The use of the Internet and social media in South Africa is vastly different to other parts of the world.
Apps which are hugely popular in the US or UK, like video and photo sharing app Snapchat for instance, hardly feature here at all. South Africans tend to be active on fewer social media networks and stick to those they are familiar with. One factor which has a huge impact on the apps used in South Africa is the number of feature phones still in use – so-called “dumb phones” which don’t have the same capabilities as a smartphone.
Locally, smartphone growth is happening at a rapid pace but will take some time to reach the same levels of penetration as feature phones. It has been estimated there are about 23 million smartphones in use in SA, or about 30 percent of all active SIMs. The prohibitive cost of data is another factor preventing South Africans from making use of too many data heavy apps.
Rising popularity of visual platforms
The SA Social Media Landscape 2015 by World Wide Worx and Fuseware reveals that Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are the most popular social networks in South Africa. Facebook has 11.8 million users and YouTube has 7.2 million, while Twitter has about 6.6 million users.
According to the report, visual platforms are the seeing the fastest rise in popularity. The number of YouTube and Instagram users had increased respectively by 53 percent and 65 percent within a year. “We’re seeing the beginning of the visual revolution in online usage in South Africa. The global rise of video is now making itself felt here. Once the cost of mobile data comes down for the emerging smartphone market, video will become a dominant medium, strongly supported by other visual media,” says Arthur Goldstuck from World Wide Worx. Keeping this in mind, Snapchat could soon see an increase in popularity locally.
SA youth aren’t Snapchatting
Across the world it is the youth who are the biggest users of Snapchat. Globally, 14 percent of teenagers are using Snapchat. This figure increases to 30 percent in the US and 37 percent in the UK, according to Global Web Index. “As to why teens are turning to the service, 6 in 10 teen users say it’s because their friends are on it too, with the most popular reason of all being that Snapchat is fun to use,” says its report on young people.
Statista estimates that just 2 percent of South African teens are Snapchatting and a reason for this could be they’re are still very much enamoured with Facebook. “There is much debate about teenagers abandoning the platform, but it’s not yet a factor in South Africa. The 13 to 18 age group remains the single biggest on Facebook, with 2.5 million users,” says Mike Wronski, managing director of Fuseware.
It would appear that smarter phones and cheaper data are necessary to encourage South Africans to use apps which are popular in other parts of the world. For SA youth, Snapchat’s popularity seems to depend on whether the cool kids start doing it.
This article first appeared on MWEB.