Facebook becomes SA’s national platform

September 20th, 2017
The latest South African social media research shows Facebook becoming a proxy for the adult population, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
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When almost a third of the population is taking part in conversations and other activity in the same environment, it is clear that we are seeing a shift in the way people interact and socialise.

The SA Social Media Landscape 2018 research study, conducted by World Wide Worx and media monitoring organisation Ornico, shows that Facebook now being used by 29% of the population.

No less than 16-million South Africans now use Facebook, up from 14-million in 2016. And a massive 14-million of these use cellphones or tablets for their access. In the past, mobile use of social media was a smartphone-oriented activity, and tended to be focused on the upper income segments of the population.

Now, thanks to stripped down apps like Facebook Lite, which is often zero-rated for data costs by mobile network operators, the platform is spreading through the entire population. Facebook Lite was South Africa’s 5th most downloaded app from the Google Play Store for Android phones in 2017, and that has had a direct impact on both Internet access and Facebook use.

“It’s a tool that is geared towards the dynamics of a market,” says Oresti Patricios, CEO of Ornico. “Once other social networks and even organisations like banks and retailers come to understand the needs of emerging markets, and the limitations of mobile access, we will see this kind of stripped-down app becoming more common.”

In fact, such aps will probably make a far bigger impact on the growth of Internet access than the clumsy attempts operators are making to structure data bundles for low-income users.

A good example of this is Capitec, the only bank in the list of top ten most downloaded apps in South Africa. Both its account and its app provides simple, intuitive choices for consumers, which translates into low costs for both the bank and its customers.

It is no surprise, then, that the app that generates the most noise, Twitter, does not feature in this list. Twitter as an organisation has stagnated from a strategic point of view, and has little concept of the varying user dynamics across the globe. In the United States, it has been like a rabbit caught in the headlights, unable to respond to the threat from most other social networks. Most of its competitors are growing healthily, while Twitter’s American user base has fallen slightly.

Fortunately for Twitter, it is still growing outside the USA, so those new uses are balancing the American losses, so that the platform is maintaining its user numbers.

The international trend is reflected in South Africa, where Twitter continues to grow at a slow rate in South Africa. From 7.7-million users in 2016, it has grown slowly to 8-million users this year.

The key to this growth is that Twitter remains the social platform of choice for engaging in public discourse in South Africa. News, debates, celebrity spats and the like draw users in, and they are then able to weigh in with their own opinions. The result is that, even while user growth is slow, user engagement with the platform continues to grow strongly.

The biggest surprise trends in the survey was that the previously fastest growing app in South Africa, photo-sharing network Instagram, has see its growth slow down dramatically. It is now used by 3.8-million South Africans, up from 3.5-million.

On the contrary, the professional network, LinkedIn, has maintained steady growth, up from 5.5-million to 6.1-million, as entrepreneurs and small business employees learn of the same benefits that has drawn in the corporate world in recent years.

The study included a survey of social media use by South Africa’s biggest brands, with 118 participants providing insights into their social media practices, strategies and results.

The survey found significant shifts in each of the platforms used by brands, mostly upward. Facebook is now almost pervasive, in use by 97% of brands, from 91% the year before. Twitter has increased marginally, from 88% to 90%, while LinkedIn and Instagram continued their relentless rises, now both standing at 72%. YouTube has fallen slightly behind them, despite a marginal rise to 68%.

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Declines were reported for Pinterest, Google+, WeChat, WhatsApp and SnapChat.

“The findings underline the lesson that widespread consumer takeup of a platform, as we have seen with WhatsApp in particular, does not lend itself readily to brands communicating with those consumers,” says Patricios.

A similar picture emerged when brands were asked whether they advertised on social media. Facebook is by far the most popular for advertising, at 86% of brands, with Twitter and Instagram in distant second and third place at 45% and 40%. Linked in comes in fourth, on 35%.

Most advertisers believe they see a return on investment when they advertise on social media. By far the most unanimous benefit they see is brand awareness, followed by customer insights and brands.

This is hardly surprising, when one considers the extent to which Facebook in particular has become a proxy for the adult population of a country. If it represents almost a third of the total population, it represents almost half of the over-13s in South Africa. As a result, it is now a rival to radio and TV for reaching the broader population.

And it has one massive advantage: that communication is two-way, and can be measured precisely. Don’t be surprised when the social media version of South Africa becomes a more visible and measurable version of the country than the physical version.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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