This week marks the tenth anniversary of the inception of Mark Zuckerberg’s global social network giant Facebook. In October 2013 the Company reported financial results for the third quarter, which ended September 30, confirming its attraction of 728 million daily active users, representing a year-on-year increase of 25%. It has also built up a 1.19 billion-strong monthly active user base. However, global media reports in the beginning of 2014 speak of possible weaknesses in the social network fortress, particularly in terms of appeal to a younger demographic of users – teenagers, to be specific.
In a Cnet.com report entitled Why teens are tiring of Facebook author Jennifer Van Grove states that “Facebook has become a social network that’s often too complicated, too risky, and, above all, too overrun by parents to give teens the type of digital freedom they crave.”
However, this is not entirely accurate and the company’s popularity, in general, is on the increase in emerging markets, including Africa, say analysts and research companies.
Market analyst and CEO of World Wide Worx, Arthur Goldstuck, who says Facebook has grown dramatically in both South Africa and in other regions of the continent. He says that based on the Company’s latest social media landscape report, in October last year Facebook had 10,8 million users in South Africa. The number would have surpassed the 11million mark today.
“The reason people think that its popularity is waning is because of stats that show that the number of teenagers on Facebook has declined…however, they haven’t paid attention to what’s been happening to Facebook over the last five years. 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 normalising,” says Goldstuck.
The statistics are definitely mirrored across Africa he confirms, 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,” Goldstuck continues.
Nigeria and Kenya are amongst the top five Facebook countries in Africa, with growth in each of these markets fuelled by the rapid adoption of smartphone technology and move from feature phones and the development, storage and use of apps. “Either discovering the apps or looking for the apps that they have heard about, most often, and that starts with Facebook. It is one of the first places users go when they get a smartphone… and that is driving numbers up.”
In reply to the question of whether Facebook will lose users to other social networking platforms, Goldstuck is clear that local users are eager to experiment with various offerings, including Twitter – with events like Oscar Pistorius’ bail hearing in 2013 described as an infliction point for Twitter in South Africa.
Based on Facebook’s revenue growth over the past year, Goldstuck predicts that because of the substantial move to mobile, emerging markets will be taken far more seriously and the African audience will become increasingly important.
As an example, in July 2013 Zambian mobile service operator Airtel Zambia announced the rollout of a service that allows users to access Facebook accounts via their mobile phones, without the need to have an active internet connection in place.
Facing the public
Until this time it seems as if businesses in Africa will continue to invest in the opportunity to reach a wide audience, quickly and with little expense.
Simon Leps, CEO of Fontera Digital Works, specialists in web development and mobile apps, says the decade old social media site has become an extremely powerful marketing tool for local businesses in terms of driving sales by referring users to brands’ Facebook pages and websites.
“Businesses are realising the importance of developing a social media commerce strategy by either linking their products on Facebook directly to their eCommerce sites, so that people who see their products on those sites can purchase them immediately, or by integrating with the social platforms in innovative ways to drive recommendations and sales.”
Leps warns however, that if implemented incorrectly the results can be severely damaging to a brand’s image. “Poorly managed social media platforms can often become the victims of irate consumers who use the page as cannon fodder to vent their frustrations with the brand in question.”
He adds that more businesses are also turning to advertising on the social network to improve sales. “Ad purchasing is a major attraction for businesses willing to adapt to social media trends. Currently Facebook makes the majority of its money from advertising which is an indication that investing in advertising on the social media platform is a viable option. Looking at the fourth quarter figures, of its total ad sales 53 percent came from ads placed on mobile devices.”
Steven Byhack, Head of Skunk Works (research development) at Fontera Digital Works, adds, “Social media is an owned (free) media space and it costs nothing for a business to share messages with their audience. It’s just like a shop window, why wouldn’t a business want to optimise a free shop window? The importance of a well-managed social media platform is as much about the small wins as it is about the massive campaigns. You need to manage your brand’s social media presence correctly. If you don’t, you are losing the argument by default. Being able to target the right audience by gaining insight into who they are and what their likes and dislike are, allows businesses to learn more about their customers than ever before.”
He also describes social media as a good online reputation management tool because it provides an easy way to gage public sentiment.
Chris Tredger – Online Editor