Snapchat has exploded in popularity in the region, UAE users tell us why they love it

The popularity of Snapchat ties into the growing youth population in the Middle East and their need to find creative ways to express themselves.
Natalia Shustova, a lifestyle blogger and regular Snapchat user, is based in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
Natalia Shustova, a lifestyle blogger and regular Snapchat user, is based in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

In 1600, actor William Kemp was challenged to morris dance his way from London to Norwich. He accepted the bet and completed his journey - a distance of about 100 miles - in nine days (spread out over a few weeks).

So was born the phrase “nine-day wonder”, to describe someone or something that suddenly gains fame, only to quickly fade from the spotlight.

Fame no longer requires nine days - or even Andy Warhol’s celebrated 15 minutes. For the Snapchat generation, all it takes is 10 seconds.

From fish-gape selfies with a dog-ears filter to product launches, the image and video-messaging app has caught the imagination of about 150 million people who upload more than 9,000 snaps a second, which are viewed 10 billion times a day.

But what has really taken local digital analysts by surprise is the speed at which the social-media platform is being adopted in the Middle East - and the micro-celebrity industry it has created.

A global study of 70,000 consumers by global market research consultancy Kantar TNS, published in September, found that the proportion of internet users in the UAE who use Snapchat grew from 15 per cent in 2014 to 53 per cent this year. These outpace the global figures, which were 12 per cent in 2014 and 23 per cent this year.

The popularity of the app, which allows users to capture and share a photo or video that is only available to view for 24 hours before it is deleted, ties into the growing youth population in the Middle East and their need to find creative ways to express themselves.

“Snapchat has an appeal among the 13 to 34-year-old age group,” says Bhomik Chandna, head of media and digital solutions for the Mena region at brands consultancy Kantar Millward Brown. “And that’s why it is picking up really fast in the region. Especially in Saudi Arabia, given the fewer forms of entertainment there.”

Chandna adds that the novelty value plays a big role.

“Snapchat, unlike some of the other social-media platforms before it, was made for your smartphone. And its about being instant. So you are walking on the beach, find something fun, click it at that very moment and broadcast it instantly. The younger population is looking for that spontaneity and authenticity which this platform provides.”

Filling the gap

Snapchat founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy, who conceived of the app while students at Stanford University in 2011, turned down a Facebook offer to buy them out for US$3 billion (Dh11bn).

A recent study involving 6,500 American teenagers by asset management firm Piper Jaffray found that 28 per cent of the respondents considered Snapchat the most important social network, followed by Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. The study also found teenagers tend to be more interested in pictures and videos than text-heavy posts on other networks.

However, like most of its competitors, Snapchat has two restrictions imposed on it by the UAE government: content from certain media outlets in the “Discover” section of the app have been blocked on the request of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. The calling features are also blocked. Officials also warn users about sharing too much private information and location details.

However, other features - including quirky filters, teaming up with organisations for live coverage of events, and links to content from account users follow - keep it relevant for young users.

This year, Snapchat Spectacles was launched: camera-enabled sunglasses, costing $130 (Dh477), that record video and upload it directly to the app. Other social-media platforms have launched upgrades inspired by Snapchat’s free-flowing format.

On Sunday, Facebook Messenger released a camera with special effects options. Like Snapchat, its camera-shutter option is at the centre of the screen. A tap takes a photo and a sustained press starts video recording.

“In some ways, the camera is now replacing the keyboard,” Facebook said. “As more people use Messenger in their everyday lives, we wanted to make it faster, simpler and more fun to send photos and videos - so we built the new Messenger camera.”

Instagram also followed Snapchat’s lead by releasing a “Stories” feature in August.

The local effect

Perhaps the biggest factor in Snapchat’s success in the Muslim world was a decision to focus on events in the region with its “Live Story” feature last year.

Thousands of smartphone users joined the #mecca_live story, posting their experiences from Mecca during Ramadan. In the UAE, Snapchat has run several #DubaiLife stories, allowing residents to post fun videos and photos about their life in the city.

