Social Recap: December 2021 Trends & Platform Updates

At the end of each month, we at Netizency study the popular conversations happening in social media across the Gulf to highlight the most relevant trends and analyze the discussions in the GCC’s public sphere. 

To do so, we’ve have identified a group of keywords in Arabic and English that define conversations according to most relevant industries in the region. We’ve classified them according to the volume of mentions and analyzed the topics of conversation across all social and online media from the GCC between December 1-30, 2021.*

What we found:

The top three most discussed topics were entertainment, health, and education in that order, followed by electronics finance, and automotive.

Social media in September 2021

Overview

Similar to November, the top three topics of conversation reappear as the most important in the Gulf region last month. Entertainment conversations ranked the top for the second month in a row in December, mostly due to international sports events, national celebrations, and iconic holidays taking place in the region and in the world.

Health conversations come in second, climbing up a spot compared to November, as the new Omicron variant officially appears in Gulf countries.  Finally, Educational topics come in third, as discussions around the winter break and a temporary return to online-only education became more relevant.

Top themes

Entertainment

With the holidays all around us, entertainment conversations mostly revolved around iconic national and international days. Beginning with the UAE’s Golden Jubilee on the 2nd, which had already been an important theme of discussion by the end of last month, to Bahrain’s National Day on the 16th, to Qatar’s National Day as well as World Arabic Language Day, both on the 18th, Gulf nationals and ex-pats alike celebrated together with the achievements of their countries and their local language.

The relaxation of social distancing restrictions around the world, however, caused record levels of excitement for what seemed to be the first winter holiday season to be celebrated properly since the pandemic started. Christmas’s and New Year’s discussions, thus, were filled with joy and high expectations. From long-awaited family reunions to outdoor festivals and the enthusiasm for what was the first trips outside their cities for many, the last month of the year was filled with positivity and good spirits.

Yet seasonal celebrations were not the only source of conversation, as December was also witness to several international events. The FIFA Arab Cup, the first-ever football tournament under official FIFA jurisdiction pitting national teams from all over the Arab World, all but monopolized the regional sporting conversation. Expat communities in Doha showed their support from the stadiums while local fans cheered for their teams from their home countries.

In preparation for the World Cup a little less than a year away, the host nation’s national team gave another impressive display of talent reaching all the way to the semifinals after defeating Egypt, one of the favorites. But the team that won everyone’s hearts was that of Palestine. While not having been able to win any of their matches, it garnered the most support and enthusiasm from all the fans, both online and on the ground, in a sentimental display of pan-Arab unity.

Aligning with Qatar’s National Day, the tournament reached its thrilling conclusion with the clash between Algeria and Tunisia, two of the most important and star-studded teams in the tournament. Fans commented on the hard-fought match live as it remained goalless during regular time, even after the best attempts of the most in-form players of the championship. Fans reeled as the game went into an additional half-hour of extra playing time, when, just seconds before reaching the 100th minute of play Algeria scored a shocking goal only to double the lead by the very end, culminating their successful run with the victor’s trophy.

In the realm of motorsports, the 2021 Formula One World Championship also reached its conclusion last month in a nail-biting, three-part finale with a strong Gulf flavor. After winning back a sizeable amount of points in both the Qatar GP in Doha and the Saudi Arabian GP in Jeddah, Lewis Hamilton seemed poised to win his 8th World Driver Championship. However, an exciting Abu Dhabi GP, flashing new track modifications, saw Dutch driver Max Verstappen dethroning British legend Lewis Hamilton in the last lap.

Having gained the first position in the first half of the race, racing enthusiasts online confidently cheered for Hamilton’s expected win… barring unexpected circumstances, like a safety car in the last few laps of the race that would take away all the British driver’s advantage—which was exactly what happened in Netflix-worthy dramatic fashion. Following controversial decisions by the FIA, the governing body of international motorsport, Verstappen was allowed to challenge Hamilton wheel-to-wheel for the last lap. With the fresher tires and invigorating momentum, the Dutchman snatched the first position as Yas Marina witnessed his crowning for the first time as World Champion.

Important events did not only happen in the real world, but also in fiction. One of the most anticipated movies of the year, Spider-Man: No Way Home broke plenty of both pre and post-pandemic box office records. The real winners, though, were the fans: from the most casual superhero movie-watcher to the biggest Marvel expert, online reactions were massively positive, to the extent that some Gulf users called it the best Spider-Man movie and even the best Marvel movie of all time.

CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD. In what is possibly the most imaginative and original fan service in Hollywood, reminiscent of iconic comic book storylines, Marvel and Sony teamed up to bring back the main actors from the two previous Spider-Man movie incarnations. Most of the GCC online community marvelled at the appearance of Tobey McGuire and Andrew Garfield, the first and second Spider-Mans, respectively, tapping on childhood nostalgia from the early 2000s when the very first movie was released.

Officially introducing the concept of the ‘multiverse’, amazed fans could only imagine Marvel’s plans for the future of the franchise as well as the potential introduction of important characters, like the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, into the current universe even if they were taken to the big screen prior to Disney’s Marvel acquisition.

Health

The arrival of the Omicron variant to the Gulf materialized in December and thus it became the center of the health conversation. Gulf users followed attentively all governmental recommendations and shared all news related to the variant as new research emerged progressively, in order to gain better awareness of the situation and to be able to respond to it properly.

