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October 21st, 2010

The Social Web and the Middle East

Social media and web interaction in the Middle East has piqued my interest since my summer travels. From my very limited time in Turkey and Lebanon, I’ve observed my friends and their family members’ affinity for smart-phones and Facebook. They love their celebrities and their musicians but they won’t engage them further via social media. Despite the country’s ban on YouTube, I believe Turkey’s internet consumption is on the rise among its traditionally reserved citizens. But it hasn’t completely overshadowed SMS communications just yet.

Lebanese are very active on Facebook, with businesses (SMBs and even enterprises) testing their messaging and advertising efforts on this particular platform. Lebanese bloggers are known for utilizing social media as key political and social mobilization tools, writing in English, French, and Arabic. According to The Daily Star Lebanon, “blogs have become one of the main media sources for Lebanese youth to access diverse information and various opinions.” [1]

Many organizations dedicated to raising awareness around digital and social media are growing in Lebanon as well. One aspect that’s really intriguing is their mission to produce original Arabic content. You’re probably asking, why is this so important? While there are 344 million Arabic speakers globally and Arabic is the seventh most popular web language, less than 1% of global online content is in Arabic. Google has made strides in improving algorithms for Arabic searches to work and close this disparity.

Which leads me to my next point. At the GITEX Global Leaders Summit, Randi Zuckerberg, Facebook’s Director of Market Development, revealed that more than “1.6 million registered Facebook users in the UAE, which amounts to 36% of the population – the highest penetration rate in the Middle East.” [2] And 50% of them log on to their profiles every day. Since Facebook introduced its Arabic interface in 2009, around 15-20% of Facebook users converted to the Arabic interface.

What an exciting time for the MENA region as they look for ways to enrich their overall communications experience! It’ll be interesting to observe how cultural relevancy and regional behaviors will determine social media adoption in the years to come.

About the Author
Beverly Nevalga brings her tech and creative background to the Voce Connect team in her role as Client Executive. Author of many of the How-To and more technically-focused posts on the Voce Communications Blog you can follower her on Twitter @digbevmo.

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