Zafer Younis is the chief executive of The Online Project, a social media agency based in Jordan with offices across the Middle East, which recently released a study showing Middle Eastern residents increase their use of social media platforms by 30 per cent during the holy month.
With consumer spending typically spiking during Ramadan, Mr Younis says Middle Eastern companies boost their investment into traditional "off-line" campaigns by 20 per cent. With this in mind, the agency monitored Facebook and Twitter activity in nine countries across the region - including the UAE - to see if this off-line trend was mirrored in customers' online interactions with brands.
Why do people use social media more during Ramadan across the Middle East?
Ramadan is a social month and our research shows this sociability is transferred online also. In addition, quite simply people have more time during Ramadan. Shorter working hours coupled with fewer places to visit as coffee shops or restaurants are not an option means people are looking for an alternative source of entertainment. Our research showed a trend of late night usage and this is likely to be as they pass time waiting for Suhoor. It could also be down to the shift in working hours as people start later during the holy month.
Which types of social media are most popular during the holy month?
While the general trend in the region is an increase in usage and brand engagement, the actual percentage of this increase differs from country to country. For example, the biggest increase in Facebook use was seen in Jordan and Egypt. In contrast, Oman and Lebanon had only a small shift in Facebook use. In addition, we noticed that both peer-to-peer engagement and interaction with brands increased. People engage more when relevant content is posted by brands and their campaigns. This is perhaps coupled with the fact that Ramadan creates a number of universal themes that connect people together such as religion, empathy and understanding, giving them a shared point of reference. Indeed, the majority of the Facebook pages we monitored show higher engagement rates with religious content during the month as many residents of these countries share the same focus.
Do some countries in the region increase usage of social media more than others?
We monitored both overall Twitter and Facebook usage, and specific brand engagement during Ramadan and found that usage across the region increased by 30 per cent for Facebook and 33 per cent for Twitter. Jordan and Egypt had the biggest peak in usage during Ramadan, whereas countries such as the UAE and Qatar saw a slightly smaller shift; this is because there are more expats living in these countries so the changes are less drastic and less pronounced. Looking at brand engagement, Egypt saw a 105 per cent increase in the population interacting with brands, whereas the UAE had 57 per cent more brand engagement on Facebook.
Why do advertisers spend so much of their annual budget during one month?
Research shows media consumption increases during Ramadan and therefore it makes sense that marketers take notice of this upswing and increase their advertising spend during these weeks to make the most of the budget they have. Ramadan working hours allow for more disposable time and marketers see this as an opportunity to engage with their audience.
Won't some see this as an attempt to commercialise the holy month by maximising value for advertising spend rather than focusing on faith?
Some marketers look at Ramadan as another opportunity to gain brand exposure, but the good marketers see Ramadan as an opportunity to create a deeper, more meaningful relationship between their brand and the audience.
Our research shows that many of the brands that launch campaigns during Ramadan focus on relevant, spiritual content during the holy month as opposed to self-serving promotional campaigns. Indeed, our research shows that when a brand posts content related to Ramadan, they see a better engagement response. In addition, this time of year is an excellent opportunity for companies and organisations to connect with their audience through CSR [corporate social responsibility] initiatives with the spirit of giving back and encouraging their consumers and audiences to join in.