Navigating the social media universe
As the Arab World continues to embrace social media, local businesses are learning to look beyond traditional communications strategies and speak directly to the people that matter.
Social media began life as a way for people to easily connect with their peers and share information online. Today it is also fast becoming the primary destination for local businesses to market their services and communicate directly with their target audiences. Regional and international organisations, from GCC government departments to multi-national corporations, now harbour teams of specialists to help them use the medium to their advantage. Evidence from agencies offering social media advisory services increasingly shows that a quality online communications strategy can reap rewards on a company’s bottom line.
Young generation in the Arab World have proven themselves to be prolific early adopters of communications technology. By the end of 2014, there were more than 85 million social media users in the region1, and that figure is set to rise even further over the next few years. According to the first-of-itskind Arab Knowledge Economy Report, the number of internet users in this part of the world will jump to more than 197 million by 20172. Given the success of the medium so far, it’s safe to assume that a vast proportion of those users will rely heavily on social media in their day-to-day lives.
To those unfamiliar with the social networking, platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram may come across as meaningless marketplaces of irreverent chitchat and holiday photos, but for the savvy business marketer, they offer easy, direct access to huge target audiences.
To put the most popular platforms into perspective, by May 2014 the country average for Facebook penetration in the Arab region was more than 21.5 percent, up from 15 percent in May 20133. While the total number of active Twitter users, reached a staggering 5,797,500 users as of March 20144. At no cost, a business can set up a profile on either platform and gain direct access to millions of existing stakeholder and potential clients. Once online, however, they need to ensure that they manage their communications strategically and tread through the social media universe with care.
Local organisations are increasingly enlisting the services of social media advisers to develop marketing plans that navigate common pitfalls and allow them to speak directly to existing and prospective customers. According to the Arab Knowledge Economy Report, 66 percent of 7,000 people surveyed believe that social media has a big impact on the success of companies and 52 per cent believe that social media is a great channel of communication between the government and the people5. Indeed, many private sector and government organisations are now finding that they can receive clearer consumer feedback through social media, than had they hired a consulting firm to conduct a conventional market research exercise to analyse customer sentiment. As consumers turn to social networks to air their thoughts, many organisations are being challenged to break away from traditional rigid marketing structures and are relying on specialist social media advisers to develop reactive and transparent communications strategies.
Participating in social media allows Middle East businesses to communicate with potential customers and partners much further afield as well. A proliferation of networking platforms and the rapid global spread of handheld technology has meant that more of the world is now online and barriers to entry have never been lower for organisations with a message to share. With an audience of 1.96 billion users in the world in 20156, social media has proven itself to be the chosen communication tool for the masses and it’s time for local businesses to keep up.
By the end of 2014, there were more than 85 million social media users in the region, and that figure is set to rise even further over the next few years.