A Quick Guide to Social Media Marketing in the Middle East

arabian woman holding her smartphone to take a photo
arabian woman holding her smartphone to take a photo

2020 came with many changes and one thing that marketers have had to adjust to was the increase in online behaviour and social media usage among audiences. While the overall global social media consumption has increased this year, brands and marketers within the Middle East have had to take a more localised approach, given how different regions present different social networks, languages, cultural expectations and a number of other barriers that marketing teams to overcome.

For emerging markets, like the Middle East, creating a visible online presence and having a strong social media marketing strategy may seem tough for global brands because what consumers want from brands in these markets is different to what consumers want in a different region. So, what do brands need to know about social media marketing within the Middle East? Read on for a quick guide to help you. 

Understanding the culturally diverse audience

No social media marketing strategy is complete without a full understanding of one's target audience, and for brands and marketers in Dubai and the Middle East, you need to understand the cultural diversity of the region and listen carefully to the social conversations taking place in order to understand what your audience is talking about, what social media platforms they are using to talking about these topics, and the language and terminology used. This is going to be critical for you to better inform your social media marketing strategies and the way in which you choose to engage with your audience. 

Marketing professionals in the region may know that consumer preferences vary greatly within the Middle East, that online conversations and consumer behaviour differ between the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Qatar, and so on. However, they have very few tools to accurately measure the differences in online behaviour.

This is where having a consumer and audience insights tools will help brands and marketers with their social media marketing strategies. Once you have an understanding of the different audience groups that are talking about your brand within the Middle Eastern region, you are better equipped to use a social listening tool that can monitor the conversations they are having on social media platforms and give you insight into how to better use social media to market to them. 

Another challenge that brands and marketers may encounter is speaking and engaging with their target audience in their own language. The top two languages most frequently used in the region are English and Arabic, with almost half of social media users in the Middle East using Arabic as their communication language. However, Arabic is the fastest-growing language on Twitter, with a majority of social media users in countries like Saudi Arabia using Arabic to communicate. What should this tell you? 

That whether you're searching Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn for conversations around your brand, or wanting to get a glimpse of the demographical information of your consumers talking about important conversations that you can get involved in on social media, you are going to need a monitoring tool that is capable of not just providing accurate data and insights, but can give you the story behind the numbers using Arabic Natural Language Processing and Sentiment Analysis within the monitoring tool. 

Creating content that speaks to your audience

Given how Arabic is the primary language that social media users use to communicate online, it's important to then include the Arabic language when creating content for social media. By doing this, you will show your audience that your brand cares about their preferences and that you are willing to engage with them in the language that speaks to them.

Whether that is responding to customer questions on Twitter, tackling their concerns on Facebook or acknowledging their feedback on forums, show your audience that you are willing to be different and talk to them in their language. 

arabic women looking at a smartphone screen

Outside of language, brands should also create content that speaks to audiences in the region during traditional and spiritual holidays, such as Ramadan, where social media users spend about 2 million more hours daily on Facebook during Ramadan while on YouTube, TV dramas see a viewership increase of 151% during Ramadan. When creating content for social media in the region, make sure that you include important local nuances in your strategy to continue showing your audience how much you care about what matters to them. 

These local nuances don't necessarily have to be exclusive to festivals and holidays but can also include trending topics within the Middle East. Take Ford, for example, who celebrated the lift on the ban of Saudi Arabian women driving. The news was well received and widely celebrated from Saudi Arabian women and supporters, and Ford created a striking ad to show their solidarity with the decision. 

This is an example of a brand creating content localised to what was happening in the region. You want to tailor your content to suit the market and build a relationship that is long standing and increases customer loyalty. Even though the Middle East is still experimenting with various marketing methods, the key to unlocking the potential that content marketing has in the region is to really pay attention to your audience and have the right toolkit to help you speak to them. 

The Potential of Influencer Marketing

According to a survey, 94% of in-house marketers in the UAE believe that social media influencer marketing plays an large role in the success of their brands. With a massive opportunity for international expansion and business growth in terms of UAE consumer spend, the region requires brands and marketers to use distinctly different digital strategies to those implemented in North America and Europe in order to stand out. This means shifting from traditional advertising approaches towards influencer marketing.

four arab women against a grey wall looking at their smartphones

Research from YouGov Omnibus and BPG Cohn & Wolf states that 49% of brands in the region are currently working with influencers, and for brands still looking to operate in the region, one key consideration to make is ensuring that you work with the right influencers to bring your brand message across to local audiences. 

The success of influencer marketing and campaigns lies in understanding that the key to seeing positive results from using this marketing strategy on social media lies in effectively combining inspiration with the right visual content and emotions that feel familiar to local audiences and customers.

Popular Middle Eastern influencers, such as Huda Kattan  and Joelle Mardinian do well with influencer marketing because they provide their followers with a global, yet local context through the way they visually share their content and position themselves to their audiences. From sharing modest photos to showcasing the latest beauty and fashion trends, what these influencers do is come across as culturally authentic – which will resonate best with social media users in the Middle East. 

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For brands, this means ensuring that you pick the right influencers to work with your brand who have the same, or a similar, ability to provide your target audience and customers with content that is global, yet local in its context. Social media feeds have become saturated with content from a growing number of influencers yet according to Trust Insight, engagement rates for Instagram influencers declined in 2019. With consumer becoming more aware of the commercialized approach of influencer marketing, brands wanting to use this marketing method on social media need to ensure that they have the right influencers with them. 

There is great potential in the Middle East for brands who are looking to make their mark in the region. Social media provides a platform to not only learn more about your customers, but to speak to them in a way that can encourage engagement and foster customer loyalty. With the right social media strategy in place, as well as having the right monitoring tools, connecting with your audience online and seeing success with your social efforts are well within your reach.