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Understanding Social Media in the Middle East

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Facebook was ten last week. Happy Birthday Facebook! The social network, which globally has 1.23 billion members, has arguably changed the way we communicate, introduced new words into our language and is home to one the single largest online repositories of photographs anywhere in the world.

In my part of the world, the Middle East, Facebook is equally popular. In fact there are those who have argued that Facebook played a fundamental role in some of the political changes we have seen in the past couple of years.

That may be overstating it, but there is no doubt that Facebook dominates the social media landscape in the region. Research published last year by Northwestern University in Qatar demonstrated the extent of the network's reach; a reach which is even greater once Instagram is factored into this mix (Facebook having bought the popular photo-sharing app in 2012).

Facebook Usage
Across the Middle East, there are 56 million people using this network, with half of these members logging on daily. Moving forward, Facebook is anticipated to be amongst the key growth markets for the social network in the next 4-5 years, only just behind the more populous Asia-Pacific. And with penetration of the network below 50% - even in highly connected countries such as UAE - this suggests there is still plenty of room for growth.

However, this rise is not universal. Despite rapid uptake in some markets (Facebook grew by 1.5m users in Egypt alone in the first few months of 2013,) data from the Dubai School of Government's 5th Arab Social Media Report showed that in a number of Gulf countries some users are churning off. Last year over half a million Saudi users left the site, and nearly 100,000 in both Kuwait and Oman, all in the first half of the year alone. This suggests that Facebook fatigue is not just a Western phenomenon.

The emergence of other social networks
Quite why this churn is happening is hard to say. It may partly be a result of migration to other networks. Alongside its Facebook exodus, Saudi Arabia also saw more than half of its 1.9 million active users join Twitter in the past year. As a result, it is now home to more than half of the region's 3.7 million Twitter users, and it's responsible for 47% of all tweets in the Arab world.

Aided by high mobile penetration and the ability to consume content on the move, Saudi also dominates mobile consumption of YouTube. In a region where 285 million videos are viewed every day - the second highest regional consumption level in the world - 50% of all views in Saudi are via mobile.

New networks are also gaining popularity too. Keek's Arab Facebook page has 477,346 likes and 114,487 people "talking about this" whilst Instagram is rapidly emerging in some markets as a popular platform for eCommerce. Professionals are increasingly turning to LinkedIn to develop business relationships and develop new connections and business leads. Although usage of LinkedIn is still relatively small - the 10 million users the network had by the end of 2013 was up for 5.8 million the year before.

Dig Deeper
You can explore more of these digital developments in this presentation from the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ictQATAR) about Social Media in the Middle East during 2013, (disclaimer, I work there) and in the infographic below.

2014-02-03-MENAsocialmedia2013.jpg

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