Dr Deanna Khalil | Designer and founder of Abaya Addict and Sarah Al Aidy | Designer and founder of Hejabi Couture Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Starting a business in the age of social media can be as simple as launching an idea on a Facebook page or Instagram account and watching it kick off overnight.

With an increasing number of young entrepreneurs using the power of social media to launch their business ideas, platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have become some of the most popular sites for promotion and advertising.

For those with little to no budget for marketing and advertising, social media sites present the perfect platform to instantly share content with audiences and potential customers around the world.

According to 2015 statistics issued by Global Media Insight, a digital advertising agency in Dubai, the average daily use of social media via any device — PC, tablet, phone — is three hours and 35 minutes in the UAE. That is plenty of time to keep up with the latest trends.

American-Italian Dr Deanna Khalil, 29, fashion blogger and designer, is an example of a young woman who decided to test out the true power of social media.

Dr Deanna is the founder and designer of Abaya Addict, a retail business that sells Islamic fashion, including traditional and modern abayas, shirts, dresses, and evening wear.

“When I launched the company in 2012, I started by making a Facebook page and posting 10 pieces of abayas — I got 3,000 followers overnight and the items were sold so fast that people were emailing me and asking about the products,” said the Dubai resident.

Born in Dubai and raised in the US, Dr Khalil, who is of Palestinian origin, said she found it difficult to find clothing that was both modest and trendy. Working as an eye doctor before starting Abaya Addict, Dr Khalil said she started designing clothing that catered to her personal tastes and was appropriate for work. Her designs quickly started attracting attention.

With her Facebook fan base growing, Dr Khalil witnessed a high demand for abayas from Muslims and non-Muslims, especially those living in the West who have little to no access to Islamic clothing stores.

Currently, Abaya Addict has more than 91,000 followers on Facebook, and 69,000 on Instagram.

“Social media is the key player in our marketing and the response has been very strong. We like to connect with our customers directly, and test our products to receive direct feedback from them, which helps us understand the demand in the market,” said Dr Khalil.

Ahmad Aduib, co-founder of Abaya Addict and husband of Dr Khalil, also pointed out that with no initial funding, the couple used social media as their key tool for marketing and as a shortcut to understanding what customers really want.

“You take the positive and negative feedback and you build yourself and improve your product line and customer service,” he said.

Aduib pointed out the company now has customers all around the world — from the GCC, to the US, to Lithuania, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

The engineer-fashion designer

Similarly, Dubai resident Sarah Al Aidy, 24, from Palestine, used Facebook as her main source of advertising when she started her entrepreneurial journey by opening Hejabi Couture, an online store selling contemporary modest wear.

“Nowadays, media is in everyone’s pocket. Through the smartphone, everyone can browse, shop and keep up with the latest trends of fashion, and since everyone is up to date with the social media, it is very useful for all the young designers because they can be recognised in a very short period of time,” said Sarah.

The fashion designer, who is also a full-time engineer, said she eventually expanded her advertising platform by launching an Instagram account. She was pleased with the outcome. “I wanted to use the power of social media because it provides ease of use, efficiency and is not time-consuming,” she said. Al Aidy explained that social media not only provided her with a platform to market her products but increased exposure of her brand through the number of followers, tags, and likes.

Launching her business in 2013, Al Aidy now has over 32,000 followers on Facebook, and 8,000 on Instagram.


Online strategy

With so many young businessmen and women trusting the power of social media, Farrukh Naeem, a social media trainer and tech blogger based in Abu Dhabi, told Gulf News what each business needs in order to succeed. While social media is a boon for small businesses because the cost of entry is nil, brands and businesses need to have a plan and execute it strategically, he explained. “Each platform has its nuances, strengths, weaknesses, and algorithms that drive the organic reach of its users’ updates,” said Naeem. A business should have a clear strategy, he said, for each social media site, including messaging, frequency, and timing of updates. It should have a target audience and a strategy in place to manage its social media presence, he added.

When it comes to comparing traditional advertising and advertising through social media, the latter has the upper hand, Naeem explained.

Social media offers benefits, which include a highly engaged audience, the ability to target people by age, education, gender, city, mobile device owned, purchase behaviour, books read, movies likes, and relationship status and even individually on their birthdays, Naeem said.

“You might never know how many or who liked your TV ad — or be able to continue a conversation with them — but you can see every person who likes your promoted Facebook post or retweets your promoted tweet,” Naeem said.

With more young people heading down the same path to make their dreams a reality, the use of social media is only expected to grow.

“It is possible for a business to solely depend on social media to promote their brand and growth, and there are many examples in the UAE and the Middle East,” Naeem said.