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Twitter becomes preferred channel for digital diplomacy

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A recent study has shown that Facebook is the second-most used social platform by world leaders, with 169 governments having set up official pages. However, leaders have on average twice as many followers on their Facebook pages as followers on Twitter.

Over the past five years, Twitter has become the ultimate channel for digital diplomacy for world leaders and governments. It is the prime social network used by heads of state and government in 173 countries, representing 90 percent of all United Nations (UN) member states, according to Burson-Marsteller’s Twiplomacy study, an annual global survey of world leaders on social media. Facebook is the second-most used social platform by world leaders, with 169 governments having set up official pages. However, leaders have on average twice as many followers on their Facebook pages as followers on Twitter.

YouTube ranks third among social sharing platforms, used by 78 percent of all UN member states, ahead of Instagram which is used by 70 percent. While Twitter communication is mainly text-based including visuals, Instagram is picture-driven with minimal text and more behind-the-scenes pictures. Governments with larger social media teams also have been exploring more visual communications with Vine and Snapchat, both of which target a younger audience of Millennials. Governments that do not have full broadcasting capabilities, mainly in Latin America, are embracing Periscope and Facebook Live to broadcast their press conferences.

The 2016 edition of Twiplomacy, which previously focused solely on Twitter, has been expanded to examine the use of other social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and more niche digital diplomacy platforms such as Snapchat, LinkedIn, Google+, Periscope and Vine. The Twiplomacy website includes live rankings and the first ever social media atlas for each country studied.

“Our Twiplomacy study shows people in positions of power are increasingly tapping social media platforms to connect with the audiences most important to them,” said Don Baer, Worldwide Chair and CEO, Burson-Marsteller. “As engagement becomes one of the critical measures of social media influence, our Twiplomacy study shows which political communicators are most successful on which social platforms and what we can learn from them.”

This final installment of Twiplomacy 2016 provides lessons for communicators on creating successful social media accounts and driving online engagement. Based on combining data from the different profiles with an in-depth analyses of the content, the most notable findings include the importance of being visual and creative, tailoring content to the specific platform, projecting a human face and timeliness. The world leaders using social media with the most success are U.S. President Barack Obama and his White House team, Mauricio Macri (Argentinian President) and Justin Trudeau (Canadian Prime Minster), among others found in the study.

“This cross-platform study shows that world leaders are increasingly taking an integrated approach across several social media channels, an indication of where more and more business leaders are likely to move as well,” said Jeremy Galbraith, CEO of Burson-Marsteller Europe, Middle East and Africa and Global Chief Strategy Officer. “We are seeing that world leaders are allowing people to ‘meet’ the personality behind the official title – and that today, much more than words, creative or personal images get messages across most powerfully, a tactic that corporate leaders can use just as effectively.”

The latest installment of the 2016 Twiplomacy study analysed 793 Twitter accounts of heads of states and governments in 173 countries with a combined total audience of 324 million followers.

This year’s U.S. elections will not only signal the end of Obama’s presidency, but the loss of the uncontested leader of the digital diplomatic world. With the largest following of all world leaders combined, the man who has most successfully managed to communicate his personal image through his online profile will retire with an audience of 137 million followers, fans and subscribers. The Barack Obama Twitter account following alone numbers 74 million, well ahead of Pope Francis in second position, with 28 million, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in third with 19 million followers.

However, Burson-Marsteller’s Twitter study revealed that a massive following does not always translate into influence. The official presidential @POTUS Twitter account, set up in May 2015, has become the seventh most followed account with 7.6 million followers, and it is by far the most effective account considering it averages 12,350 retweets per tweet. In comparison, the tweets sent by the @BarackObama account, which has ten times as many followers as @POTUS, are only retweeted on average 1,572 times.

Foreign ministries tend to use Twitter to establish mutual relations. In May 2015, the U.S. State Department used Twitter to re-establish ties with its Cuban counterpart, months before the official re-establishment of diplomatic relations. The State Department also tried to connect with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, but has unfollowed both men who had not reciprocated.

