Emily van Rijswijck
Social media has gone mainstream in South Africa, with both individuals and businesses embracing the available platforms and the average age of users steadily increasing as more people become connected and networks mature.
These and other findings were released in a study by Fuseware and World Wide Worx, titled South African Social Media Landscape 2011. The publication throws some interesting and welcome light on social media usage in the country.
Homegrown messaging application MXit and Facebook are the most popular choices of individual internet activity, while Twitter has seen the most growth in the past year and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) is the fastest growing network in the second half of 2011.
"South Africans and business have flocked to social media in 2011 - a tipping point has been reached," said Michal Wronski, MD of Fuseware and co-author of the report.
It is the first time that research delved into the use of social platforms by both South African consumers and businesses.
Fuseware is a social media monitoring platform which helps companies to make sense of the conversations taking place on the internet in real time.
With World Wide Worx, a leading market research company focusing on trends in information technology and telecommunications, Fuseware aimed its study at getting a better understanding of how individuals and businesses are using social media, and to establish key demographics of the major social networks.
Data from Facebook, Twitter, MXit, LinkedIn, South African blogs and YouTube was collected through a combination of Fuseware’s analysis of social network databases, information provided directly by social networks, and World Wide Worx’s consumer market research.
The success of prominent South African social media campaigns was also analysed.
"Businesses that want an in-depth understanding of social media and how it is being used in the South African context can use the 95-page report to better evaluate their own social media strategies," said Wronski.
Overall, MXit remains the most popular application with about 10-million users, while Twitter notched up an impressive 1.1-million users by mid-2011, a trend in part attributed to the media's obsession with the network.
Co-author of the report and World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck said this is because most radio and television personalities with large audiences are engaged in intensive campaigns to drive their listeners and viewers to both Twitter and Facebook.
Surprisingly, of the approximately 4.2-million Facebook users in South Africa by August 2011, only 3.2-million had visited the site in the year to date, showing that many user move on once the novelty wears off. However, these 3.2-million South Africans spend on average up to 20 minutes per day browsing Facebook.
Wronski also attributed the drop in Facebook user numbers to the fickle nature of the youth market.
“Once BBM picked up significant traction in private schools, for example, many teenagers who had previously flocked to Facebook, opted for BBM’s greater immediacy.”
As for businesses, almost every large consumer-orientated company in the country has started using social media to some extent, whether by way of a Facebook page, Twitter account, a LinkedIn presence or a corporate blog. LinkedIn, aimed at professional users, also reached the 1.1-million user mark, of which 10% are business owners.
And although there are over 600 000 active blogs in South Africa, the majority of traffic is concentrated on a small pool of extremely popular blogs.
Finally, contrary to popular belief, MXit is not a youth-only social network, with the study showing that 70 % of users were in fact over the age of 18 years.
Social media is also driving the growth in mobile phones in South Africa, with the mobile penetration rate standing at 80%, up from 50% last year, and expected to reach 90% by the end of 2011.
What is clear from the study is that social media is here to stay and while younger users are more inclined to use these networks, as social networks become more mainstream, their penetration within all age groups deepens.
However, although South Africans are very media- and mobile-savvy consumers they appear to be more aware of privacy issues than their American counterparts.
"Location-based social networking services such as Foursquare, where users check in and share where they are, have not taken off on any significant level here,” said Wronski.
“And South Africans are still fairly timid when it comes to shopping for goods online. This means that social commerce, such as Facebook credits, are a little slow to take off locally, but in time it will definitely bring in a new wave of innovation."
Wronski predicted that with increasing mobile accessibility, niche social networks aimed at the local market may well spring up.
"There will be a heavy mobile focus with social networking, and creating and sharing content from your phone will become incredibly simple and real-time."
He concluded that social media holds much value, especially for businesses that understand how to use it.
The full report is available for purchase from World Wide Worx.