WhatsApp now clear social media leader in Qatar, including for news
Tuesday 06 January 2015, 09:48
is a journalist and researcher. Twitter: @damianradcliffe
Social media usage in Qatar by nationality
Qatar is one of the most connected countries in the world. Smartphone penetration stands at 80% – the same as in United Arab Emirates, and the highest in the world – while 96% of Qatari households are connected to the internet.
This high level of connectivity offers a number of opportunities for domestic and international media players and news organisations, with social channels being a key part of that content mix.
So how are people using social media in the home of al-Jazeera?
Qatar’s Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ictQATAR) last monthreleased findings from a new study examining for the first time how people in Qatar use emerging social channels like WhatsApp and Snapchat. (I should say here that until a couple of weeks ago I ran the Rassed research initiative which set up the study.)
Covering eight social media services ranging from older and more established networks like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to newer entrants like Snapchat, WhatsApp and Path, this research offers an up-to-date analysis of the attitudes and behaviour of social media users in Qatar.
In doing this, the team sought to produce a rich evidence base to help different stakeholders determine the best way to reach particular consumers. As in any market, it demonstrates the diversity of online audiences and the need to deploy different approaches to engage them.
Of the eight services studied, WhatsApp was identified as Qatar’s leading social media service, across all groups. Use of this channel includes the type of social media behaviour found (and perhaps more expected) on more traditional networks. This includes large-scale group discussions around the news, cooking and religion, through to simple SMS replacement activities.
WhatsApp is used by 87% of Qatar’s total internet population (expats and Qataris) and 97% of all Qataris who are online.
The research also revealed that Qataris are more aware of newer networks like Snapchat (77% of Qatari internet users versus 39% of expats) and Instagram (97% versus 65%); and that they tend to be among the earliest adopters of these emerging social media services.
Further differences in usage were also identified in terms of Facebook, the world’s largest social network.
Facebook may have bought WhatsApp for $19bn last year, but the senior social network is only the fifth most popular among Qataris, just ahead of Snapchat. Although 90% of Qatar internet users are aware of Facebook, just 44% actually use it – a finding in line with other recent studies in the country. Conversely, awareness of Facebook among non-Qatari internet users stood at 94%, with an 84% adoption level. The reasons for this were not explored in the study, but anecdotal evidence suggests that concerns around privacy may be a factor here.
Just 12% of male Qatari internet users and 6% of online Qatari women post pictures on Facebook. This is in stark contrast to the online expat population where 46% of non-Qatari men and 49% of non-Qatari women do so.
That said, Qataris are happy to post photos on other networks like Instagram and Snapchat. Given some user perceptions that these networks are easier to control – or perhaps more closed than Facebook – this may reinforce some of the suppositions about the role of privacy in helping to determine particular social media activities.
Social media as news source in Qatar
In the news sphere, of particular note was the finding that a third of Qatari internet users will harness WhatsApp to find out the latest news, compared to 21% of online expats. Meanwhile, 52% of online expats find the news on Facebook, versus just 12% of Qataris.
Other channels such as Instagram and the resilient BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) are also used to share and discuss the news.
* Awareness of social networks is highest among Qataris and females
* ‘Boredom’ is potentially the top trigger for women to stop using a particular social channel
* Mobile-friendly is a key driver for usage for more than 50% of social media users and 70% of Qatari social networkers
* Twenty per cent of users would consider leaving a network if it’s not mobile-friendly
* Eighty-five per cent of the sample felt that social media is “helping to spread rumours and false information”.
Further analysis from this dataset will be published in the coming months, building on previous work published by the Rassed team exploring social media usage in Qatar (Issue 11) and the wider Middle East and North Africa region (Issue 12).
Fieldwork for this study was conducted by Ipsos Qatar, on behalf of ictQATAR, between 1 September and 16 October 2014. Five hundred adult Qatari internet users and 500 non-Qataris participated.
Damian Radcliffe is writing here in a personal capacity.