The EU External Action Service is the best connected foreign office, mutually connected to 122 peers. Russia’s Foreign Ministry is in second position, maintaining mutual Twitter relations with 111 other world leaders, and the Norwegian Foreign Ministry is in third place with 100 mutual connections.

The most followed non-government account is the United Nations Twitter account @UN, which is followed by 296 of the 793 world leaders’ Twitter accounts; The New York Times (@NYTimes) is the most followed news organisation, and @UNICEF is the second most followed international organisation. The @Twiplomacy Twitter account is the fourth-most followed non-governmental account by world leaders, with a following of 162 heads of state and government, ahead of The Economist, the BBC, Reuters and CNN, respectively.

“Twitter facilitates relations between world leaders in today’s online world,” said Matthias Lüfkens, Managing Director, Digital, at Burson-Marsteller EMEA. “I am especially honored to see our @Twiplomacy Twitter account among the most followed accounts by heads of state and government.”

Other key findings include:

–       India’s Foreign Minister @SushmaSwaraj is the most followed female leader with 5 million followers, ahead of Jordan’s @QueenRania with 4.7 million followers.

–       The UK Prime Minister @Number10gov is the most followed European Union leader with more than 4.4 million followers, ahead of Italy’s @MatteoRenzi and the British @RoyalFamily with 2.3 million and 2.2 million followers, respectively.

–       Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta @UKenyatta has become Sub-Saharan Africa’s most followed leader with 1.4 million followers, closely followed by Rwanda’s @PaulKagame ahead of South Africa’s presidential administration (@PresidencyZA), with 673,000 followers.

–       In Latin America, Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto @EPN has 5.2 million followers, far ahead of Colombia’s President @JuanManSantos, Venezuela’s @NicolasMaduro and Argentina’s @MauricioMacri, with well over 2.8 million followers each.

–       Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum @HHShkMohd is the most followed Arab leader with 6 million, followed by Saudi Arabia’s @KingSalman with 5 million, Jordan’s @QueenRania and Abdullah Bin Zayed (@ABZayed), the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates, with 3 million followers.

–       Among the foreign ministries, the U.S. State Department (@StateDept) is the most followed with 2.6 million followers ahead of the Turkish (@TC_Disisleri) and the Russian (@MID_RF) foreign ministries with more than one million followers each.

More than 5,000 embassies and ambassadors are now active on Twitter; it has become the voice of diplomatic missions in New York, Washington, London and Brussels.

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Personal computing devices sales still decline in MEA

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The Middle East and Africa (MEA) personal computing devices (PCD) market, which is made up of desktops, notebooks, workstations, and tablets, suffered a decline of -7.3% year on year in Q2 2017, according to the latest insights from International Data Corporation (IDC).

The global technology research and consulting firm’s Quarterly PCD Tracker for Q2 2017 shows that PCD shipments fell to around 6 million units for the quarter.

“As forecast, the market followed a similar pattern to recent quarters, with the downturn primarily stemming from a decline in shipments of slate tablets and desktops,” says Fouad Charakla, IDC’s senior research manager for client devices in the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa. “This was the result of desktop users increasingly switching to mobile devices such as notebooks or even refurbished notebooks, while users of slate tablets shifted to smartphones. These trends translated into year-on-year declines of -21.9% for desktops and -15.7% for slate tablets in Q2 2017, while shipments of notebooks and detachable tablets increased 11.0% and 63.3%, respectively over the same period.”

“Market sentiment in the region remained low overall, although an aggressive push from some slate tablet vendors meant the market declined much slower than expected,” continues Charakla. “At the same time, heightened competition has also made it harder for certain players to sustain their slate tablet businesses and generate profits, causing them to lose interest in the slate tablet market altogether. Despite this, slate tablets are still the most popular computing device among home users in the region.”

Looking at the region’s key markets, IDC’s research shows that when compared to Q2 2016 overall PCD shipments were down -11.4% in the UAE, -8.9% in Turkey, and -6.7% in the ‘Rest of Middle East’ sub-region (comprising Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, and Afghanistan). South Africa and Saudi Arabia bucked this trend, recording year-on-year increases of 3.5% and 9.6%, respectively.

