Beyond the virtual: The 'influencer generation' of Arab content creators on Instagram
Despite the scarcity of Arabic content online, Arab content creators on social media, especially on Instagram, are busy creating engaging and nuanced content while amassing hundreds of thousands of followers.
From parenting coaches to music creators to digital marketers, Arab content creators are making content that is worth following.
The creators’ 'why'
Why do Arab creators spend the effort to provide time-consuming Arabic content for free?
For Canada-based, Lebanese social media marketing consultant Sarah Refai who has over 200,000 followers on Instagram alone, her content creation efforts are important for her personal brand.
"As artists, we realised during the lockdown that social media was the only place to share content and connect with the community"
“Having a personal brand, as an entrepreneur, has major positive effects on the growth of your business,” Refai who shares multimedia content for free on social media marketing told The New Arab.
Refai’s current business focus is helping entrepreneurs, coaches, and consultants launch their online courses.
“The daily messages I receive from young entrepreneurs working on their businesses, expanding, achieving their dreams, having financial freedom motivate me to give more,” she said.
Lebanese sexual educator and trauma therapist Dr Rana Tayara found her calling after she was contacted by someone who was abused as a child.
“It made me realise how much this topic is not talked about in the Arab world, so I decided to raise further awareness around childhood trauma (particularly sexual abuse) and sexual education,” said Tayara who is based in Australia, and has over 12k followers on Instagram.
Tayara told The New Arab that her top engagement comes through Instagram Reels.
“However, the taboos receive the less the engagement, unfortunately,” she explained. “People save those posts, but they don’t share them or comment on them out for fear of being judged by others.”
Meanwhile, Jordanian business coach Jordanian Tareq Samara who has over 39k followers on Instagram said he decided to create content after he started his second company in Dubai in 2015.
“Close people started to ask questions about how I do it, and what the journey is like, and technical questions on starting and registering a company, so I found that this particular content is rare to find within the Arabic community, and decided to focus on it,” Samara told The New Arab.
Jordanian-Iraqi violinist Layth Sidiq started creating and sharing content during the pandemic.
“As artists, we realised during the lockdown that social media was the only place to share content and connect with the community,” said Sidiq who in a short time managed to amass over 32k followers thorough sharing videos of him playing original and classical tunes on the violin.
“It has been an eye-opening experience for me.”
Hate messages and bullying is something most content makers around the globe encounter.
Nancy Fakhoury who is the founder of and CEO of Lebanon-based And Beyond Mena, a digital media and content creation agency said she used to get angry when she received hate messages on her social media platforms.
“Sometimes I actually answer them aggressively, and some other times I just delete them and block users,” said Fakhoury who has over 40k followers on Instagram and shares content on entrepreneurship and digital strategies.
Dr Rana Tayara confirmed receiving hate messages saying: “I am an Arab woman who talks openly about sexual orientation, sexual relationships, marital rape, empowering women (and men) to say no, among other things.”
Her way of dealing with them is to ignore them most of the time. “Those messages push me to want to talk more openly about all of this,” she explains.
"Despite the low volume of Arabic content online, Samara sees a huge potential to improve and expand Arabic content in the very near future, which give more opportunities to aspiring content creators"
“I remember I used to get sad in the beginning,” said Refai when asked about negative comments. “But when you realise the type of people who are writing these messages you simply ignore and continue working. The motto I go with is ‘You will never be criticised by someone who is doing more than you. You will only be criticised by someone doing less.’”
Meanwhile, Samara believes negative comments and bullying are an essential part of the process.
“I communicate them directly to our lawyer, but the best practice is to totally ignore them.”
Creating content is in high demand today. Facebook has recently announced that they are investing one billion dollars by the end of 2022 in content creators.
Arab content creators are experimenting in different ways to monetise their content.
“I push out up to 90 percent free content across my social media channels and emailing list, but the remaining 10 percent is definitely paid, and we charge premium fees because we offer premium services for people interested in e-commerce, affiliate marketing, or coaching online,” explained Samara.
Meanwhile, according to Refai, “social media is a tool to attract the audience, but the real business happens outside social media."
Sidiq adds, “Social media to me has never been about making money but sharing and creating art. However, the more content I share, the more opportunities I get whether educational or performance opportunities, which do bring financial gain, so I think of it as a long-term investment.”
Tips for Arabic aspiring content creators
While the Arabic language is ranked fourth among the 10 most used languages on the Internet Arabic content penetration is only 5 percent, according to the World Internet Status report.
Despite the low volume of Arabic content online, Samara sees a huge potential to improve and expand Arabic content in the very near future, which give more opportunities to aspiring content creators. He advises them not to be discouraged with the number of 'Likes and Followers.'
“Just keep creating and posting amazing content, and the rest will follow.”
Meanwhile, Fakhoury pinpoints the importance of understanding your audience. “Random strategies don’t work for all,” explained Fakhoury. “Always track your content and listen to your audience, what do they want, and what are they looking for.”
Sidiq advises creators to be consistent and have a social media schedule. He also emphasises quality over quantity.
“I’m still learning but I’m really enjoying this journey.”
Natasha Tynes is an award-winning Jordanian-American author and communications professional based in Washington, DC. Her byline has appeared in the Washington Post, Elle, Esquire, Al Jazeera, Huffington Post, and the Jordan Times, among many other outlets.
Follow her on Twitter: @NatashaTynes