written piece of collateral.  Content is real-time with a constantly changing flow of pictures, videos and new snippets. Good content comes from a personal voice and is written well enough that evokes a visceral response of “that is funny OR informative OR makes me want to take action or…best yet- WOW!”  What do you do if you feel one of those emotions?  Share it.  Content success is no longer how many views a whitepaper got, but how well it was amplified leveraging the network effect.  Focus on developing a content strategy that FIRST creates good content THEN leverages various distribution channels- social media as one.  I recently had a chance to talk in depth with Margie Traylor, CEO of Sitewire. They are the first agency I have encountered that “got” this concept.  They created a service offering around content strategy & published their mantra “Content Strategy uncovers what a brand needs to say, how it needs to say it and where/when it is best said.” Bingo. It is about ubiquitous content that can span numerous channels, devices and is shareable.

Site architecture reflects your customers:  Social sites have put the power into the hands of users.  Their expectations of a digital experience have now turned towards corporate sites.  If your site forces users to navigate the complex org structure of your company in order to find relevant info, they will abandon the site and likely not return.  Go crazy and put a big huge search box on your homepage (Google has changed how people find information).  Put yourself into your customers’ shoes; hire UXI experts & ethnographers to understand your customers’ use of the web and re-architect your site.  The answer could even mean that your off domain becomes THE domain.  Volkswagen replaced their corporate site URL from ads and directed customers to their Facebook site.

Aim for a seamless social experience: Blend social bridging to allow users to log-in with their social profile, socially refer and enable content to live across boundaries.  Integrate social content as authoritative content and evolve search results to dynamically present all relevant content (social & on & off domain). Innovate the digital experience to become device agnostic (mobile, TV, desktop etc.) and harness the powerful customer data in your CRM.  Lastly, remember to share.  Your ultimate goal is to engage customers in the viral loop of social sharing, social referrals and advocacy.

If after reading this you still aren’t compelled to move the needle.  Let me offer you this.  I think social media has failed to make visible the more quantifiable & tangible results that executives need to justify budgets & investments.  That doesn’t mean positive results weren’t happening, we just haven’t had the means to effectively measure. Some of that rests on the immaturity of the technologies and some of it on the backs of marketers who didn’t tie business objectives directly to their digital experience.  With social, digital media and technologies maturing, you now will have the ability to more clearly see tangible results & success.  You can evolve measurement to more meaningful results:

  • From to quantity of site traffic to quality of site traffic
  • From time spent on site to interactions on/from site
  • From viewing content to sharing content (the wow factor)
  • From amount of content produced to action taken due to quality content
  • From number of unique & repeat visits to engagement depth

If you view the world from the perspective of Augie Ray at Forrester, then you will be asking “what social media will do for you”, instead of “what will social media do to you?” The changes brought about from social media will suddenly seem like a natural evolution to get closer to your customers.  At the end of the day, isn’t that what marketing is all about?

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