Facebook claims 56 million active monthly users in the Middle East and North Africa, with 28 million of them daily users of the social network.
The company, which has released data for the Mena region for the first time, said the numbers reinforce the growing trend of mobile connectivity. In the region, 33 million people use phones or tablets to access Facebook every month and more than 15 million visit daily.
To be sure, internet penetration in the Middle East exceeds 40 per cent, with about 90 million internet users as of June last year, according to internetworldstats.com.
The digital ad pie is still smaller than other parts of the world, no doubt, but it’s growing pretty fast,” said Jonathan Labin, Facebook’s head of Mena, Africa and Pakistan.
“Most big companies and more and more small companies are using Facebook. It’s how you use it effectively to get the best business results where we need to work in the region.”
The food retailer Just Falafel is an example. It spent US$300,000 to $400,000 on advertising on the social network. For its outlay, it made a 19-fold return on its investment to the tune of $9 million, according to Facebook.
Suresh Bhura, the director of media and development at Crayons Communications, says although traditional media remains a favourite of advertisers, “digital [advertising] is growing and complementing the overall marketing strategy”.
Mr Bhura added: “I believe the UAE is far behind in comparison to the global spend but it is growing. There are local clients who understand the power of the digital platform. However, most need educating and convincing to build their trust in this medium.”
Last year, Facebook started operations in the Middle East amid the growing use of social media tools – including Twitter, TripAdvisor and LinkedIn – in the region.
It was reported this week that 80 per cent of hotels in the region have gained directly from an increase in the use of social media and digital marketing this year.
“When it comes to competition, you never know where it comes from,” said Mr Labin. “Facebook constantly wants to innovate as competition can come from everywhere and we understand there will be competition.
“The key is that the pie is growing and the idea that one player needs to decrease because another player is rising isn’t necessarily so.
“We are seeing more usage of Instagram but that doesn’t mean people are using Facebook less, the pie of time spent online is just growing overall.”
In the second quarter of this year, Facebook had nearly 700 million daily active users worldwide, including 182 million in Europe, 181 million in Asia and 142 million in North America.
During that period, the company had more than 1.15 billion active monthly users. In addition, the number of mobile daily active users grew to 469 million from 425 million in the first quarter and 293 million in that quarter last year.
The growth in mobile usage of Facebook is reflected in the company’s earnings; mobile revenues comprised 41 per cent of total income in the second quarter of this year, up from nothing in the first six months of last year.
Total advertising revenue topped US$1.5 billion in the second quarter this year.