Social networks in the Middle East: How do they use this technology?


Have you ever wondered how people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) use technology, more specifically social media?

Social media use, as well as long-term trends, changed considerably during the pandemic.

Here are the five most exciting conclusions to keep in mind.

The Middle East loves social media

While usage varies, social media users in the broader Middle East and Africa (MEA) region spend more than three and a half hours a day on these platforms.

They split the time across several different channels. According to Forbes, Internet users in the region have an average of 8.4 social media accounts, rising to 10.5 accounts in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has "the highest number of social media accounts per person globally.

Older platforms remain relevant

Newer, more visual social networks are popular, especially in the more affluent Gulf region, where smartphone penetration and incomes are higher. 

However, older networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, remain highly relevant in North Africa and Turkey, where their acceptance expands.

Egypt is the most populous country in the region, with more than 100 million inhabitants, and is the ninth-largest national market for Facebook globally, with 44 million users. 

 Libya, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar are among the countries with the highest levels of Facebook reach, relative to population, according to data from We Are Social and Hootsuite.

Facebook also continues to grow in several North African markets: Morocco, Algeria, and Egypt are in the top 10 markets where the platform is expanding the fastest.

Meanwhile, Turkey (6th), Saudi Arabia (8th), and Egypt (18th) are among the 20 largest markets for Twitter.

Also, Lebanese pop artist Elissa is the Arab world's most influential figure on Twitter and the only one from the region to feature among the 50 most potent international influencers on this social media, according to a report published by Brandwatch.

Networking habits are redefining other behaviors

Social media adoption has also begun to influence other consumer and media behaviors.

More than three-quarters (79%) of Arab citizens aged 18-24 say they consume news through social networks. That's up from 25% in 2015, according to the latest Arab Youth Survey.

Social networks are also shaping other activities. For example, users in Morocco (60%), Egypt (60%), Saudi Arabia (59%), Turkey (56%), Israel (52%), and the United Arab Emirates (49%) are more likely to use networks as part of their brand research than the global average.

As e-commerce, online shopping, and online gambling continue to grow, following the boost it received during the COVID-19 pandemic, this type of online behavior will only become more significant.

Saudi Arabia leads regional adoption of online shopping during the pandemic, and the trend is likely to continue post-pandemic.

About online gambling, in recent years, especially during the pandemic, this trend has increased in the Middle East due to restrictive laws prohibiting players from playing in physical casinos. 

Online gambling sites help users learn about the best online casino sites, which are more convenient, easy to access and provide more games than physical casinos. The most popular online games are poker, roulette, or live dealer blackjack, an immersive and exciting way to play blackjack on the internet. 

The impact of visual networks

Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt are among Snapchat's 15 largest national markets globally.

Apparently, in Saudi Arabia, more people watch Snapchat Discover content every day than any of the top 10 TV channels, both before and during the pandemic. 

With the rise of TikTok, the platform's top influencers in the Gulf region increased their followers by an average of 65% between February and August 2020, with user engagement highest in Bahrain, Oman, and Saudi Arabia.

Another interesting fact is that 70% of Egypt's Internet users watch YouTube daily. As a result, the network launched YouTube Premium, an ad-free subscription service, last year, allowing offline access. 

This way, users can watch the videos they have downloaded and access background playback, whereby audio continues to play even if a user exits the YouTube application.

COVID-19 reinforcement

More than half of users in MENA were spending even more time on social networks as a result of the pandemic.

Similarly, in the Middle East, WhatsApp and other messaging apps have increased since the pandemic due to social distancing. 

In addition to encouraging more time on social networks, COVID-19 also recalled the importance of social networks as sources of information. 

Efforts to combat misinformation have created opportunities for civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations to adopt networks as a critical channel for communicating with the public.

In Sudan, for example, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, and the World Health Organization have established COVID-19 WhatsApp alerts in Arabic and English. The goal was to provide tips on how to stay safe, frequently asked questions, and advice on how to protect yourself. 

Elsewhere, Palestine's Mada Center, Iraq's Tech 4 Peace, and Lebanon's Maharat Foundation have addressed COVID-19 rumors on social media and highlighted accurate sources of public health information.

Governments have also relied on social media, using multiple platforms to spread potentially life-saving messages.

The impact of these efforts, and the importance of social media as a source of news and entertainment in the region, suggests that as a channel for engagement, these platforms will continue to be important to a wide range of people long after the pandemic has passed.

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