The most important theme surrounding the spread of the Omicron variant was its reportedly faster propagation speed. Numerous reports showed that Omicron is even more virulent than the Delta variant, leading users to ring the alarm and temper the expectations for their social activities and to call out those who forget the continuous risks of the pandemic and had stopped wearing facemasks and socially distancing.

As the month progressed and the Omicron cases rose, Gulf users found each other testing positive en masse. After initially worrying that the national health systems would not be able to manage a sudden influx of patients, the online community saw that most Omicron cases were milder than previous variants, playing along with memes and even poking fun at the sheer number of cases within their social circles that did not evolve to graver symptoms—yet never underestimating the public health risks of the pandemic.

Indeed, it is telling that despite the fact that new variant is taking the world by storm, GCC users highlight how the Gulf community is maintaining its composure and showing resilience in handling potential increases in social distancing policies and restrictions and also continuous trust and encouragement for vaccinations. In line with their national policies, users are encouraging the community to take booster doses, which, even if not fully eliminating the risk of infection, do largely mitigate serious symptoms and will allow being better prepared to weather out a new wave.

Education

The holiday season offered a much-needed, even if temporary, respite from stress-driven education conversations in December. Content from students and teachers going on vacation to parents enjoying a break from school schedules was the positive highlight of this month’s discussions.

The surprise of the year-end, though, was the unexpected decision by the UAE government to change the working week. Starting on Monday and ending on Friday, instead of the more regionally traditional Sunday to Thursday schedule, the new working week became the focus of conversation across the region, including those in relation to education, since the change means schools will adhere to the new schedule. Many UAE users wondered how the new week will be felt, but remained optimistic to see positive outcomes from it.

In a slow but dramatic twist during the second half of the month, and as the alert for a new Covid wave became more real, governments across the Gulf mandated a temporary return to online-only education for grade schools to limit the impact of the new variant. Naturally, the online student community was not thrilled with the idea, given the months of comparative normalcy experience in the classroom, but acknowledged the need to avoid all risks.

Once again, a large concentration of educational mentions came from Saudi Arabia, with a steady number of Google searches of Saudi educational platforms Madrasti and Noor. With the return of online-only education, robust national educational infrastructure becomes more important than ever and these platforms have been showing how relevant they are month and month again.

Platform Updates

Social media platforms move as fast as their users. We’ve compiled all the relevant updates for your business, so you don’t have to look for them yourself. 

The latest updates to social media platforms include:

Instagram

  • Tests longer videos in Stories, get ready to share more content on stories with 60-second-long videos.
  • Rolls out ‘Profile Embed’, users will now be able to embed their profiles on third-party websites.

Twitter

  • Introduces Live-stream shopping. Shop online on Twitter through banners, live broadcasts, & shopping tabs.
  • Tests Holiday-themed app icons. You can now give your home screen a Holiday makeover if you are a Twitter Blue subscriber.
  • Revamps the Explore Tab. Scroll down and discover trending topics with a full screen in the Explore Tab.
  • Adds auto-caption for videos where all videos on Twitter will automatically be transcribed.
  • Tests new tweeting options: ‘Quote Tweet with the reaction, is Twitter’s latest visual engagement option.

YouTube

  • Tests new search tools where it will tell you what users are looking for with the new Search Insight tools.
  • Tests Collections to sort subscriptions, where users can find content in their desired category much faster.
  • Improves its mobile app features for Studio, allowing users to now easily monitor YouTube performance on the go.

Reddit

  • Reddit is shutting down its video app Dubsmash; Dubsmash’s video tools will now be in the main app’s camera.

TikTok

  • Shows more data for business accounts. TikTok is testing a new user registration form that will show detailed business information.
  • Introduces Transparency Center in order to make users feel safer.
  • Tests a new Tag option, you can now tag users directly on videos.
  • TikTok Kitchen: A new chain of delivery-only restaurants. Viral TikTok dishes (Yes, baked feta pasta!) will soon be available for delivery.
  • Tests desktop live-streaming app. A new tool that is mostly aimed at game streaming.
  • Introduces live-stream intros where broadcasters can add a description to their streams.
  • Tests a brand-new re-posting option. Users can now increase engagement by re-sharing their old viral videos.

Facebook

  • Launches inspiration hub.
  • Rolls out new AR filters on Messenger. Facebook teamed up with high-profile influencers to add new AR features in video chats.
  • New Live tools on Facebook with features to allow creators to engage with their live audiences.
  • Control comments and replies on Facebook. Users can now get rid of unwanted comments by hiding them and keyword blocking them on Facebook.
  • Professional Profiles are now on Facebook. If you didn’t like Pages, you can now create a Professional Profile on Facebook.

LinkedIn

  • LinkedIn adds Hindi as a supported language.

WhatsApp

  • Meta test crypto transactions on WhatsApp. You could soon be able to send and receive Novi, Meta’s own cryptocurrency over a chat.
  • WhatsApp launches voice note previewing. Users can now listen to their voice messages before sending them.

Google

  • ‘Qaya’: Google’s new creator monetization app where creators will be able to put all their products on one digital storefront.

Meta

  • Meta updates Ads Manager features. The ad campaign setup process is getting a whole new look.

*This article was originally published by Communicate ME as a two-part pieceAccess the trends part here and the platform updates part here.

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