Today we launched Digital 2024: Saudi Arabia and Digital 2024: The UAE, part of our series of annual global digital reports. They are comprehensive reports covering digital, social and mobile use in the region.

Socialize’s Thando Mafongosi draws out some of the key movements in the social and digital landscape of the UAE and KSA markets from the We Are Social/HootSuite’s Digital 2024 research report.

Is the future female?

Let’s start with the broad need-to-know stats; unsurprisingly the 2024 report shows an increased number of social media users in the region, UAE and KSA now totaling 10.73 million and 35.10 million respectively. Both markets can attribute a large part of this increase to the increased number of women on social platforms. For UAE and KSA female social users grew;  from 30.4% in the previous reporting year to 39.6% in 2024 for the UAE and from 36.9% in 2023 to 45.9% in 2024 for KSA. 

The reports also show us that consumers are spending an increased amount of time on social, KSA social users with marginally more time at 3 hours 6 minutes while UAE users are just under the 3 hour mark with 2 hours 58 minutes. 

Instagram’s impressive growth and X’s inevitable dip

The platforms that users are using the most has remained largely the same for the UAE, while Saudi has seen some interesting shifts in the 2024 report. The total growth and slow down of the platforms in both markets, is in line with the growth in users. For the UAE,  Whatsapp still dominates the top spot with a growth of 6.2%, taking it to 85.8%, followed by Facebook which is, contrary to popular belief, still growing at 80.3%. Instagram is third on the list with 80.1%, followed by Tik Tok at 71.8%. Instagram’s total number and growth rate surpassed Tik Tok this year. The top seven in the UAE is completed by Facebook messenger, X (Twitter) and Linkedin at five, six and seven respectively. 

With the year that has been for X, it’s no surprise that of this list they are the only platform to have less people use it in 2024, by 0.6%. And while still at the bottom of this top seven, it’s worth noting that Linkedin occupies the 3rd highest growth rate behind Whatsapp and Instagram for the year. This growth in Linkedin and the type of content Linkedin typically represents is important to note for the UAE as we later see that the consumer has a growing need for information over anything else on social and when accessing the internet. 

Now looking at KSA, we see Whatsapp and Instagram still leading the charge at 83.1% and 72.7% respectively. They lead despite experiencing a dip in their figures,  last year Whatsapp sat at 83.7% while  Instagram sat at 76.8%.  

In our 2023 report, we witnessed what seemed like a SnapChat take over as it leapfrogged TikTok and Twitter into third place with 68.9%, this year however, while SnapChat has grown to 70.5% it has been surpassed by Tik Tok for the third spot and has only managed to secure the fourth spot. Tik Tok comes in third place with 71.8%, growing by 4.2% from its previous 67.6%. In KSA. Tik Tok’s growth represents the largest growth rate from all the platforms, as it relates to frequent usage. Like in the UAE, it is unsurprising that Twitter (X) is slowly dropping from the platforms that people use often. In the report we see it drop from a previous 68.7% to 66.3%. The top seven most used platforms list in KSA, ends with Telegram and Facebook who have switched positions from last year to this year. Telegram has now surpassed Facebook, in frequent usage. Facebook also represents the most significant drop in usage for Saudi Arabian social users, dipping a total of 7.4% from last year. 

GAMING: Saudi’s continue to invest in gaming tech while UAE social users pull it back. 

With the growth in gaming and virtual reality, as interests, amongst particularly young audiences over the last few years it’s been interesting to note a decrease in the percentage of gaming console ownership in the UAE from 20.7% to 19.3% and virtual reality devices from 8.2% to 6.3%. Important to note here is that this decrease in device ownership doesn’t necessarily indicate a decrease in gaming, it may be a mere indicator of the shifts in how gaming is being accessed. A quick look at Global web index, shows us that roughly 82.1% of Saudi men between the ages of 16 – 44 are gaming via their smartphones – either as primary device or only device. And this is also compounded with the fact that gaming console ownership in KSA has actually not slowed down but has rather increased in the last year by 2.7%.

What is the future of influencer brand partnership content?

Another interesting decrease is the percentage of online video content watched, that is from  influencers – in the form of  videos and/or vlogs. We see a marginal drop in the UAE from 31.9% to 30.9%. And a slightly larger drop in KSA of 2.2%. Influencer video content has become a standard part of many social campaign briefs, as we chase this ‘person to person’ authenticity that branded content doesn’t seem to be winning at anymore. But with this drop, are we having to imagine a world where brand and creator/influencer partnerships look slightly different, as consumers switch off to the current version of their video content?? 

Another shift that we found interesting, particularly for the UAE, when taking a look at  ‘the main reason for using the internet’ and ‘brand discovery’ we are seeing a consumer who is favoring increased knowledge and information over social media connection with family and friends. This could also be indicative of the cultural shift of being fully “outside” post COVID and in some instances fully back at the office for some, which could be part of the decreased need to connect with loved ones online. However, it is significant that what used to be the top use of the internet, staying in touch with family and friends, has now been replaced with finding information. Brand discovery in 2023, was led by ads on social and search engines picked up second place, this year we see search engines taking first place…meaning consumers are no longer waiting to be served ads, they are actively seeking the information out. 

Our WAS Global Head of Media and Distribution, Brittany Wickerson, has long spoken about how social is the new search and the 2024 report we see that coming to life. For KSA, these stats have remained largely unchanged, KSA is still a market that ‘values staying in touch with friends and family’ when using the internet, 66.2% to be specific, followed by finding information at 61%. KSA is also a market that doesn’t just wait to be served information, they actively seek it out, with search engines as leading source of brand discovery in both 2023 and 2024, sitting at 32.2% in our latest report.  

This last part is usually where we share a brand implication, but we all know it’s not that simple. How long your brand has been on social, what category you’re in, which audience you’re speaking to and most importantly your priorities on social, will all dictate how best to use our reports.  But ask yourself some of these questions: 1) Is your brand ready for a more female audience that can be engaged with in different and interesting ways? 2) What’s the future of brand/influencer partnership content? 3) Is your brand equipped to serve a consumer who seeks knowledge sharing not just entertainment? 4) Can they find your information easily. 5) Should your channel strategy include or prioritize knowledge sharing platforms like Linkedin? 

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