Gathering questions from fans and asking them to a prominent figure. What is new in that? TV stations ask you to send SMS to a certain number or fax in order to ask your questions to the guest a TV show is hosting. Sometimes it is even more engaging when you (as an audient) personally call and have a one minute of fame, in which you are entitled to state your views. But engaging social media in order to function as a tool of gathering questionnaires, asking them and then feeding the viewers with answers was not a common act in Lebanon before now. Marcel Ghanem in Kalam El Nas might be the pioneer, since in more than an episode, he reads more than a dozen of commentaries on the Facebook group his TV program has. But the massive effect of Facebook was when MP Sleiman Franjieh decided to answer back the questions of his Facebook Fan page. With a group of more than 18,000 fans and a regular update of content since January , along with interaction which is explained in the tens of “likes” and comments, group administrators decided to take the social media aspect one step further. How was that done? Answer is simple: a facebook interview.
“Dearest supporters, MP Sleiman Frangieh will be delighted to, personally, answer some of the questions you might want to ask. Please write your questions in this album (and only in this album), the questions that will be chosen for the interview will enter a draw, and one of you will get a chance to personally meet Sleiman and Rima Frangieh and get to spend some time with them.” With only these few lines, the album commentary section attracted around 40 questions. The next day (April 7th), all these questions with their relevant answers were posted in another album, along with three high resolution recent photographs. The administrator had the chance to interview the MP and his wife (who also has a fan page with 16.000 members) in their house in Zgharta – North Lebanon. The album in less than four days attracted 330 “likes” and 110 comments.
Same strategy is being done with MP Nouhad El Machnouk who seems to know how to market himself on Facebook. Through periodic chats with his FanClub, El Machnouk seems to take a lion share with reaching the maximum number of Friends (5000). He is said to organize live chats with his supporters where he answers various questions. He (or person running his page) announces: “Dear members mark your calendars on May 5th 2010 starting 18:00 till 20:00 Nouhad Machnouk will be online on the discussion board of Nouhad Machnouk Official Facebook Group to answer all your questions.” It is his third, after a live chat on March and April 5th, which shows a regularity between his chats with one month span. But that is not all, Machnouk also has his own fan page with 2500 Members though he does not seems to get as much “likes” as Franjieh does on his status.
But what does this mean regarding social media in Lebanon? Another simple answer, Lebanese politicians began understanding the tremendous effect of social media and have started using it to stay in touch with their supporters and to create a new platform for engagement. After the Facebook advertisement that some political figures spent hundreds of dollars on in the parliamentary elections campaign (such as former MP Abd El Rahim Morad, MP Ghassan Moukheiber, etc), it seems that the level of interaction is escalading. Other political figures already have (through their fans without prior planning) their own groups, but taking a choice to personally take care of a social media page is another thing, this is the case of what is lately going on.
Is social media going to be the new platform where the Lebanese political figures have their battles in? And since there is no particular law to regulate the usage, what extreme opinions could be casted on these platforms? Will we ever witness a tweet saying “RT @antoinezahra #FF @stridageagea MP of Bcharri – North Lebanon and check her latest album?” Let us wait and see.