The logo for the app TikTok is displayed. Social media has become a lifeline to ensure connectedness with family, friends, the church, societies and even business during the Covid-19 lockdown period, says futurist and technology strategist Professor Louis Fouire. Photo: Bloomberg
The logo for the app TikTok is displayed. Social media has become a lifeline to ensure connectedness with family, friends, the church, societies and even business during the Covid-19 lockdown period, says futurist and technology strategist Professor Louis Fouire. Photo: Bloomberg

Tech News: The facts about social media in South Africa

By Louis Fourie Time of article published Jun 19, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - Social media has become a lifeline to ensure connectedness with family, friends, the church, societies and even business during the Covid-19 lockdown period. 

The weekly survey done during the Covid-19 lockdown by the market research intelligence company, Askafrika, indicates that social media remains an important source of information for most people. An amazing 87 percent of people continue to use the social media platforms at least once a day during the lockdown period. 

This high usage, especially in the time of the lockdown is understandable, since 57 percent of people above 35 indicated that the coronavirus has helped them to embrace technology. 

Understandably, this percentage is much higher (69 percent) amongst the youth between 16 and 24 years old. The majority of the youth (65 percent) and of the older generation above 35 years (51 percent) said that social platforms like Facebook and Instagram have become more important to them as tools of connectedness and social inclusion during the time of physical distancing.

Very important for business is that Askafrika also found that social media are essential sources for business promotions, with the highest percentages in electronics and personal 
care products. 

The research found that:

A total of 82 percent of respondents are seeking special offers on grocery products, of which

• 30 percent is on social media;
• 62 percent are looking for specials on personal care products (33 percent on social media); 
• 61 percent are searching for clothing on the media (31 percent on social media);
• 52 percent are searching for electronics (35 percent on social media); 
• 51 percent are searching for beauty products (30 percent on social media); and 
• 41 percent are searching for furniture (28 percent on social media).  

Although indispensable to the consumer, social media often seems to be wrapped in unproven myths, guesses and assumptions by business and brands, especially in South Africa. 

When social media spend, growth and usage is studied across various data points outside the popular platforms itself, it becomes apparent that many of our current assumptions are incorrect.

The industry survey of the social media landscape in 2020 by Ornico and World Wide Worx reveals that Facebook remains the social platform of choice for marketing with 59.4 percent of brands spending most of their social media budget on Facebook. 

LinkedIn (15.6 percent) and Instagram (11.5 percent) are a distant second and third. 

More than 89.2 percent of the 100 biggest brands in South Africa indicated that they were active on Facebook versus 77.5 percent on Twitter, 75.5 percent on LinkedIn, 68.6 percent on Instagram, 50 percent on YouTube and only 34.3 percent on WhatsApp. Facebook also remains the choice for social media live streaming (43.1 percent), followed by Instagram (29.3 percent).

Based on the budget prioritising by brands, it is apparent that the engagement and spend on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram has stagnated. The only exception is LinkedIn, which saw a small increase of 3.5 percent in activity by the major brands over the last four years. The biggest losers over four years are YouTube (-18 percent), Twitter (-12.5 percent) and Facebook (-7.8percent). However, it seems as if marketers have discovered the value of LinkedIn to connect with professionals. Interestingly, the biggest growth of LinkedIn in South Africa was amongst the small and medium enterprises with 1-10 and 51-200 employees. This shows that small business is discovering that LinkedIn is an excellent networking tool. Currently most South African members on LinkedIn are in corporate services (600 000), corporate (570 000), manufacturing (540 000), and Finance (530 000). 

The main reason for the decline in the use of most social platforms can be attributed to available budget (84 percent of brands). The percentage of brands spending less than R10 000 a month on social media increased from 55 percent to 65.7 percent and the daily posting on social media profiles dropped from 50 percent to 31.4 percent, while 10.8 percent of brands deleted their social media accounts, especially Twitter (4.9 percent) and Facebook (3.9 percent). 

