The Middle East might be one of the most unclear spots for statistics along with African countries. Recently we started to witness some brilliant efforts from institutes and organization releasing effective and accurate statistics for the region.

The Northwestern University in Qatar recently released the survey “Media use in the Middles East, 2017”.  Below are the key findings from this study, which also can be explored in visual detail at the section of data interactive.

Digital Media Use vs Traditional Media

  • As internet penetration rises, Arabic users are less likely to be using traditional media platforms. Most of Arabic users still watch TV, but the rate has declined slightly (98% in 2013 vs. 93% in 2017). Rates of newspaper readership, however, declined more sharply from 47% to 25% in 2017. Radio has also become less popular in the past five years by 10% (59% in 2013 vs. 49% in 2017).

The Usage of Arabic Language

  • The use of Arabic language online has increased. In comparison, use of the internet in English remains essentially flat, 25% in 2013 and 28% in 2017, despite the increase in internet use.

Online Usage in Arabic Countries

  • Internet penetration increased in most of the Arabic countries included in the study surveyed and most top increases were in Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia.
  • Time spent online has a strong relationship with the number of years using the internet. Users new to the internet spend about eight hours a week online. This jumps to 14 hours per week for those who have spent two years using the internet and again rises to about 21 hours per week among those who have been online between three to seven years. Those with 10 or more years of internet experience spend about 29 hours per week online.
  • Smartphone ownership increased rapidly in Arabic countries with a majority of users own a smartphone (83% of Jordanians and 65% of Tunisians).

Social Media in the Middle East

  • WhatsApp is the most popular app on the list of social media used by nationals across the region with 67%, followed by Facebook 63% and YouTube 50%.
  • Instagram increased rapidly in the last year according to the survey. The social network usage increased from 4% to 21% in Egypt and from 18% to 32% in Lebanon while in Gulf countries Instagram is becoming one of the most popular apps.
  • Facebook penetration declined across countries by at least 10 percentage points since 2015, except in Lebanon where Facebook use remains stable. In Qatar and Saudi Arabia, penetration dropped by over 20% since 2015 to 22% in Qatar and 55% in Saudi Arabia.
  • Currently, half of the direct messages sent and received are in group chats and half are between individuals. This represents a significant increase in group messaging—an increase of 15 to 42%.
  • Snapchat has increased in popularity in all countries since 2015 (64% Qatar, 51% KSA, 51% UAE, 20% Lebanon, 16% Jordan, 7% Tunisia).
Social Media Middle East 2017

Mobile Usage in the Middle East

  • Nearly three-quarters of internet users across the region use Wi-Fi or mobile data services to connect to the internet. However, Wi-Fi use varies by country, from less than half of Jordanians to two-thirds of Tunisians and nine in ten across the other nations (40% Jordan vs. 63% Tunisia, 91% Lebanon, 87% Qatar, 84% KSA, 97% UAE).
  • Nationals who get news via smartphone at least once a day are also more likely to get news via other platforms—both digital and offline—on a daily basis.
  • Just over half of nationals use news apps, and just over one-quarter use them daily. Using news apps is most popular in Saudi Arabia and the UAE and least popular in Qatar (use at all: 85% KSA, 86% UAE vs. 52% Jordan, 49% Tunisia, 42% Lebanon, 33% Qatar).
  • Nearly all Arabic users in Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE own a smartphone and the same with Jordanians.

Insights on the digital media stats in Egypt

  • Even in the digital age, Egyptians spend more time face-to-face with family in 2017 than 2013. Despite the doubling of internet penetration in Egypt since 2013, the average number of hours Egyptians report spending face-to-face with relatives increased from 9 in 2013 to 20 in 2015 and 31 in 2017.
  • While Facebook penetration is falling in most other Arab countries in this study, it rose significantly among Egyptians. In 2013, 81% of Egyptian internet users said they use Facebook, but that number rose to 93% in 2017.
  • Fewer than 1 in 4 Egyptians used the internet in 2013, but half of all Egyptians are online in 2017 and nearly 6 in 10 own smartphones (57%).

More insights about Egypt at: 2017 Trends Report: Digital Media in Egypt

Highlights for Digital Marketing Professionals

Apparently, any business that does not place digital firmly at the center of its growth strategy runs the risk of increasing irrelevancy and losing potential customers in the Arabic region. Here are some of the top insights I highly recommend for marketers in the MENA region.

  • Invest wisely across the social media channels and avoid putting all the efforts on Facebook. With the recent decline in Facebook usage in the Gulf region and the new updates from the Facebook algorithm, the marketers should revisit their social media strategy.
  • Since each country in the region has different consumer behavior, it is highly required to customize your channels and marketing message for each country/locale.
  • 2018 is the year of live streaming and stories. Maximize the use of Instagram and Facebook stories to generate organic traffic to your social media channels.
  • While Arabic users are not very active with Emails comparing the U.S. users, the companies should try to focus on WhatsApp as an effective way to reach out and engage clients in the region.

We are seeing a digital transformation and ongoing trends that require more investments from marketers and business owners in the region. The social media professionals should always monitor the trends in consumer behavior and the usage of the social network.

Published by Yasser Ahmad

Yasser Ahmad is an independent digital marketing consultant and marketing strategist with a Master's degree in Data Analytics & Marketing. Yasser is a certified member of the CIM and holds and has over 16 years of experience in managing marketing strategies and consulting brands in EMEA, USA, and APAC. Specialized in Marketing Analytics, MarTech, Growth Hacking, Automation, and Performance Marketing.