Information today is ubiquitous, said US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Smith at the Arab-US Policymakers Conference in October. He was talking about the influence a government may have, “You cannot control the message any longer.. ..So the real question of the day: does the United States, and do the governments of the region have the necessary tools to be successful in an age of influence?” He noted:
Today every teenager we meet has at least one Blackberry or iPhone with every app known to mankind. They are studying abroad or attending Saudi colleges with brand new dorm rooms, living with students from other villages with different views. We have gone from the dark days of the Cold War in Eastern Europe where people would listen to their transistor radio to an era where Saudis get 24 hour newscasts and receive constant Twitter feeds. You cannot control the message any longer.”
The Twitter phenomenon, in particular, was also taken up at that conference by Jamal Khashoggi, General Manager and Editor-in-Chief, Al Arab News Channel and former Editor-in-Chief, Al-Watan, in response to a question about a New York Times report on the explosion of Twitter in the Kingdom:
I think Twitter is becoming the newspaper that we never had in Saudi Arabia. It is really having an effect, and we haven’t seen all of it yet. What could Twitter, what could Facebook do to affect change and reform in Saudi Arabia. God only knows. But it has begun to happen. I used to say if one spent a couple of days with Twitter he would feel as if a revolution was going to happen in Saudi Arabia tomorrow. It’s not true. But you get that feeling and the New York Times used that in their headline. ["Twitter Gives Saudi Arabia a Revolution of Its Own"]
Nadia Bilbassy, Khashoggi’s colleague on the “Views from the Arab Media” panel, herself lead correspondent for Middle East Broadcasting Center television in the United States, approached the topic of Twitter and other social media in its capacity as competition to traditional outlets, “We all have to compete with the social media now with the Twitter, with the Facebook, with all kinds of ways that young people are trying to get the message across.” She added, “People now find ways to find out what’s happening. So they’re not waiting for me to report on MBC or somebody on Al Arabiya or Al Jazeera. They actually can go to Google. They can go to Twitter. They can go to all kinds of information that’s available to them. So the world has changed.”
Just how widespread is the use of social media and which applications have achieved what levels of popularity? This week Jeddah-based media consultancy “thesocialclinic” in association with “The Loft,” a Saudi creative hub, produced a very helpful visual representation of “The State of Social Media in Saudi Arabia 2012.” The “infographic” puts the development of social media in perspective, alongside the commentary on the web site [www.thesocialclinic.com] about individual applications. Their objectves were to share the latest statistics on social media use in the Kingdom; tap into never before shared information; and to present the findings in a way to showcase the phenomenal growth rate of social media in Saudi Arabia. Among the highlights:
- Facebook – KSA has the highest Facebook user rate in the GCC, over 6 million users. Facebook.com is the 3rd most visited web site in KSA.
- Twitter – more than 3 million active users and leads the world in growth rate, up 3,000% from 2011 to 2012, compared to the global rate of 300%. KSA Twitter users record 50 million Tweets per month.
- YouTube – more than 90 million videos are viewed daily. That leads global viewership. YouTube’s popularity grew 109% last year.
“‘thesocialclinic’ is a social media consultancy that offers a wide range of services through its highly certified and accredited consultants. From social media holistic strategies, to one shot social media campaigns, we promise our clients nothing but success stories. Based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and founded in January 2011, we cater to all the Middle East at large. We help our clients integrate social media into the heart of their marketing and communication strategies through several techniques such as crowdsourcing, co-creation, netnography, social campaigns, engagement, analytics, training and workshops.”