Social and upwardly mobile in the Arab world

The explosion of smartphones has changed the social media habits of Arabs consumers for once and for all. We used to live in a desktop-first, mobile-second world; however, driven by the pace of smartphone adoption, that has completely flipped. Today, it’s a mobile first mindset that prevails, with social receiving the biggest impact.

Mobile has quickly emerged as the entry point for every type of consumer engagement on social networks. Both Facebook and Twitter – who represent 90%+ of the social media market in the region – have reported up to 88% of mobile users in Saudi Arabia and 84% in the UAE are consistently accessing their platforms every single month since the start of the year.

It is now a known fact that the number of mobile social consumers have far outnumbered desktop users in Saudi Arabia, which is one of the biggest markets in the GCC. Smartphone subscriptions in the Kingdom have risen by 36% in the past year and the penetration of smartphones stands at 77% versus 46% for laptops and 11% for PCs. The UAE follows a similar behavior in terms of the skew towards smartphones.

The amount of time spent social networking via smartphones is only tipped to grow as Telecommunication companies continue to roll out competitive social-driven data packages.

Mobile is more than a marketing channel—it has now become a behavior and more importantly, it is allowing social to fulfil its original promise. Connecting with friends on the go is a far more natural behavior than accessing Twitter or Facebook from desktops.

To add to an already complex social landscape, the rise of multi-tasking and the pairing of smartphone with TV viewing is raising further questions on the role of social content marketing. The “free time” during TV ad breaks is being replaced with Facebook, Twitter or Instagram time. Therefore, how we create content for engagement and what device we end up amplifying it on, is becoming a key component of “engagement-hacking”.

From a brand’s perspective, increased usage of mobile makes it harder to sign off because the audience is always there. This means that the brands and agencies who are ready to experiment and adapt their content for mobile will stand at a better chance at winning with social.

This also brings me to the point of how brands and agencies will need to rejig their structure, in order to enable themselves to produce content in an always-on, real-time manner. This big shift is already happening across our brands, where we have set up a real-time social media monitoring and engagement cell. Similar to a “war room”, they are created to track online conversations about brands and consumers and respond to them in real time.

We continue to invest in developing capabilities that allow our brands to engage with consumers at the right time, with the right content and on the right device. Now, if a piece of content doesn’t work on a mobile screen, we don’t publish it; it’s as simple as that. There are numerous examples of content pieces that we have had to repurpose for mobile usage, ultimately resulting in richer engagement by consumers.

No matter how you define your social objectives (acquisition or engagement), the only truth is that smartphone social networking will continue to go on and become much bigger. Brands that are ready to make the shift will ride out this new phase of multi-device (yet mobile-skewed) social consumption behavior in the region.

Follow Waseem on Twitter: @wasswass

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