Jul 24 2012

Rise of Arab social media

Rise of Arab social media

The UAE has more than a million LinkedIn users, Egypt has a quarter of the region's Facebook users and the most popular for Twitter was Bahrain, according to latest data. And guess which brand was the most popular among UAE Facebook users?

The Arab World is warming up to social media sites with astonishing speed, according to latest statistics from the Arab Social Media Report. The report is a project of the Dubai School of Government (DSG), a research and teaching institution focused on public policy in the Arab World.

Repressed for decades, Arab citizens and expatriates are taking to social media websites with vengeance to discuss freely - for the most part - political and social issues and connect with like-minded people or lock horns with people who disagree with them within the safety of the virtual world.

While governments have made effort to keep tabs on their citizens, the savvy Arab users are finding ways to avoid scrutiny. Still many Arab governments have managed to prosecute, imprison and detain activists and are putting in place regulations to curb opposition, criticism of government or unorthodox viewpoints.

Even though observers expect greater governmental regulations to police social media in the very near future, the free-wheeling, almost rebellious, nature of the virtual world, will ensure that citizens of the Arab World will use technological tools to get their views across to the wider world.

LinkedIn, the business-oriented social media website that effectively works as a global database of professionals, saw brisk sign-ups in the Arab World with 4.3-million registered users in the region by end of June, 20% higher than the same period last year.

The UAE leads the Middle East in LinkedIn penetration with a little over a million users.

Saudi Arabia which has at least three times the UAE's total population, was a distant second with just under 710,000 LinkedIn users. Egypt, Morocco and Algeria made up the other five biggest markets for LinkedIn.

The UAE also has the highest LinkedIn penetration with 12.77% of the population registered on the professional social media site. Qatar was second with just under 10% penetration, with Bahrain, Kuwait and Lebanon making up the top five countries with biggest LinkedIn sign-ups relative to their total populations.

Women, however, hadn't taken to LinkedIn which is an indicator of fewer women in the workplace.

"The percentage of female users is lower than that of the men, at 28%. This is also significantly lower than the global trend, where women constitute 43% of LinkedIn users," the report noted.

"Young people (between the ages of 18 and 34) make up around 70% of LinkedIn users... seem to be the driving force behind the growth of LinkedIn. Interestingly, of this segment, the university students and fresh graduates make up a much smaller percentage than young people who are more established in their careers."

Not surprisingly, Facebook leads the social media frenzy in the Arab World given its wider appeal and social reach. Close to 45 million people access Facebook, estimates ASMR, which appears to have greater depth of data on the social media site than LinkedIn.

"By the end of June 2012, the country average for Facebook user penetration in the Arab region was just over 12%, up from 10% at the beginning of the year, and up from 8% in June 2011," the report noted.

Other key Facebook stats are:

Facebook users in the Arab World have doubled in 2 years, rising from 16 million in June 2010 to 45 million by 2012.

Female Facebook users appear to have plateaued during the period, constituting 34% of Facebook users, similar to two years ago. Globally, female users make up half of the total users.

Users between the ages of 15 to 29, make up 70% of Arab users.

Egypt makes up a quarter of total Facebook users in the Arab region, and has added more users in the past year than any Arab country, with more than 1.6 million new Facebook users between January and June 2012. The country is the 19th largest country in terms of Facebook users, according to SocialBakers.com, a website that tracks social media trends.

Gulf states dominate the top five Arab Facebook users as percentage of population. The UAE remains at the top of the Arab region, followed by Kuwait, while Qatar has found its way back into the top five. Lebanon and Jordan take up the remaining spots, the report notes. The ASMR data is different from Socialbakers.com, which notes Saudi Arabia leads the Gulf states (33rd globally) followed by the UAE (48th globally).

English, Arabic and French are the top three languages on Facebook, with Arabic the fastest growing language on Facebook in the region.

