Social media usage in the region goes up a third during the holy month of Ramadan, with a greater amount of religious content, a new survey shows.
Social media agency The Online Project, which develops social media marketing strategies for companies, monitored 10,000 Twitter users and more than 300,000 Facebook 'interactions', such as posts and comments, during last year's Ramadan, from users in nine Middle Eastern countries -- generating so much data they needed to rent a server from online goliath Amazon to store it.
Company CEO Zafer Younis said the shorter working hours during Ramadan was the chief reason why media usage spiked across all platforms, with social media use in line with other forms such as television and newspapers.
"Also, (it's summer and) people don't have many other options before 8pm. And Ramadan is a very social month, it's known as the social month, people connect with their families and extended families more." Younis said the social media interactions also tended to have a lot more religious content, with people posting thoughts about the holy month and religion.
"From the fan pages that were observed, we can see that when the fan pages post religious content... it has immediately more engagement. This is why we advised brands to tweet their content through the month so it matches the content with users during the month."
The timing of people's social media usage also changed, with the peak use times changing to reflect the increased nocturnal activity that Ramadan usually brought. In the UAE, peak Twitter usage was at 6pm -- in line with many other countries -- while peak Facebook usage was at 7pm, right before the evening Iftar broke the day's fast.
Dubai-based Emirati social media user Jalal Jamal BinThaneya, who has used blogs, Facebook and Twitter since 2007, said he would actually quit Twitter during the period. "During Ramadan people don't have much to do so they're not utilising their time properly...so they go on Twitter... but the holy month should be spent in a different way, some people quit it altogether."
The special needs and social issues campaigner said he would use Twitter an increased amount the month after Ramadan, as he would begin a new campaign, but wanted to slow down during the religious holiday.
"You can get addicted to social media... I believe there are better things to do. There's a real world out there... we can use our time much more wisely." The high number of popular religious figures on Twitter was probably one reason for the increase in use, he said.
UAE spike smaller
Younis said the UAE only saw a 10 per cent spike in social media usage, which was probably attributable to the high degree of expatriates in the country, many of whom were not Muslim so did not change their lifestyle.
"A country like the UAE isn't as affected as Oman or Egypt where we see increases of up to 70 per cent in consumption."
Saudi Arabia also did not see much change, contrary to Younis's initial expectations.
"I assumed Saudi Arabia would be one of the highly affected markets during Ramadan, but actually it's only around (a) 7 per cent (increase)." Further inquiries with Saudi residents revealed during Ramadan not much changed in the country -- "people have this disposable time all year round so they're free to spend more time online". But one aspect Younis said he could not explain is why consumer spend shot up during Ramadan as well.
"Ramadan is very important for marketers, it is the peak month for advertisers... in the Arab world, 20 per cent of the overall media spending is done during Ramadan... leaving other months an average of 8 per cent." He said he had been in the industry his entire working life and it remained a "mystery" as to why people were so inclined to purchase goods during the holy month.
Younis said his company advised their client marketers to make sure they made social media posts and communicated with their communities "at the right time", in order to maximise exposure.
"You might make a post at 3am, but by the time they wake up at 9am it would be flushed down the tweet stream, and most users wouldn't even get it."
While a 30 per cent jump in social media usage may not seem like a large proportion, it was a golden opportunity for companies hoping to grab a slice of users' time, he said.
Most people had a "Facebook ritual", during which their social media time was heavily regimented into a daily routine from which they would not deviate. However, increased amounts of time on social media meant there was a vacancy in their schedules.
"Basically it's easier for brands to get (consumers') attention during Ramadan... because they have more disposable time." Countries surveyed were the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
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