Carlos Estrada-Ruiz, Digital Analyst at regional digital marketing agency Netizency, shares with Communicate a social recap analyzing the discussions in the GCC’s public sphere and highlighting the most relevant trends last month.
Every month, Netizency identifies a group of Arabic and English keywords from different industries in the region, classifies them according to the volume of mentions, and analyzes the topics of conversation across all social and online media.
Between August 1-31, 2021, the top three most discussed topics were education, health, and entertainment in that order, followed by malls & retail, electronics, and finance.
Social media in August 2021
Education, health, and entertainment continue to be the top 3 drivers of conversation for the fourth month in a row during August 2021, having ranked in similar fashion since May. Education conversations remain in the top as this month marks the beginning of a new school year, with all the risks it entails. Health conversations have spiked due to the difficult situation in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover.
Entertainment is back again in the top reflecting the increasing relevancy of new media productions and the impact of global sporting events. From the closing ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics to what was dubbed as the ‘craziest’ football transfer market in recent times to more blockbuster superhero movies, Gulf users stayed in tune with the global cultural pulse.
The new school year is the main topic of the educational conversations in August. The widely successful vaccination campaigns in Gulf countries made possible the return to classes for the vast majority of students. Although some schools have either restrictions or options to follow a hybrid schedule, the greater freedom allowed by the high rates of immunization within the GCC community has created a more confident environment that is more conducive for learning. It might not be perfect, but most Gulf users agree it is the closest it has been to normalcy since the pandemic took the world by storm.
Aptly, the GCC community voiced their opinion online through hashtags such as الجديد_الدراسي_العام# with discussions ranging from concerns regarding safety to excitement about physically returning to the classroom. Whereas parents debated the risks and benefits of traditional learning versus online learning, students greeted the prospect of seeing their friends with utmost optimism; waking up early, however, not so much.
The unpredictable behavior of not only the main Covid virus but its multiple variants continued to be the focus of the health conversations in August. On the positive side of the conversation, vaccination campaigns and strict social distancing measures have stabilized life in the Gulf for a few months now. On the negative side, however, not only are the South Asian infection waves worrisome, but the current political developments in Afghanistan have created a new cause for concern.
Almost no one was ready for what ensued after the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan after 20 years. But the international and GCC community was ready to give its support to those who had to weather fighting, gender inequality, and the Covid pandemic, while coping with severely damaged infrastructure and extensive medical shortages.
Football frenzy remained at the center of the entertainment conversations in August. Even though it had been rumored for months that Barcelona was in such financial trouble they could not afford keeping world superstar Lionel Messi in the team, no one really believed a high-caliber team could give up the arguably best player of all time. Yet, and shocking the world, the Argentinian player talked to the press in a highly emotional press conference confirming his departure.
But that was just the beginning. Speculation ran wild as the two top teams poised to grab the attention of the Argentinian were connected to the Gulf: Qatar’s Paris Saint Germain and Abu Dhabi’s Manchester City. The Gulf community, even those without much football interest, expressed excitement for the potential arrival of Messi, an unfathomable occurrence just days before considering the stature of both the player and his former club.
Users pondered: Should he go with the English champions and reunite with his former guru Pep Guardiola to form a tactically formidable team? Or should he join his former teammate and close friend Neymar in a star-studded squad reminiscent only of Real Madrid’s Galácticos? After weeks of tension, Paris would be the ultimate destination of the superstar. In a final plot twist, though, Portuguese superstar and eternal rival of Messi for individual footballing glory Cristiano Ronaldo pulled a move of his own by returning to iconic club Manchester United. Comparatively, Ronaldo’s move was swift and painless, yet still wholly unexpected and equally thrilling.
In parallel with the football transfer drama, the Olympics wrapped up by the middle of the month. Defying all expectations, many Gulf nations attained international glory in the Olympics with some even achieving top places as a delighted audience admired the admittedly watered-down yet hugely iconic closing ceremony. Kuwait obtained a bronze, in shooting, and both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia a silver, in athletics and karate, respectively.
But the star was Qatar, as it not only got a bronze in beach volleyball but also snubbed its first two gold medals ever, one in weightlifting and another in athletics. The historic moment did not go without fanfare, though, as the Qatari high jumper famously asked to share the gold medal with his Italian opponent instead of facing off again in an unexpected act of sportsmanship that made it to international headlines.
Sports was not the only entertainment factor, however. Many naturally flocked to the cinemas, following social restrictions guidelines, to watch the long-awaited and much-hyped The Suicide Squad movie. Gulf users did not hesitate to give the second installment of the high-profile DC Comics franchise rave reviews, mostly owing to the strong cast but especially to well-liked director James Gunn’s personal style.
One of the most important mainstream productions based in the Middle East for Netflix worldwide, Al Rawabi School for Girls garnered a following in the Gulf almost instantly. Users praised the Jordan-based show for dealing with complex subjects such as honor killings as well as gender disparities in traditional Arab societies while maintaining high production standards. With such positive reactions, many GCC netizens hoped that Netflix and other international production houses continue creating similar quality content that both depict and include Arabs.
Spotlight: Foldable phones
It may not have the glamor of Apple, but Samsung is in a league on its own when it comes to mobile technology innovation. In terms of volume, Samsung’s smartphone market share has been number one in the world for several years. Yet despite a myriad of midrange phones and extravagant Galaxy and Note lines, Apple’s software (at least in the Gulf) continues to get most of the flair.
But a bet on foldable phones might just give Samsung—and other big-name smartphone brands—the pizzazz needed to truly leave a mark. However, since their release a few years ago, commercially available models have mostly been a curiosity for showrooms; most of the world, GCC netizens included, marveled at their folding screens but endlessly complained about the eye-watering prices.
But the latest Samsung #Unpacked event brought what could finally be the first mainstream foldable. At a more reasonable $999 price point, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is balancing the tradeoffs from early adopter costs. After two years, jumping on the early foldable technology no longer means low memory capacity and bad screens.
Other brands with foldable models are just as important. Motorola has its already-iconic RAZR design and Huawei needs its revenge from the US and Google. If they also find their sweet pricing spot, we could be talking about a significant disruption. Foldable phones have been the most exciting trend in the greatly saturated mobile market, and if they also become accessible, it will be Apple that will be racing to play catch up.