According to Socialbaker.com, Kuwait is the most expensive country in the region - and 24th most costly globally - to advertise on Facebook with USD0.60 cost per click (CPC). At USD2.01 cost per click, Russia is the most expensive country in the world to advertise on Facebook. The UAE's CPC stood at USD0.53, Saudi Arabia USD0.49 and Egypt USD0.17.

KFC Arabia is the most popular brand on Facebook in the UAE with a little over a million fans, according to SocialBaker.com. Emirates airline (600,000+), Sony Middle East (560,000+), Just Falafel (476,000+) and Internet Explore Arabia (460,000+) make up the top five most popular brands on Facebook.

Kingdom Holding's media company Rotana is the most popular Facebook brand in Saudi Arabia with more than 1.1-million fans. KFC Arabia (1million-plus), Lays Arabia (665,000+), STC (631,000+) and Sony Middle East (560,000+) were the other top brands in the Kingdom.

Egypt's most popular brands on Facebook are markedly different from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Vodafone Egypt was the most popular brand among Egyptians with 1.5-million plus fans, with Nokia Egypt (1.39-million plus), Pepsi Masr (1.3-million plus), Samsung Egypt (1.28-million plus) and Dare'n'Deal (934,000+) among the top five brands.

The Arab World still appears to be trying to get a handle on Twitter. The social media website which restricts users from exceeding 140-characters in expressing their views, had just over 2 million active users by end of June, which had collectively tweeted 172 million times to their followers.

The estimated number of daily tweets was 5,750,386 tweets per day, or 3993 tweets a minute, or roughly 67 tweets every second, the ASMR report noted.

Bahrain, the least populated country in the region, was the subject of the greatest number of Twitter hashtags, with 2.8 million mentions. Bahrain in Arabic also clocked 1.48-million hashtags.

Bahrain is in the middle of a conflict between the Sunni government and its restive Shia majority. Last year, the economically liberal country's image was tarnished when it called in Gulf troops to crush opposition. Despite numerous deaths and imprisonment of many protestors, the government and the opposition are locked in a stalemate, unable to come to the negotiating table.

"The absence of deep-rooted reforms since the start of the crisis has placed Bahrain in a stalemate position that could fuel radicalisation within Bahrain's different factions if sustained, raising the likelihood of further unrest and imposing additional economic and fiscal costs on the sovereign," noted ratings agency Fitch in a report on the country on Monday.

"Continual allegations of political repression would also further damage Bahrain's image as a business friendly destination, with potential negative spill-overs to key industries such as the banking sector, which thus far has remained relatively unaffected."

The popularity of the Bahrain hashtag is clear evidence of a politically active citizenry debating the political issues facing the region. The second most popular hashtag was Syria which effectively is in the midst of a bloody civil war, with 1.5 million mentions in Arabic and 1.3 million in English. Egypt hashtag garnered 900,000 and #Kuwait 860,000.

The Arab World is going through a remarkable rise in social media use and, like the rest of the world, is seeing a massive change in the way the people communicate with each other and express themselves.

It is also knitting the Arab World closer together in a way that governments have never been able to.

"There has been a divergence in the Arab Spring, but online, the spillover effect is between all these countries. It's not defined to one geographic location," said Fadi Salem, program director of Dubai School's Governance and Innovation program in an interview.

"So people who are using social media in the United Arab Emirates are actually very influential in Egypt. Egyptians are influential in Tunisia, and so on. They are taking part of these movements online, effectively becoming members of it. It's like this Pan-Arabism online, but it's not an ideology. It's more of a sense of unity among the online population."

This great revolution taking place offers great hope of greater political and social openness.

It's impact on the business world can not be underestimated either. In the new media landscape, any brand can reach instant fame with the right product and service and clever marketing, but - on the flip side - could also see its reputation wrecked irrevocably.

In any case, it's a world that all stakeholders are still coming to grips with, whether it is the government, businesses or every-day folk - and that's what makes this tool which has no regional boundaries such an exciting place to be in the Arab World.

MENA ICT Indicators

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© alifarabia.com 2012

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