The percentage of brands not budgeting for social media increased from 1 percent in 2019 to an enormous 18.6 percent in 2020. Social media is indeed experiencing a difficult time.

It is further significant that the highest number of the top brands (31.4 percent) consider to be active on TikTok in the next twelve months. 

However, it is apparent that the big brands in South Afrika are not very active on TikTok. Fewer than 20 percent of the hundred biggest brands are using it and none of them believe that they are doing it very effectively.

TikTok - launched in China in 2016 and currently having more than 800 million active users - is a new kid on the block and many companies and marketers are still trying to fully understand it and its user base. 

The app was originally known as but was acquired by the Chinese company ByteDance in 2017 and rebranded as TikTok. After several years of impressive growth, 
TikTok has sky-rocketed even further all over the world in recent months during the coronavirus lockdown. The traction and growth of this platform is incredible, and has not been seen even on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram. 

Recently, TikTok surpassed Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and Snapchat in Google Play and Apple App Store downloads. The 800 million active users of TikTok surpasses that of LinkedIn, Reddit, Snapchat, Twitter and Pinterest.

The massive growth of TikTok in a short time span, can partly be attributed to the aggressive marketing of TikTok and the $500 (R8 618) that they are reportedly paying influencers to join the app and start creating content. The top fifty influencers combined have a following of 1.27 billion, or 16 percent, of the global population. 

A short while back Jennifer Lopez posted the same video on Twitter and TikTok. Although she has 45 million followers on Twitter, the video got two million views. On TikTok she only has 5 million followers, but got 71 million views. If your brand’s target audience is Generation Z or between the age of 10 and 30 (63 percent of TikTok users), you should be on TikTok right now and include it in your marketing plan.

One of the social media myths is that jumping onto the bandwagon of trending content adds to brand relevance. Perhaps it is time to rethink the relevance of what goes viral because it is paid for and rather focus on that which resonates with users. 

The more suitable strategy today is the enabling of social media virality by being great at customer experience. It is encouraging that the majority of brands (70.6 percent) do not make use of paid social media influencers.

South African brands are also very slow to invest in new technology for marketing purposes with only 35 percent reacting positively to this question. While the global trend is towards artificial intelligence, chatbots, cloud applications and machine learning the utilisation in South Africa is relatively low at 45.3 percent, 45.3 percent, 41.5 percent and 30.2 percent, respectively.

A significant number of brands (66 percent) believes that social media brought brand returns, such as brand awareness (54.1 percent) and sales (13.3 percent). 

However, it is very important how this return on investment is calculated. 

The success is currently measured according to the following metrics:

• Twitter - via mentions and comments, click through rates, number of followers, and retweets;
• Facebook - click through rates, likes and shares, mentions and comments, and enquiries;
• LinkedIn - likes and shares, click through rates, mentions and comments, and enquiries;
• YouTube - number of views, average length per view, and number of subscribers; and
• Instagram - likes, mentions and comments, and click through rates.

Despite the value of social media, one of the biggest problems in the current measuring of marketing success is that the measuring introduces analytical bias. 

Quite often a certain metric introduced by the platform itself becomes the metric of choice, while social media should preferably be measured with other media channels and not in its own space. Many brands believe success is indicated by big numbers. 

The larger the number of impressions, likes, enquiries, or click through rates the greater the success and value of their marketing activities. But as long as these measures are only internal to the platform and therefore siloed, the marketers will miss the bigger picture.

One thing is for sure, and that is that only the smartest brands with the most thorough and intelligent analysis, together with insightful understanding of users and potential customers will be successful on social media. 

This article, amongst other sources, made use of the data provided by the Askafrika weekly Covid-19 tracker report, the Askafrika report focusing on the youth, and the 2020 research published by Ornico and World Wide Worx titled “The South African social media landscape: Social media myths, high walls, and controlled data.”

Professor Louis C H Fourie is a futurist and technology strategist [email protected]


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