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Social Media in the Middle East: more at ARABNET March 25th & 26th

A common feature across the Middle East region is that young people make up a relatively high percentage of the population (in some over 50% are less than 21 years old). In most countries the “net generation”, regardless of its geographic location or cultural background, tends to be comfortable with online technologies and prefer the speed and variety of content delivered through the web and mobile channels.

Next 25th and 26th of March will be held for the first time in the region (in Beirut Lebanon), ArabNet 2010, the first international conference for the Arab web industry, bringing together leaders from across the MENA, Europe and Silicon Valley to discuss cutting-edge trends and emerging opportunities.

I’ve been invited (and am very pleased) as a guest speaker (representing 90:10 Group) at the ‘Social Media’ panel, featuring among others, Ghassan Haddad, Director of Internationalization at Facebook and Timothy Bataillie, the MENA Biz Dev Manager of Netlog, the region’s largest social network for youths (14-24). Full program here.

But where does the Internet stands today in the Arab world (source: startuparabia).

  • At present there are roughly around 56 million Arab internet users in the Arab world, representing only 17% of the 337 million population.
  • More people are getting online in the Arab world, and are relying more and more on the Internet for their news, videos, social interactions and more, but only 1% of all content online is in Arabic, not offering them much choice.
  • Online news consumption is gaining ground with 22% to 34% of the people using internet at least as much as print media to read news.
  • On average, 70% of the people in the four main Arab markets researched use social networks in some capacity and about 15% use social networking sites at least once a day.
  • About 6 million internet users in the Middle East – or about 12% of the total online population in the region – have access to broadband networks.
  • People in the Arab world are spending about three hours per day on the internet on average, which is already on par with the amount of time spent on TV.
  • About $56 million or 1% of the total media advertising spend is online in the Middle East.
  • 8.3% of active Facebook users come from the Middle East & North Africa, representing a 7.9% penetration. The number of users under 25 years of age represent 60% of active Facebook users in the region. Fastest growth in user adoption in the region is in the 55+ age group.
  • Among the Arab countries, the top 7 countries in active Facebook user numbers are: Egypt (1,820,000), Saudi Arabia (920,000), Morocco (860,000), UAE (840,000), Tunisia (690,000), Lebanon (680,000), Jordan (490,000).

Last November in Paris, at LeWeb, Joi Ito moderated a panel on the Middle East with Rabea Ataya, Chairman & CEO of Bayt.com and Habib Haddad, Founder of Yamli. Their shared with us (video below) their view and vision of the future growth of the web in the region.

The Arab Media Outlook latest report (PDF) summarizes the region’s opportunity:

Our analysis points to significant opportunities for media companies in the region to use the power of web 2.0 to develop new revenue streams and to maximize the value of both new and existing premium content. Distribution to mobile broadband devices including mobile television will play an important part in this. Another priority area is the development of audience measurement processes for both print and broadcast media. The absence of reliable audience figures makes it difficult for advertisers to target their advertising and to assess its effectiveness, which reduces their willingness to spend.

As far as Twitter is concerned, it is difficult to have any precise figures. Last July, the region counted less than 15,000 users (source SpotOnPR). Since, the growth has been phenomenal, but still difficult to measure precisely its impact on media and brands. Hopefully, I will learn more about the region’s adoption of social media and new web 2.0 start-ups at coming Arabnet conference (25th and 26th of March in Beirut). Promise you to tweet from there and blog as I return to Paris.