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Social networking, CSR come to rescue of regional businesses

The ongoing global financial crisis has taught lessons to regional companies — according to two separate surveys: One is the importance of social networking and, second, the recognition of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as a business imperative rather than a philanthropic add-on.

As the number of consumers in the MENA region who are actively using interactive Web platforms hit 15 million, social networking has become a serious business for the corporate firms.

In the UAE alone, almost half the companies are using social networking as a mainstream marketing tool to win businesses amid tight financial conditions, revealed the global survey commissioned by workspace solutions provider Regus.

About 29 percent of companies in the country said they set aside a proportion of marketing budget specifically devoted to social networkers, which not only include a young consumer base but also enterprise level businesses, it added.

“Although there is a hardcore of skeptics globally, who do not believe that social networks will become a significant method of reaching customers and prospects, a significant proportion of firms are devoting real marketing budgets through the medium to acquire new customers and keep existing ones,” said Mark Dixon, CEO of Regus.

“With recent reports declaring that 8.3 percent of active Facebook users coming from the MENA region and 48 percent of hits for social networking sites coming from this region, it is not surprising to find the UAE ahead of the game,” Dixon added.

Globally, about 51 percent of firms organize, connect to or manage customer groups via social networks. About 54 percent of firms use social networks to find out useful business information. However, only 22 percent of respondents had found new employment through social networking, said the survey.

Another survey, covering eight countries in the Middle East, revealed that properly conceived and managed CSR is yet another way to enhance business reputation, innovation and growth.

According to the Second Annual CSR Middle East Survey conducted by Sustainability Advisory Group (SAG), more than 90 percent of companies believed that credible CSR programs can enable them to build and maintain a strong reputation.

While 80 percent asserted that CSR can attract new customers and foster innovation, more than 70 percent believed that CSR can help capture new markets and market share, said SAG, an international alliance of sustainability strategists and specialists.

More than 60 percent of the respondents were from the UAE and the rest were from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Yemen, Jordan and Egypt.

“We are clearly witnessing a shift in attitudes toward CSR in the region — previously CSR was perceived as a bit of a fringe issue, perhaps a ‘nice to do’ activity if time and resources allowed. Now executives are increasingly agreeing that it should be integral to their business strategies. We see this reassuring level of sophistication in the regional understanding of CSR as a sign of maturity and a desire to keep up with the powerful international trend,” said Maria Sillanpaa, founding director of SAG.

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