Social media use has exploded over the past few years, so much so that today, a "social media manager" is taken for granted as a job description. Especially at startups, the need for a good social strategy, that deploys what is essentially free marketing, is not something to pass up.
According to LinkedIn data, compiled by Offerpop in the infographic below, the number of social media positions posted on the professional social network has grown 1300% from 2010 to 2013.
This is because the social userbase has also exploded; as users spend more time on social sites (including LinkedIn), "businesses naturally need to cater to this demand,” says Feras Helal, PR and Marketing manager at Amman-based social media agency The Online Project, which has also grown significantly since its was founded in 2009.
In the Middle East, while Facebook is the most popular platform, it's hardly the only one; Twitter and LinkedIn are neck and neck for second and third place, and others may be growing more quickly. "When we look at the growth of Facebook in region, we only see a tiny portion of this growth, because other platforms are gaining even more traction," says Hilal. "A few examples are the number of Saudis using Keek, Kuwaitis using Instagram, and the amount of time spent on Youtube and Twitter in Saudi Arabia."
As the ecosystem grows, agencies are specializing in different niche aspects of it. “We now see some agencies specializing in producing web video content, or engagement analysis and measurement,” explains Helal.
Because of the newness of the field, most social media managers are getting their education at digital agencies rather than universities. “While the majority of [social media] professionals have not received formal education or training, a lot of them have marketing, business and IT backgrounds,” says Helal. This is changing, however, as universities like the Princess Sumaya University of Technology in Jordan, bring in social media professionals to lecture to students.
That doesn't mean that it's easy yet to be a social media specialist in the Arab world. Four years ago, it was difficult for a social media person to land a job, as the domain was still unclear for most companies, says Darine Sabbagh, a Lebanese social media expert. “At some point it got hard due to the situation in Lebanon, as clients were cutting budgets and cancelling projects. But it has compensated by the fact that more and more companies want to go into social,” she explains.
Things have improved, partly thanks to sites like skill sharing community Nabbesh, she says, but undercutting on pricing is making work difficult, as more freelancers are willing to work for very low prices, despite varying quality, she says. “But this is a global issue as well. Regionally, Arabic content is a challenge, like finding a good arabic copywriter to help."
At least the skill is becoming a global commodity; those having trouble in one market can travel abroad virtually.