It has been a year since social media helped spark demonstrations, protest and social-political revolution across the Middle East and North Africa.

The Arab Spring of 2011 saw communication via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube garner a degree of popularity which had yet to be seen in the region – and proved dangerous enough that efforts were made by some governments to shut social services down.

This take-up of social networks led to a significant amount of reportage on such trends and throughout the past 12 months we have been keen to include the best data in the MENA edition of our Internet Statistics Compendium

So what can be expected in 2012? And how can businesses and marketers make the most of opportunities in this increasingly social region?

Facebook dominates

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Facebook is currently the dominant social media force across the region as a whole. Digital trends presented by digital strategist Alexandra Tohme back in October highlighted that around 36,000 new users join the service in the Middle East each day.

Digital Middle East Trends 3 October

The ever-updating Socialbakers website has even more in-depth analysis of Facebook’s respective popularity across MENA countries. For user numbers the top three markets are Egypt (9.5m), Saudi Arabia (nearly 5m) and Morocco (4m+). 

Intriguingly, these three countries all boast Facebook penetration at less than 20% and potentially still offer significant room for growth. The service is popular in other nations too, such as Israel and UAE (both have around 3m users each) but penetration here is at a similar level (40%) to countries such as the US and UK where Facebook has been well-established for longer.

Other services still in early stages of growth

Tohme’s presentation also looks at the popularity of YouTube. The service is now available in seven countries and has around 100m video plays across the region each day, with one hour of video uploaded each minute. 

These numbers compared with global figures (48 hours of video are uploaded worldwide each minute according to YouTube itself) does suggest activity in the region is relatively small compared to the rest of the world.

Similarly, the Middle East and North Africa Digital Consumer Report, released by Econsultancy and Real Opinions in October, highlights the early stage of growth at which Twitter remains – especially in terms of its user interactions with businesses. Just 20% of consumers currently use the service to follow brands.

Brand opportunity?

Despite the relatively low amount of brand interaction on Twitter, consumers in the region are displaying a general eagerness to share brand/product information for the benefit of others.

According to a recent global study by TNS Digital, the biggest proportion of consumers (45-50%) in Morocco, Israel, Saudi Arabia and UAE are writing about brands online to ‘help’.

Across these countries, between 60% and 90% of consumers say they trust the opinions of their friends online when it comes to brands – while the faith in the opinions of strangers fluctuates considerably with, for example, 79% of consumers in Saudi Arabia trusting this content compared to 32% doing so in Israel.

TNS Digital Life - Saudi Arabia

Additionally, the Econsultancy/Real Opinions report sees 77% of consumers in the region saying they have ‘liked’ a brand on Facebook. 

Judging by social activity in Morocco, Israel, Saudi Arabia and UAE, brands clearly need to provide the opportunity for their products and services to be discussed across networks where user’s real friendships are maintained. 

Facebook is undoubtedly working well in this regard for many MENA businesses, and those new to the market would do well to ensure integration with the platform is as seamless as possible.