x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Middle East Twitter use sees rapid growth

The number of Twitter users in the Middle East and North Africa nearly quadrupled in the second quarter of this year.

The number of Twitter users in the MENA region nearly quadrupled in the second quarter of this year, led by rapid growth of the social-networking service in the UAE, a survey has found. While the Arab world's Twitter user base of 12,266 accounts is still tiny compared with markets such as the US, the accelerating growth rate suggests that within a year or so, the social networking site will be too big for the region's companies to ignore, according to Carrington Malin of Spot On Public Relations, which conducted the survey. "Twitter has already changed the public relations business," Mr Malin said. "Not monitoring Twitter, for a high-profile business or brand, is a risk." Twitter was launched in the US in 2006 and allows users to communicate with each other in posts with 140 characters or fewer. With Etisalat blocking the service until August last year, the UAE was slow to enter the game. But today the UAE has 4,962 Twitter users, by far the most in the region. "This year, you've had a lot more journalists come on to Twitter, a lot more bloggers, a lot more advertising people," Mr Malin said. "And then some high-profile people like Sheikh Mohammed and Queen Rania came. So the demographics are changing." Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President of the UAE, has been "tweeting" as HHShkMohd for more than a month, though his -account was only officially verified last week. In the Middle East, Twitter's ability to track big news events, such as the war in Gaza or the protests after the Iranian elections, in real time has particularly helped it gain the attention of the media and business leaders who influence public opinion, Mr Malin said. Dave Robinson, the chief executive of the PR firm Hill and Knowlton for the Middle East and Africa, said Twitter presented PR agencies with the opportunity to reach consumers directly, if done well. But it also makes messages harder to control, since employees "tweeting" can undermine even the best-crafted press release. The important thing was that companies realised that what people were saying about them on Twitter mattered, Mr Robinson said. khagey@thenational.ae