Social media giants target MENA

06 November 2012

DUBAI: Social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook are enhancing their presence in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), an area with considerable growth potential for these services.

YouTube, the video-sharing portal owned by Google, is attempting to expand its local operations, reflecting the rising interest in digital content among consumers.

"We're in eight markets in MENA … and we still have another ten markets to go," Robert Kyncl, head of global content at YouTube, told CNBC.

As an example of the possibilities available, countries like Saudi Arabia have seen a rapid surge in demand for material on mobile devices, especially smartphones.

"It's amazing to see that traction with the audience," Kyncl said. "[It's] incredibly exciting; we know that this is a very aggressive market for us".

For its part, Facebook, the world's biggest social network, opened an office in the Middle East earlier in 2012, as it tries to directly connect with internet users in this area.

"There are 350m people in the region, it was a natural step for us to be in the region to enable us to work closer with our key partners and learn from the market," Jonathan Labin, the MENA regional manager at Facebook, said.

Currently, this platform has 45m users across the Middle East and North Africa, approximately 50% of which log on through a mobile phone. Driving up ad revenues will be a key priority.

"Advertising per capita spend is not that high right now, but I think it will grow," said Labin.

More specifically, there are some 11.6m members of Facebook in Egypt, making it Facebook's largest market on this measure. However, penetration levels have reached 87% in Qatar, versus only 2.6% in Yemen.

Sites like Facebook and Twitter played a crucial role in fuelling a wave of social action across many Middle Eastern countries from December 2010, and Labin suggested the results of this are still being felt.

"The Arab Spring has had a huge impact on Facebook," he said. "We were a platform for people to share their opinion and voice. Users have been engaged which has driven growth."

Data sourced from CNBC/The National; additional content by Warc staff