Update May 2020: We have written an updated article for 2020 trends. Check it out.
Although trends are often short-lived, some are here to stay. Marketers and brand managers serving Gulf and Middle Eastern audiences can plan their social media campaigns for the year by noting trends and developments in social media engagement – what people are drawn to, the purpose of using a particular platform, and the opportunities to convert high-potential into revenue on fast-growing networks such as Instagram.
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That being said, here is a look at statistics and key trends for top social media channels:
1. Online video is very popular
Saudi Arabia’s youth are big fans of YouTube, so much so that the country is the biggest user of the video-sharing website per capita in the world. The Arab Youth Survey reveals that YouTube is viewed by half of young Arabs every day. Short-form videos curated by younger generations of creators are especially popular and distributed on multiple online video platforms. A joint survey by Deloitte and Dubai Press Club finds that the region’s 15-24 year olds spend an average of 72 minutes a day viewing videos online.
The number of YouTube channels in the MENA region has increased by 160% in the last three years. There are over 30,000 channels with subscribers in excess of 10,000, with one in four being women. YouTube’s global chief business officer pegs this popularity to the company’s growing ad revenue in the Middle East.
Esquire Middle East’s article on the most popular YouTube videos in the Middle East for 2017 offers a sense of the type of video content that the Arab world appreciates. Comedy sketches and lifestyle themes make up the list, and the only business marketing video is a product review by a popular YouTuber. YouTube’s global chief business officer recently said that there was ‘lots of comedy’ in the Middle East, and that the common language made it easier for YouTube to reach the entire region. In March last year, the company opened a YouTube Space in Dubai’s Studio City.
2. Facebook is the preferred channel to access news
Facebook, which is the most popular social networking site in the world – getting nearly 1.1 billion visits a month – is a sought-after channel for daily news among young Arabs. It is the preferred news source over television, newspaper and online news websites. However, despite its popularity, Facebook’s penetration in the region has dropped by 20% since 2013, with the biggest declines witnessed in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. During the same time, Facebook usage increased in Egypt.
Arab youths trust what they read on Facebook more than what they watch on news channels. This may not be surprising given the major role played by the network during the Arab Spring. Social media in general, and Facebook and Twitter in particular, became hotbeds of political activism and stimulated collective action during the Arab Spring power struggle. In fact, the use of social media platforms doubled in Arab countries during the uprising, with the exception of Libya.
In November last year, Facebook appointed Ramez Shehadi as its new managing director in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Shehadi reiterated the importance of the MENA region as a key market for the company, adding that the social network had “achieved only 1 per cent of its journey in the region”. Even as Facebook has lately been mired in controversies, overall, there are no signs of a big slowdown and its portfolio of products continues to grow strongly.
3. WhatsApp is the Middle East’s most popular cross-platform messaging app
Although WhatsApp is not strictly a social messaging app, it has become an inextricable part of our social lives. And given its massive appeal and reach, we decided it had a place in our discussion of social media trends.
Two-thirds of Middle Eastern nationals use WhatsApp, a Facebook asset. In the UAE alone, WhatsApp has 7.84 million users – that’s 83% of the country’s population.
Between 2015 and 2017, the share of WhatsApp users among internet users in the MENA region fluctuated. Still, over 70% of all internet users in the Middle East and North Africa use the application.
Businesses have the opportunity to leverage WhatsApp for feedback sessions, customer support and public relations events. This article offers insights into how some brands are using the application for marketing and customer engagement.
4. Twitter remains an important customer engagement platform
One-third of internet users in the Middle East use Twitter. It is less popular than Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube, and facing competition from Instagram and Snapchat. In 2017, Twitter rolled out the lite version of its app to 25 countries across the Middle East, Asia and Latin America, and mid-last year, extended Lite’s footprint to an additional 21 countries. The goal of this version is to make Twitter more accessible in regions that have expensive data plans.
A whopping 89% of Arabic tweets sent globally originate from Saudi Arabia. KSA’s use of hashtags and #Mecca_Live has resulted in impressive engagement across Middle Eastern countries. Businesses have also used custom emojis, launched contests, utilized live broadcasting via Periscope, and created youth-focused Twitter campaigns to grow their following, brand awareness and sales. Check out this article for case studies.
5. Instagram is picking up pace
Like YouTube, a key Instagram development is the use of influencers by brands to promote their products. While celebrities also constitute Insta influencers, many influential personalities on the photo- and video-sharing website started their journey to fame on the platform. A famous example is Huda Kattan, Dubai-based business woman and Iraqi-American make-up artist with over 30 million Instagram followers.
Although Kattan – who charges $18,000 per post – may not meet the budgets of businesses seeking to put some of her social influence to their use, 43% do spend $10,000 per social media influencer campaign, according to BPG Cohn & Wolfe, the public relations arm of Dubai’s BPG Group. Their survey of 100 in-house brand managers and communication experts also indicates that a majority of marketers believe that social media influencers can contribute substantially to the success of their brands. However, 55% also admit that the biggest difficulty when choosing influencers is finding those who are relevant and related to their brands.
As far as Instagram statistics are concerned, around 63 million are fans of the platform in the MENA region. Instagram’s usage has grown year-on-year, making it an important marketing channel worthy of consideration for businesses.
6. Snapchat is catching up to those that came before it
Snapchat has penetrated the Gulf and wider Middle Eastern market faster than any other social media platform. It is particularly popular among 16-20 year olds in KSA, although adoption among the 25-50 age bracket is also on an upswing. The photo- and video-sharing smartphone application’s biggest appeal is that it is cool, hip and ephemeral.
Businesses have several opportunities to leverage Snapchat, especially if their product/service is geared towards younger generations of consumers. Some tactics include product demos, influencer takeovers, behind-the-scenes from events or how the company works, user-generated content, flash sales and giveaways. Snapchat is not suitable for all businesses, but you should explore its utility comprehensively to determine if it has a part in your social media marketing mix.
We hope that you will take away useful information from this article to shape your social media campaigns and hit your KPIs in 2019.