Social Media Use Picks Pace In Africa With More Smartphones

Social Media Use Picks Pace In Africa With More Smartphones

In the wake of the Arab spring in North Africa social media on the continent took a more pronounced dimension. Facebook, Twitter and Blackberry messenger were used to mobilize crowds that changed the course of history for countries in the northern axis of the continent as the world watched.

With more that 700 million Africans connected to a mobile phone it is only a matter of time before the revolution spread southwards, to more notorious regimes.

Africa is currently the second largest mobile phone market after Asia, and is expected to rise to almost 1 billion mobile connections by 2016.

Already governments on the continent are approaching social media use differently.

Previously social media was not seen as a concern of the state and was largely thought to be a fad for the youth. But as numbers swelled on social media sites and the age demographics changed to include much older persons, state agencies started noticing and most of them came up with rules and regulations to check its use.

“Africa’s growth story and in particular the rising age of consumerism, coupled to the continent’s emerging middle class, has resulted in a surge in the use of mobile phones,” auditing and consulting firm Deloitte said in a report last year.

But what products are Africans consuming on social media. The Deloitte survey showed that some of the key themes for African consumers on the web are sports, mainly soccer, and music.

The report said “consumers have a fascination with what sports stars are doing both on and off the field and how possibly the subscriber can, via their mobile phone, receive a glance into their favorite  sports stars’ everyday routines.”

While showing signs of slowing down in the developed countries, social sites such as Facebook have continued to grow in Africa. Facebook has become the most visited website on the continent, with African users of the world’s largest social networking site standing at an estimated 45 million people.

Facebook Growth

Market analyst and CEO of World Wide Worx, Arthur Goldstuck said in an IT News Africa report that Facebook has grown dramatically in both South   Africa and in other regions of the continent. His company estimates that in October last year Facebook had 10.8 million users in South Africa alone.

“There has been a continual shift up the age graph at Facebook and the average Facebook user is now between twenty-six and thirty years old. So all you’re seeing is the over-representation of teenagers is normalizing,” Goldstuck said adding that the statistics are replicated across Africa, and the largest Facebook market in Africa is Egypt.

“We saw with the Arab Spring how powerful a tool Facebook was … it didn’t cause the revolution, but was a driver.”

Goldstruck said Nigeria and Kenya were some of the leading social media using countries as the uptake of smartphones and feature phones in these countries increase.

Social media tools have also been employed during elections  and crisis situations to give or gather information from the public.

Elections and Disasters

Using Twitter hash tags and special Facebook pages families of victims and the general public in last year’s Westgate mall attack in Nairobi were able to be stay informed about the hostage situation at the shopping complex. Most of this information was coming from government agencies.

Election from Kenya to Zimbabwe have also been characterized by increased use of social media to map incidence of malpractice. On the ground citizens can easily send out a picture or video or simply a text message that could lead to breaking news in the main stream media.

“Social media, as a space for political deliberation, is most acute in places where few other spaces for open debate exist,” Yu-Shan Wu and Catherine Makokera of SAIIA’s Economic Diplomacy Programme said in a report.

“During the Arab Spring, the social media became a vital tool to breaking psychological barriers, as users shared information and at times organized real protests in a short space of time. Similarly Zimbabweans (including the Diaspora) have utilized the Baba Jukwa Facebook page for information and updates, to retrieve links to check their voter registration status and to write comments that encourage each other to vote.”

The growth of mobile phones is not only restricted to communication and interaction growth. Financial accessibility has also increased with products like M-Pesa in Kenya helping increase reach to financial services from below 21 percent  to over 75 percent in less than half a decade.

Such products are gaining traction on the continent, with other countries such as Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa and Ghana adopting them.