Middle East

Middle East

Digital in MENA: 5 key takeaways from ArabNet 2014 in Beirut

13 Mar 2014



Last week we’ve been invited to give a speech at ArabNet 2014 in Beirut, to talk about what we do at Young Digitals and show our approach to digital strategies. We’ve been glad to say yes, and meet Omar Christidis and the team behind the ArabNet events.

It was a great experience, and the perfect way to get to know more about a crucial area in the digital world of tomorrow. On this post you will find five key points to resume our takeaways from the three-days conference.

Before that, it must be said that #ArabNet was a great event. The location, the organisation  – and the catering, not a minor detail – have been amazing. And Beirut is just the perfect place for such an event: a unique mixture of different cultures, languages and history, offering great vibes and any sort of entertainment. And amazing sights, too.



1) Numbers of Internet in the Middle East

The presentation by Ipsos MENA brought some juicy figures to the table, analysing data in a series of strategic countries in the area: Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan. Here are the most interesting insights:

  • Internet users in Saudi Arabia jumped from 8.5 million in 2012 to 12.3 million in 2013.
  • In 2013 Internet users in UAE passed the 6 million mark, in Kuwait the 2 million mark.
  • 95% of Internet users in Jordan are on social networks.
  • Mobile penetration is 100% in many countries in the MENA region.



2) The MENA digital scene

If Dubai and Beirut have been for a while the two main hubs for innovation, today we have to look at a broader scenario. As global marketers, we must keep an eye on the rising digital and tech scenes in KSA (Saudi Arabia) and Egypt – whose numbers are really astonishing – and Jordan too, as we already said in our interview with Amman-based agency IstiZada.

The Ideathon and Startup Demo events during the ArabNet brought people from many different countries, proving once more that today MENA is the perfect environment for digital startups, as mobile connectivity keeps on growing and national and multinational companies are willing to invest multimillion dollars in innovative projects all across the area.

An example? Last year the Central Bank of Lebanon announced a $400 million investment investment in startups, incubators, accelerators, and funds in the country. 


3) Digital Marketing: Facebook is king…

Considering the fragmentation of TV audiences in the Middle East and North Africa, Facebook is probably the only mass media that companies can use. This is one of the strongest takeaways from the ArabNet conference.

In the MENA region, today Facebook is the main hub for what concerns the digital brand communication.

The case history brought by Chahe Yervenian, CEO of Beirut-based real estate company SAYFCO generated a huge debate. The brand has been using massive Facebook ads campaigns, which they’re proud to state that have been seen multiple times by all Facebook user in the area, regardless the fact that it may be perceived as spammy.

But we should focus on numbers: SAYFCO spent over 3 million USD on Facebook, in order to gather a 3,2 million strong fan base on the social network.




“We have a revenue of $2 billion, and 50% of our sales are made through Facebook”, said mr. Yervenian, which claims to personally manage the page every day. We must keep in mind that SAYFCO sells high-end properties in Lebanon and aims at communicating to an international target – only 11% of the fans are from Lebanon, the biggest fan base being Egyptian users.


4) …integration is queen

Integration is another key concept emerged from the event. Facebook is not the only relevant channel: actually, it has seen a decrease in users KSA and Kuwait, compared to a platform like Twitter, which is steadily growing in all the MENA countries (in KSA and Kuwait Twitter is used by one out of two social network users).

We’ve already seen the importance of Youtube for millions of people in Saudi Arabia, and how Instagram is changing the way business is done in the MENA region.

Speaking of integration, here’s a video presented by Nabil Moutran, regional director at Ogilvy One MENA. It’s about a Sprite campaign run in Saudi Arabia in 2013:



Saudi Arabia is a strategic market for The Coca Cola Company, a complex cultural environment with strong censorship issues, yet very active online: youngsters in KSA spend 15 hours a day on the Internet. The choice was to leverage on the popularity of local web stars (such as the Youtube channel Sa7ito talk about controversial issues in Saudi society, with a distinct and positive Sprite touch based on the concept of “truth”.

Despite the initial criticisms, the multimedia campaign generated over 5 million hits on Youtube, which converted into 400 thousand new fans on Facebook, showing once again the importance of the strategic integration between Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.


5) The next big thing: Egypt

Being the fastest growing Internet country in the whole MENA region, Egypt is definitely the place to be nowadays.

After the Arab Spring revolution social media exploded in the country, making Egypt become one of the biggest Facebook countries almost overnight. It counts now over 18 million users out of a total population of 80 million, which means the potential for further growth is still huge.

Speaking of Internet penetration in urban areas, the growth is breathtaking: in 2012 there were 5.5 million Internet users (26% of the Egyptian urban population), which over the course of 2013 became 9.2 million, with a penetration of 44%.  

A part from the many startuppers from Egypt present at the ArabNet event, it was particularly interesting to see the case history of Jumia, Rocket Internet-baked ecommerce company that is doing great all across Africa (we already talked about the success of Jumia in Nigeria).

What are the needs of users in such a fast-growing economy? And what hare the differences if compared with more developed counties? Here’s the answer, in one of the slides presented by Jumia Egypt’s CEO Mattia Perroni:


Jumia Egypt


And if we look at the communication strategy of Jumia in Egypt, we realize the real value of Facebook as a channel to reach big numbers in the country: the pages of Jumia Egypt and Jumia Fashion Egypt both count more than one million fans.


Guido Ghedin

Guido Ghedin

After his University years between Italy and California, today he deals with Market Research and Digital Scenario Analysis at Young Digitals. You can follow him on Twitter: @guido_ghedin.


Leave a Reply