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.

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.

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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

Comments (10)

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  1. Eamonn Carey says:

    Social media and digital communications should be regarded as hugely important for marketers everywhere. I’m not just saying that as someone who is encouraging agencies, brands and others to get involved in digital media, but as someone who actively uses and is influenced by these channels.

    The thing that a lot of brands miss – and it’s particularly evident in this region – is that they have an opportunity to talk to a savvy, educated audience – the type of audience who still have disposable income and who are well disposed towards spending it. A significant proportion of the people who use Twitter, Facebook, iPhones and other ‘new’ media services are in the ABC1 category that brands want to influence so much.

    Sadly, one of the big problems here and elsewhere in the world is that the brands and so-called gurus who are advising them don’t get it. They still use these channels as broadcast media rather than using them to talk to and engage with their customers. They think that posting stupid questions and having a few fake profiles ‘like’ that question is enough. There’s no interaction. There’s no engagement. And in these instances, there’s no point. When that happens, it creates problems for those of us who are coming up with creative engagement strategies – as brands can point to significant failures in this space.

    I will admit that things are getting a little better – but I still cringe when I see certain Facebook fan pages or certain Twitter feeds. Hopefully the next few years will see the better agencies rise to the top through the use of proper engagement strategies and we won’t be left frustrated by the sloppy efforts of some brands and agencies.

  2. We can only agree! From our point of view, the whole game is now about engagement and if you’re not engaging you’re failing. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Sara Kamal says:

    Couldn’t agree more! A lot more consideration is needed from the planning perspective, in order to leverage the strategic value of social media marketing. Unfortunately, many marketers over here are still thinking of their efforts as “one-way”. How can they expect any genuine engagement?

  4. How true. Thanks for the feedback.

  5. Rasha says:

    Lebanon far and foremost has been one of the hardest markets to adhere to social media, even online marketing starting picking up when the top visited sites brought in thousands of users- this is when the eyeballs of local advertising agencies and even direct clients considered online marketing which ensured ROI in it’s cheapest form.
    This article speaks more about the lost piece in the Lebanese communication industry- an old post, looking at now makes me glad that agencies do reconsider their communication strategy and now include digital marketing, advertising and emerging media into their marketing plans. Read why:

    It isn’t a Bipolar Brand- explaining how agencies when using digital are reluctant to adapting a brand’s preposition (corporate or sub-branding) in digital communication.
    Read how:

  6. Reginald Jackson says:

    I agree that engagement has to be part of the plan, more for marketers over here than anywhere. It’s all about the art of communicating-not the art of broadcasting.

  7. Fabian Van De Wiele says:

    As much as I agree that succesful use of social media is about “engaging” – I still find that most of those people who do proclaim “it’s all about engagement” rarely have anything to back up their claims.

    “Engagement” has been popping up all over the web as the marketing concept of the last few years – but rarely do we see an exact case study or explanation.

    @sara kamal what do you define as being “genuine engagement” ?

    The best example of a case study I’ve seen so far was in the book ” the long tail”, where an explanation is given of how Dell used social media as mix between customer service and a bouncing board for ideas, with great succes.

    I’d love to see more good examples and case studies, and less “mass media is dead” articles…

    Any examples come to mind? What about the difference between B2C & B2B?



  8. Alex Hutley says:

    More so than simple engagement – the biggest opportunity in this region right now is for brands to actually teach consumers about social media – what, how, why, where and when.

    Consumers in this region don’t necessarily know how to engage with a brand in an online space, or why they’d want to – as its not been developed around them, instead they’ve been dropped right in the middle of the explosion.

    The brands who help consumers understand how, why, when and where to engage with them online will be the ones who will come out on top and ‘own’ the next generation of consumers.

  9. WSINETPOWER says:

    very nice post @CarringtonMalin but now the as the aware ness is increasing more and more Arab world is also under the influence of the same and more and more people are getting attracted to social media. really a great insights has been presented by you. the figures are really good and in the coming time it will really improve this is for sure..

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