Arabic is the official language of 22 countries, which form the Arab league. It is estimated that some 400 million people speak the language.
Arabic ranks fifth on the list of the top 30 languages in the world.
If you still haven’t heard, social media platform Instagram now supports Arabic.
This software update is important for many Arabic native speakers worldwide, who have an opportunity to photo share in a format they understand. However, Instagram’s move came a bit late, compared to Facebook, which launched its Arabic interface back in 2009. Better late than never.
Is there more to this move? What is really behind the launch of this new feature?
This new feature will be launched on Android now, according to Tech Crunch, a platform dedicated to technology news, with Instagram still working on launching it for iOS users.
“It seems that launching Android support as soon as possible was the priority for Instagram, which makes sense considering over 70 per cent of the Arabic speaking community who have their phone language set to Arabic are using Android,” it said.
Today, Instagram has more than 800 million monthly active users (MAUs), 500 million daily active users (DAUs) and 300 million daily users of stories, according to a study by marketing agency mediakix, released on November 2nd.
But Instagram was the not the first platform to make this call.
Facebook took the lead
Ghassan Haddad, Facebook’s Director of Localization, explained that turning Facebook into Arabic was a real challenge.
He was quoted in The Guardian as saying that the mix of characters between languages written in different directions was difficult for web applications to determine the correct direction in which the language would be.
“Design is another challenge, since a web page laid out from right to left looks like a mirror image of an equivalent English page. All components on the page must be changed for right-to-left languages including text alignment, ordering of tabs on pages, different fields on forms, labels, buttons and much more,” he added.
According to StepFeed, a digital media and technology platform, Facebook is by far the most popular social media platform in Arab countries, with around 156 million users as of January 2017 – up from 115 million in 2016.
It said that the average number of Facebook accounts per country averaged 6.7 million accounts. In seven of the 22 Arab countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Iraq, Morocco, UAE and Syria, the number of Facebook accounts exceeds the regional average.
Meanwhile, Weedo, a media measurement institute, said that Arabic was becoming the dominant language on Facebook within the Arab region, while many people continued to use multiple languages when posting or reading social media material.
Regardless, Instagram has obviously a big interest in attracting a purely Arabic audience to its platform. Why?
High mobile penetration
The MENA region is an attractive market for social platforms, due to the high rate of mobile penetration in these countries.
According to Mobile 360 series, a platform tailored for discussing mobile topics, mobile internet penetration has doubled across the region over the last six years, reaching just under 40 per cent of the population or 228 million subscribers by mid-2017.
In the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) States, 76 per cent of the population are mobile subscribers, with three of these markets (in Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE) having a subscriber penetration rate of 90 per cent or above, placing them among the most penetrated mobile countries in the world, it said.
Moreover, by 2025, there will be more than 50 million 5G connections across the region, with 5G networks covering approximately 30 per cent of the region’s population by that point. The GCC States will be amongst the first in the world to launch commercial 5G networks.
Higher advertising revenues
By attracting an increased number of Arab audience, Instagram will be able to draw more Arab consumers for the brands advertised on its platform, thus increasing its advertising revenues.
The platform is very attractive in the MENA region and currently has 63 million users, according to media statements published at the beginning of this year.
Jonathan Labin, Managing Director, Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan at Facebook, was quoted in the media in February 2017 as saying that Instagram’s 63 million users was good news for business in MENA.
“We know that more than 70 per cent of Instagrammers follow a business, with 75 per cent saying that they take action after seeing a post, from visiting a website to searching, shopping or telling a friend,” he said.
According to a study released by Forbes in April 2017, Instagram has officially surpassed one million monthly advertisers.
“With 8 million businesses currently operating on the platform, it’s safe to say that brands have definitely gotten on board,” said Forbes.
Moreover, ISTIZADA, an internet marketing agency, says that the number of Instagram users in affluent countries, like Saudi Arabia, is said to be around 30 per cent of the population, which makes it a channel that one can’t ignore for marketing to consumers, especially among youth where the channel is even more popular.