The UAE is a country that truly understands the impact media can have on a nation and its people. Vice-President and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum has always highlighted the important role that the media has played in driving progress in the UAE, and we have seen first-hand how the media and, latterly, social media have helped to shape the future of the entire Middle East region.

From the launch of the first newspaper to the acceleration of online news and social media in recent years, the UAE has been a trailblazer in adapting to change in the Middle East. In addition, no one will ever forget the role social media played during the 2011 Arab uprisings.

Bullish strategies

While the Middle East is still evolving, there is no question that technological innovation will continue to change how we communicate. As the region becomes an increasingly competitive business environment, especially with the deregulation of certain government sectors, new players will enter the market with bullish integrated communications and marketing strategies, challenging incumbents for market share.

With that in mind, here are what I believe will be some of the key drivers of transformation in the communications industry in the Middle East over the next couple of years:

? Data and insight: Data is a crucial facet of modern communications strategy and planning. But perhaps what is even more important is having people in organisations who can extrapolate valuable insights from data points. We have seen considerable growth in demand for data and analytics, and the availability and understanding of data is key to solving business problems. Many tools are coming onto the market that help us fill the data deficiency gap of recent years and enable us to give our clients real insight into their audiences.

? Visual communications: The dominance of memes, emojis and GIFs on our newsfeeds and instant messaging platforms is undeniable. Visual storytelling can connect with audiences on a personal level. Brands are having to adapt and learn to communicate with audiences in a more informal, friendly way. We can still direct the message, but we will be saying more with less.

? Live content: As we’ve become more visual, the desire for video content has increased. Among young people in the Middle East, the trend for live content will only grow. Instagram has added live video, and other platforms such as Facebook and Twitter’s Periscope offer millions of users the option to share content in real time. This is an opportunity for brands, since this kind of ‘unfiltered’ content is deemed by this audience to be more authentic.

The phenomenon of fake news will grow with our increased use of social media

The phenomenon of fake news will grow with our increased use of social media

? Safeguarding of reputation: The phenomenon of fake news will grow with our increased use of social media. The most extreme form of fake news is intentionally false information, and the potential for reputational damage to a company or brand is significant. Corporate communications departments need to react quickly to minimise damage. In an increasingly digital world, brands are also exposed to cybersecurity risks and the resulting impact on reputation. No one is immune and we must be prepared. We’ve already seen cyber-attacks on banks, oil and gas companies, and government entities in the Middle East.

? New technologies: The growing trend for immersive social experiences will blur the lines between what is real and what is computer-generated. Technological innovations around augmented reality, virtual reality and artificial intelligence will allow the communications industry to support brands with ever more creative engagement campaigns.

? Purpose-driven brands: Never have we experienced a time where it mattered so much that we all play a part in solving social and environmental problems. We will see more and more purpose-driven businesses developing programmes that address the world’s most pressing challenges. An increased emphasis on purpose-driven communications campaigns will help our clients connect on a deeper level with their audiences.

Our industry is transforming at high speed and we are dealing with more variables than ever before. As communicators, we need to be more predictive and strategic in our approach, and continue to offer solutions to our clients’ business and reputation challenges.

Ziad Hasbani is CEO of Weber Shandwick MENA, a communications agency with a network across 12 markets