Facebook Arabic Rising

Facebook Arabic becoming language interface of choice for the Arab wordlThe Arabisation of Facebook is fascinating to watch. Facebook’s Arabic platform is growing at 175% per annum, about double the rate of overall growth, with growth in Arabic speaking users in Egypt and the Levant being over 200%. Facebook English users in the Arab world grew ‘just’ 45% during the same period.

Until recently many marketers pretty much took for granted that the region’s Facebook users were English speaking Arabs or expatriates, using Facebook in English and representing a fairly elite group of online consumers. It has become apparent that this is now far from being true.

This time last year we pointed out that the number of Facebook subscribers had reached a point where they outnumbered the newspapers being bought across the region: no longer a minority interest. The Arab Spring put paid to the idea that Facebook appeals to a narrow demographic in MENA. Now, with nearly double the subscriber base of May 2010, users of Facebook’s Arabic interface account for more than a third of all Arab world Facebook subscribers. By the year end, the number of Facebook Arabic users alone can be expected to outstrip the region’s newspaper circulations, while we may even see Facebook Arabic numbers achieve parity with the use of Facebook English versions.

This process is to be expected and is consistent with a new technology being adopted by a relatively young, highly educated, English speaking audience and then finding greater acceptance from ‘the street’ across the region, reaching deeper into society and also spreading from the cities. It goes without saying that pivotal to this process was the introduction of the Facebook Arabic interface itself in 2009.

The number of users of Facebook’s Arabic interface in the Arab world now stands at nearly 10 million, being about 35% of the region’s Facebook subscribers (compared with just 24% in May 2010). As might be expected, Egypt leads in the number of Facebook Arabic users, with 3.8 million users or 56% of its Facebook users opting for the Arabic language version. 41% of GCC users overall now use Facebook Arabic and 61% in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (the UAE’s adoption of Facebook Arabic being the lowest at 10%).

Language bias in the Arab World's top three Facebook communities

Language bias in the Arab World’s top three Facebook communities

So, what does this all mean for the region’s marketers? Well, for starters, if you’re a consumer brand you really can’t afford to ignore Arabic in your Facebook marketing. There’s a fast growing audience of consumers on Facebook that are most comfortable using Arabic online and this audience is going to have different demographics, behaviours and content requirements.  We can expect Arabic to become the most popular Facebook language version in the region within a year and for the growth in English language users to slow further. In terms of country requirements, Facebook now makes more marketing sense for Egypt and Saudi, where Arabic users are joining the platform in numbers. The exception to the rule, as usual, is the UAE, which is likely to continue to be unrepresentative of the region with the dominant Facebook language being English for the foreseeable future.

Since Facebook seems to be becoming the region’s premier platform for sharing Arabic content (see Spot On’s Ten Middle East digital predictions for 2011), this is also going to put a premium on Arabic language content generation and so we can realistically expect pressure on the region’s existing skilled resources for the creation of quality editorial material, written, filmed or recorded, for Facebook.

Want to read more?

If you liked reading this post , you might be interested in our past blog posts on Facebook demographics and usage in the Middle East and North Africa:

Egypt Facebook demographics (January 2011)

Ten Middle East digital predictions for 2011 (January 2011)

Facebook adds 1 million more Arabic users (August 2010)

Facebook bigger than newspapers? So what? (May 2010)

15 Million MENA Facebook Users – Report (May 2010)

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Carrington Malin

About the Author ()

Carrington Malin is co-founder of Spot On and has been managing sales, marketing, media and communications campaigns across the Middle East for more than 20 years. He likes technology, surfing and chicken liver salad. You can contact Carrington via Twitter at @carringtonmalin or via his website www.carringtonmalin.com

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