A massive education delivery in Pakistan acted as a key driver for notebook shipments in the region overall. Similarly, the education sector was the biggest driver of detachable tablet shipments, triggered by a huge delivery in Kenya, as well as two other deliveries in Pakistan and Turkey, which enabled this category to achieve the fastest growth of all the PCD categories.

“While a component shortage prevented market players from reducing their prices too much, the average price of consumer notebooks experienced a considerable year-on-year decline in Q2 2017,” says Charakla. “This played a key role in driving demand from the consumer segment, and was reflected in the growing popularity of lower-priced notebook models.”

Looking at the PC market’s vendor rankings, each of the top five vendors maintained their respective positions compared to the previous quarter, with the top four all gaining share.

Middle East & Africa PC Market Vendor Shares – Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2017

Brand Q2 2016 Q2 2017
HP Inc. 23.7% 27.6%
Lenovo 19.8% 21.5%
Dell 16.3% 16.7%
ASUS 8.7% 9.4%
Acer Group 5.9% 4.1%
Others 25.7% 20.7%

Although Samsung continued to lead the tablet market, the vendor rankings in the space saw quite a few changes, with Huawei catapulting itself to second place. Lenovo also climbed up a position compared to the previous quarter, causing Apple to drop to fourth place.

Middle East & Africa Tablet Market Vendor Shares – Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2017

Brand Q2 2016 Q2 2017
Samsung 20.5% 18.9%
Huawei 11.2% 15.8%
Lenovo 12.7% 9.8%
Apple 9.1% 8.8%
Alcatel 2.9% 5.0%
Others 43.5% 41.7%

“Looking to the future, the MEA PCD market is expected to decline at a faster rate than previously forecast for 2017 as a whole,” says Charakla. “Technological shifts are playing a pivotal role in deciding the future of this market, with demand for certain products shifting to other PCD products and beyond (i.e., smartphones). Accordingly, shipments of slate tablets are expected to continue declining over the coming years as demand is cannibalized by smartphones. Meanwhile, the ongoing shift to mobile computing will see growth in the desktop market remain close to flat throughout IDC’s forecast period ending 2021. Notebook shipments will experience very slow growth beyond 2018, while detachable tablets will remain the fastest growing PCD category, eating away share from other computing devices.”

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Gazer cyber-spies exposed

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ESET has released new research into the activities of the Turla cyberespionage group, and specifically a previously undocumented backdoor that has been used to spy on consulates and embassies worldwide.

ESET’s research team are the first in the world to document the advanced backdoor malware, which they have named “Gazer”, despite evidence that it has been actively deployed in targeted attacks against governments and diplomats since at least 2016.

Gazer’s success can be explained by the advanced methods it uses to spy on its intended targets, and its ability to remain persistent on infected devices, embedding itself out of sight on victim’s computers in an attempt to steal information for a long period of time.

ESET researchers have discovered that Gazer has managed to infect a number of computers around the world, with the most victims being located in Europe. Curiously, ESET’s examination of a variety of different espionage campaigns which used Gazer has identified that the main target appears to have been Southeastern Europe as well as countries in the former Soviet Union Republic.

The attacks show all the hallmarks of past campaigns launched by the Turla hacking group, namely:

  • Targeted organisations are embassies and ministries;
  • Spearphishing delivers a first-stage backdoor such as Skipper;
  • A second stealthier backdoor (Gazer in this instance, but past examples have included Carbon and Kazuar) is put in place;
  • The second-stage backdoor receives encrypted instructions from the gang via C&C servers, using compromised, kegitimate websites as a proxy.

Another notable similarity between Gazer and past creations of the Turla cyberespionage group become obvious when the malware is analysed. Gazer makes extra efforts to evade detection by changing strings within its code, randomizing markers, and wiping files securely.

In the most recent example of the Gazer backdoor malware found by ESET’s research team, clear evidence was seen that someone had modified most of its strings, and inserted phrases related to video games throughout its code.

Don’t be fooled by the sense of humour that the Turla hacking group are showing here, falling foul of computer criminals is no laughing manner.

All organisations, whether governmental, diplomatic, law enforcement, or in traditional business, need to take today’s sophisticated threats serious and adopt a layered defence to reduce the chances of a security breach.

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