Is social media really that important for marketers in the Arab World?

Surely you can't be serious?

Surely, you can’t be serious?

We’re now quite used to people looking at us aghast as we talk about the importance of social media in communications and marketing strategy. Reactions often include incredulity, annoyance, perplexity, anger and even, occasionally, well-reasoned disagreement. How can we have such certainty in the critical role of social media and in the Arab world, of all places, where the Internet has so much catching up to do and television undeniably reaches more people? Surely, if it was so important we would have seen bigger social media campaigns by now?

Well, to tell the truth, it helps a great deal that Spot On isn’t a lone voice. The Internet has been changing fast to incorporate new ‘social’ dynamics for a few years now and there are plenty of well-respected marketing experts that now agree fundamental changes are taking place (a couple of years ago, many did not!).

The greatest changes are not actually technological ones, they’re psychological and of the greatest importance to marketers are the changes in consumer expectations. It would be, perhaps, foolish to claim full credit for social media in changing consumer expectations, but there can be little doubt that the movement of opinion over online channels, many of them ‘social media’, has acted as a catalyst, helping to galvinise consumer attitudes in a very public way.

Customers now demand that brands become more open, more responsible and more responsive to their needs: and those needs are increasingly not limited to product and service characteristics. Many customers now want to have some belief in the company behind the brand. Is it fundamentally good, honest, responsible and showing a level of respect for the world around it? Today’s social web has become both the litmus test for this consumer sentiment and an amplifier of it, creating fast-moving consumer trends frequently outside the control of brand marketers.

Spot On strongly believes that these changes are taking place in the Middle East and North Africa, although at a different pace in different markets, and that the early efforts of brands in the region to engage with consumers via social media have shown that consumers respond positively. Regardless of regional marketing and customer service activity online, millions of Internet users in the Arab world are flocking to join Facebook and other platforms and being exposed to how companies do business over the Internet in other parts of the world. For example, it’s hard to imagine that the consumer expectations of the MENA region’s 17 million Facebook users are not beginning to change somewhat as a result of their exposure to other users, advertisers and marketers around the world.

Consumer attitudes are changing at a faster rate than many people realise and although it’s true that the Internet doesn’t reach everyone, these days the region’s Internet users are an influential bunch. For all their faults, there’s still a lot of mileage left in the Arab world’s traditional media. However, can brands really still safely assume that consumer sentiment towards their offline marketing isn’t now influenced by online sentiment?

The Arab world now has at least 60 million Internet users. So, if just 50% of those are affected by brand recommendations online, that’s 30 million people in the region that are listening to the voice of the consumer online. With another 20 million Arab consumers expected to come online by 2014, this voice is going to become increasingly important to marketers as times goes on.

Notes
i) Facebook figure quoted is September 2010.
ii) New research of US Internet users shows 4 out of 5 consumers verify product recommendations online before purchasing. We couldn’t find an equivalent statistic for the region, but the Effective Measure | Spot On PR August-September Internet habits survey found that 32% of MENA Internet users actually purchased online, so the assumption is that online recommendations exceed that. Spot On PR’s March 2010
Twitter survey found that 88% of Twitter users recommend products / services.