Snapchat has created a micro-celebrity industry in the UAE, with people finding the platform a lucrative way to attract followers. Social-media influencer and fashion consultant Natalia Shustova, from Dubai, joined the platform before New York Fashion Week last year because of its potential to grab a young audience.

“Snapchat gives my followers the opportunity to get to know me on a more personal level,” says the 38-year-old Belarusian, whose Snapchat name is ShoesTova. “I take them to these amazing places and intimate gatherings with celebrities and stars. Overall, this is a very interactive and fun platform.”

Shustova, who is also a lawyer, says her followers are interested in her beauty reviews, lifestyle, fashion and her cat.

“When I travel, people come up to me and ask: ‘Oh Natalia, I’m following you on Snapchat. How is your cat doing?’ So people are really interested,” she says.

Dubai radio presenter Kris Fade has been on Snapchat for a year and gets an average of 9,000 views for his posts.

“Snapchat is like a mini reality-TV show that shows nine seconds of your life,” says the 35-year-old host of Virgin Radio’s The Kris Fade Show. The father of two, whose Snapchat handle is Krisfade, says it provides his fans with a more intimate look into his life.

“I use it to keep my followers up-to-date with my radio show and raising my kids,” he says. “Also, when I am interviewing or hanging out with celebrities - I was with Will Smith recently. and snapped a lot of that.” Fade is also using Snapchat to promote his #fadefit campaign, where followers are encouraged to send him motivational photos and videos of them being healthy.

Michael Nicholas, the global director of Kantar TNS (which has offices in Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain), says live streaming and social-media platforms are seen as more relatable, making them an important promotional channel for influential personalities and marketers.

“The rise of Instagram and Snapchat taps into people’s desire for instant, entertaining content from friends, peers and influencers, often enhanced by fun filters and editing,” he says.

“There is a real opportunity for brands to tap into this trend by creating ‘personalisable’ and shareable content, such as videos and stories. The challenge is how to focus the right content to the right people, on the right platforms, at the right moments.”

Shustova agrees this has become an essential business tool.

“It provides a snappy insight into what is trending and for that close communication,” she says.

“I have campaigns in collaborations with different brands, where people message me with questions and I answer them right away. It’s smart way to attract attention to a brand and product.”


UAE Snapchat influencers

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed

Crown Prince of Dubai

Snapchat name: faz3

Content: snippets of his life, fitness routine, horses and travel

Salma Ismail

Nike brand ambassador and Nike+ Training club coach

• Snapchat name: salbroutine

• Content: fitness routines and health advice

Natalia Shustova

Lawyer and creative director of fashion blog Shoestova

• Snapchat name: ShoesTova

• Content: fashion and beauty advice, behind-the-scenes reports from fashion events

Alanoud Badr

Designer and founder of Lady Fozaza

• Snapchat name: fozaza

• Content: insight into personal life, selfies, fashion shoots and trips around town

Kris Fade

Virgin Radio presenter

• Snapchat name: krisfade

• Content: behind-the-scenes exclusives from his radio show, stories of raising two kids, and details of his #fadefit campaign

Huda Kattan

Beauty influencer and businesswoman

• Snapchat name: realhudabeauty

• Content: promotes YouTube make-up tutorials and shares beauty tips and celebrity meet-ups

Ola Farahat

Fashion blogger

• Snapchat name: rabbitola

• Content: reviews of lifestyle and fashion brands, restaurants and selfies with celebrities, in Arabic and English

Shereen Mitwalli

Public speaker and digital influencer

• Snapchat name: shereenmitwalli

• Content: live coverage of events, openings, celebrity visits and restaurants

Najla Kaddour

Make-up artist and blogger

• Snapchat name: najlakaddour

• Content: make-up tutorials and product suggestions

Published: December 19, 2016 04:00 AM


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