The Middle East's Astounding Success on Social Media

November 21, 2016

Written by NewsWhip
middle east blogs

How Middle Eastern publishers are using social media to distribute news to an increasingly digital audience.

We focus on English content heavily here on the NewsWhip blog, but there are some noteworthy regions across the world where social media is thriving. Social media use in the Middle East has garnered interest ever since Arab Spring, and it’s far from slowing down.
A 2016 report from We Are Social revealed that Middle East countries reveals that the population is incredibly active on social media, in nations like Qatar (75% of the population), United Arab Emirates (69%), Saudi Arabia (40%), and Egypt (30%).
There has been a 17 percent growth in internet users from just the year before, with 21 million new users. Not only that, but many of these people use mobile phones to access both the internet and social media, with 55 percent in Saudi Arabia and 50 percent in the United Arab Emirates.
How do newsrooms in the Middle East successfully engage their followers on social media and build their audience?

All in the (Facebook) Family

Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram are some of the biggest platforms for the Middle East. Facebook is the most used social network, with 80 million users. Egypt has the biggest population on Facebook, followed by Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
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Much like our English-language trends, there are Middle Eastern viral publishers and influencers on Facebook that drive a large deal of engagement.
Meanwhile, WhatsApp leads as the most popular platform for Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. With Facebook’s announcement to focus on chatbots this year, this may prove to be a worthwhile space for publishers and brands.
And the visual platform Instagram’s biggest users are in Saudi Arabia, followed by UAE and Egypt.

What Do the Numbers Say?

What sort of engagements do these publishers see? We looked at a selection of publishers from across Middle Eastern countries, to see how many Facebook engagements their domains drove in October 2016.


The majority of these sites are seeing well over a million engagements in the span of one month. Even English-language publishers like Al Jazeera’s English site and Arab News see substantial activity on Facebook.
These sites are divided across Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, and more, showing that news distribution on social media has become a norm across the region, rather than focused on any one country.

Content Trends

So what topics are news publishers in the Middle East and North African region seeing the most engagement around?
Hard news was by far the dominant topic in our data. Politics, both domestic and international, drive big engagement for publishers in the region. Even the US presidential election made waves, appearing in some of the biggest stories. Below is a sample of some of the articles we saw driving substantial engagements from Middle Eastern news publishers. The data comes from NewsWhip Spike

middle east facebook articles

Other popular topics were around social issues, human rights, and religion. Many of the English-language news publications focused on these.
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This story from Emirates Women drove over 288,000 total Facebook engagements. On their native page alone, the article saw over 29,000 shares. 
What’s interesting here is how current events drive the most engagement, rather than any specific verticals such as sports, health, or science really dominating.

Native-Focused Publishers

Native publishers in particular see a lot of activity around religious content. Egyptian televangelist Mustafa Hosni drove nearly 1.2 million engagements for his top photo post of the last month.
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Many of those native-only publishers follow this trend, posting photos overlaid with religious or spiritual text.
Others, like Radio One Lebanon, follow the global trend of sharing uplifting and humorous content that’s good at driving shares and other engagements.
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Some of these viral publishers source content from other Facebook pages, thus proving that the appeal of cute animal content is truly global. 

Voracious for Video

We’d be bereft if we didn’t mention video. The Middle East and North Africa regions are the fastest growing consumer of videos on Facebook. The same fast-paced, short and snappy social videos that we’ve seen do well elsewhere, also do well for the Middle East. 
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Some Middle Eastern publishers are embracing Live video, a format that has skyrocketed in popularity and engagements this year. Sports teams like Zamalek SC are using Live video with substantial success, something we’ve seen with other sports leagues.
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This Live video from Gulf News of the recent super moon drove over 1 million views. 
Other video platforms are excelling as well. Snapchat usage has grown from 3 to 12 percent in just a year. Mecca was featured in the Live Stories feature during Ramadan after 300,000 people tweeted the hashtag #Mecca_Live to get attention.
On YouTube, growth in watch time is up over 80% year over year. The region has the highest online video viewership after the United States.
For Periscope, Turkey is the second most active country for streams. Three Turkish cities are among the top 10 cities with the most Periscope users.


On Instagram, influencers drive big engagement. Celebrities like Iranian actress Taraneh Alidoosti and Turkish athlete Arda Turan regularly see hundreds of thousands of likes for their Instagram content.
Beyond celebrities, other influencers getting attention too, such as Huda Kattan, a makeup artist in Dubai.

It’s interesting to note that the same native trends we’ve seen on the blog – viral native-focused publishers, Instagram-famous influencer, Live video – see similar success in the Middle East region.
Beauty bloggers in particular have found a huge audience in Middle Eastern countries. According to the New Yorker, it’s L’Oreal’s fastest-growing new market. It will be interesting to watch if other popular influencer verticals, such as food, fitness, and travel, become as popular on these channels for the Middle East.

What to Remember

As social media continues to transcend geographic borders, it’s fascinating to watch how news and media gets localized and distributed in specific regions. Some trends are pervasive and seem to work across markets, but it’s a matter of knowing your audience and staying ahead of what will resound the most with them.

Take a free trial of Spike to find the content your audience cares about now, no matter their location

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