The hard facts about internet usage and social media in South Africa today

Local newspapers have quoted all sorts of research suggesting  Facebook is dead; people are tired of it, bored or moving on; that Twitter is so yesterday and social media in general is on its way out.

google logoFor many, this might be good news.  Alvin Toffler was right; technology is moving so fast we do suffer from future shock.

Watching a business trend gain momentum as it passes you by can be very unsettling, and learning that, instead of being out of touch, you simply avoided wasting time and resource on a passing fad would be reassuring.

But for those who believe that social media is more than just a flash in the pan, who’ve allocated time and resource to creating a network and developing valuable content to share with clients and potential clients, it’s a bit like being told that Santa isn’t real – confusing and disappointing.  Confusing if it’s been a valuable addition to your marketing programme and you’ve seen the benefits, and disappointing if that value might decline just when you’ve got to grips with it.

But headlines predicting the end of everything from advertising to the entire world aren’t exactly new.  So let’s look at the facts:

More people are using the internet every day
Of course the internet is growing.  We don’t needs stats to tell us that, but it is interesting that almost one third of the world’s population (32.77%) was online by 2011, up from 25.4% in two years.

Here at home, 20.95% of South Africans were using the internet by 2011, more than doubling the usage over the same period, and estimates suggest that this rapid growth is continuing.

Within this burgeoning market, new websites are being launched daily.  Approximately 40 000 new websites were launched by the beginning of March in South Africa alone this year.

Just holding share in such a rapidly growing market is a remarkable feat, but Facebook has achieved far more than this. 

Facebook is the world’s favourite website
Today, Facebook is the number one website in the world, with more visitors than Google. On a three month average it’s still number two, but for the last month it has topped Google to become the most popular website in the world.  So reports of Facebook’s demise certainly appear to have been exaggerated.

Facebook is also the third most popular site in South Africa, after and

YouTube is No. 3
YouTube has been the third most popular website in the world consistently for the last three months, and is showing no signs of decay.  It’s also No. 4 in South Africa.  (And, counter-intuitively, is skewed to the over 65 as well as the under 24 age-groups.)

Twitter holds the No. 12 spot
Twitter is currently ranked at No.10 world-wide on a three-month average, but the one-month average is only position No. 12.  So while Twitter has slipped down the rankings very slightly, it’s not exactly in free-fall.  Twitter is at position 14 in South Africa.

No. 14: LinkedIn
Like Twitter, LinkedIn has lost popularity over the past three months, moving down from the 13th spot on a three month average to position 14 for the last month.

LinkedIn holds the 8th spot in South Africa, and so might appear stronger here than the rest of the word.  This is, however, likely to be due to the Chinese search engines and social media websites which skew the world averages but don’t play a role locally.

No. 39:  Pinterest
Pinterest has also declined over the last three months, moving from position 34 on a three month average to 39 over the last month.  In South Africa, however, Pinterest is growing and is at position 17 in South Africa, significantly ahead of world averages.

Since Google+ is on, it’s hard to establish its position on the scale. Obviously, not every visit to the main site is for social networking.  However, unsubstantiated reports claim that Google+ is now the second biggest network after Facebook with 90 million users worldwide.

Here in South Africa, Google+ has 466 828 users, 42% who use it for business networking, 65% of whom are over the age of 24, and 71% of whom are male. In other words, this is a website with a lot of potential for business to business marketing.

Market Shares
Here in South Africa, Facebook is losing market share in a growing market.  This is due largely to the significant growth of Pinterest.

You Tube grew in December and LinkedIn took a knock over the same period – and for the same reason:  LinkedIn is a business network, accessed largely from work, and so declines are to be expected over the holiday season. YouTube is accessed largely by the younger market – who have more time over the holidays.

The “others” group comprises an assortment of obscure sites, some of which may be familiar, like My Space, Digg and Delicious.  Others, like Form Feed, Sound Cloud and Orkut, may be less so.  Unsurprisingly, they are losing share.

Social Media market shares in South Africa

Aligning your brand to the right social network
Of course, the key issue for marketers is not the overall ranking or popularity of a social media option, but the alignment of its user profile and editorial environment to the target market and brand objectives.  Because social media can’t be separated from the marketing strategy, and the selection of social media should be subjected to the same rigorous evaluation as any other media channel.

Related article:
Social media is a marketing decision

Data sources:
Internet usage
Website rankings
Market shares



  1. Joan - BlogBizBuzz on April 23, 2013 at 14:16

    Thanks for another excellent post Ann, yes Social Media is here to stay!

    Social Media is moving toward mobile platforms to enable consumers to browse from any digital device.

    Twitter has introduced pictures and music. Facebook have added timeline, altered the algorithm, all moving toward monetization and future of this popular site.

    Google+ is becoming a fast and firm favourite, linking business pages to maps, having You Tube available for conferencing, it is a package to be seriously considered.

    All in all Social Media is only beginning, here is a link to 38 sites currently listed… and this list is growing by the day.

    South Africa will need to keep up with Social Media and going Mobile.

  2. Sandra Parmee on April 22, 2013 at 23:38

    Very interesting article, I definitely agree that social media is not on its way out, in South Africa in particular it’s only just beginning.

  3. Dion Knoesen on April 18, 2013 at 09:48

    Thanks for the very interesting information. I shall be watching developments with keen interest as you keep me updated. Regards, Dion

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