Sunday, December 26, 2010

Social Media and Islamic Finance

NOTE: This is the latest commentary I provide to the readers of my weekly email newsletter. You can sign up for it by entering your email on the left side of my blog:

I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago about the role social media can play in the industry's growth if it were used more widely by Islamic finance institutions. To follow up on that post, I thought it would be useful to look at the other ways that Islamic finance can benefit from social media, primarily blogs.

There are a number of blogs focused on Islamic finance out there, including my own. Some of them provide opinion and commentary on Islamic finance or provide readers with selections of academic and corporate research on the Islamic finance industry. Others provide news updates on Islamic finance, for example by republishing articles on Islamic finance. In addition, there are areas where people come together to discuss the Islamic finance industry like the LinkedIn groups.

My primary reason for writing this follow up post to my earlier post was that I believe there could be better use of social media by people within Islamic finance and those with an interest in the field that could serve to broaden the number of people with exposure to Islamic finance. To someone without any exposure to the broad use of social media relating to Islamic finance, there appear to be few connections between the people who do participate in social media: analysis blogs have few comments, others have news, but no commentary and the dialogue that takes place on LinkedIn or the email listservs are largely invisible to people who have not joined the groups.

Someone who finds a blog either by being sent a link in an email or in a web search might read with interest, but not be able to tell whether the other readers (perhaps with greater experience in Islamic finance) support the opinion expressed by one author and would have trouble finding another place where the topic is discussed with ease. Or, a regular reader of a blog might come across it and start a conversation in another forum. However, unless the blogger is also a part of those forum, it is difficult for the blogger to react to criticism, clear up misunderstandings or even realize that something he wrote was wrong.

I am not suggesting that each blog should be a self-contained source of information and discussion on a topic; even if I believed that (which I do not), it would be futile to suggest moving towards that end. However, there are some ways in which dispersed discussions can be counterproductive. Specifically, if content and comments do not overlap in one place, it ultimately disrupts the conversation between bloggers and readers, one of the key differences between the blogging format and the opinion pages of newspapers (where there is more of a one way street from authors to readers with less dialogue). It also removes the 'social' from social media.

There is no solution that I or anyone else in particular could or should dictate. However, I have a few suggestions (speaking to everyone, but no one in particular).
1) If you find something wrong, or something you disagree with on a blog you read on Islamic finance, write a comment on the blog.
2) If you agree with a blogger or other commenter, but think they missed some aspect, write a comment on the blog.
3) If you see an interesting discussion somewhere else about a blog post that adds something to the point the blogger was making, write a comment on the blog with a link to the discussion.
4) If you think that a blogger misses something big with regularity, write a comment on the blog and start your own blog about that area.
5) If you want to write a blog, but cannot because you don't have the time or are prohibited by the company you work for, drop a blogger an email and suggest topics that you see missing, but think are important. The blogger may not write about everything you want or in the way you want it written, but most bloggers will consider ideas if they are something the blogger hasn't thought of before that fit in with the subject of the blog.
6) If you write a blog that provides news on a topic in Islamic finance, don't be afraid to add your own commentary on the subject and post a link to it in a comment on related blog posts of other bloggers.

Social media is a relatively new area of communication and, particularly within new areas like Islamic finance, are still at an early stage. However, for a young industry spread globally, they can be a valuable tool to introduce the industry to people who might not been exposed and to allow people involved with it to collaborate regardless of where they are located. Social media has room to grow across the Islamic finance industry. It cannot be just the financial institutions. Consumers, researchers and practitioners must also add their voices to make social media more valuable to the industry's growth and development.

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