Web Users in the Middle East Emphasize Social Networking
In terms of time spent online, the broad Middle East and Africa region lags behind the worldwide average. According to comScore Media Metrix, internet users in the Middle East and Africa spent an average of 17.6 hours online in July 2013, well behind North America’s 35.9 hours and trailing the worldwide average by almost 7 hours.
But online activity in the region skews heavily toward social channels, according to a new eMarketer report, “Digital and the Middle East: A Spotlight on the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries.” comScore found that internet users spent 29% of their online time on social networks, more than the share of time spent using services (17%), consuming entertainment content (13%), reading the news (3%) or on retail sites (1%).
Much of the attention paid toward social media use in the Middle East has been focused on the role that such technology played during the Arab Spring revolutions. But social networks have seen wider adoption among people in Middle East countries outside of activist circles, too. Ipsos MediaCT reported that 73% of internet users in the UAE and 68% in Saudi Arabia used social networks last year. The penetration rate for social network users among respondents in Kuwait was 58%.
Social network users in Middle East countries also spend a significant amount of time logged in to various platforms. Northwestern University in Qatar and Harris Interactive found that users in Bahrain led the GCC countries in terms of daily time spent on social networks, at 4.1 hours. Users in Qatar were the next highest out of the GCC countries, at 3.1 hours, followed by Saudi Arabia (2.9 hours). Even at the low end, UAE respondents were on social networks for an average of 2.7 hours each day.
The adoption of Arabic-language support on social sites—especially those with roots in Western countries—has helped drive social media adoption. And platforms that allow users new avenues to distribute content less stringently regulated by the government than the older media channels of television, radio and print have also seen strong popularity in the Middle East.