One of the big emerging opportunities in the South African digital marketing space lies in the way that usage of mobile phones and social media services are converging, thanks to the growing popularity of smartphones in the country.
The rapid penetration of smartphones into the South African market means that accessing social media services such as Twitter and Facebook is increasingly becoming a mobile activity. Marketers need to bear this in mind as they work on both their mobile and social media strategies.
Social media is mobile by its nature, with users sharing information and interacting with each other in real time wherever they are.
Users don’t just want to communicate with their networks from their desks, but they also want to let the world know straight away when they’ve just walked out of a great movie, eaten at a disappointing restaurant or have some pics to share from a social gathering.
Recent research from World Wide Worx indicates that social media has broken into the mainstream in South Africa, with the market researcher estimating that there are around 4.2 million Facebook users and 1.1 million Twitter users in the country.
Many of these users probably often or always access the services through their mobile phones. The research also revealed that the biggest social network in the country – MXit with 10 million users – is one primarily accessed through mobile phones. BBM, also a mobile social networking service, is the fastest growing social networking platform in South Africa.
On the international front, mobile and social have also started to blend together. Market researcher ABI estimates that the number of people accessing social networks from mobile phones will exceed 550 million in 2011, a figure that the researcher expects to top 1.7 billion by the end of 2016. Growth is partly being spurred on by the deep integration of social services such as Twitter, Google + and Facebook with mobile platforms such BlackBerry, Android and Apple’s iOS.
The good news for marketers is that social media is rapidly extending its reach into parts of the population that did not have Internet access and the ability to tap into social networks before. We are seeing offline communities being pulled into the online world by the arrival of cheap smartphones.
What’s more, marketers also have the opportunity to reach desktop Internet users with their message even when they are not at their desks. Often, they will be using location-aware services such as Facebook Places or Foursquare from their smartphones, adding an extra layer of information for marketers who want to do context-aware marketing.
Technology will continue to clear the way for marketers to implement a blend of social and mobile strategic thinking to address a rapidly growing market. With the right monitoring tools in place, marketers can use information gained from the technology, to intelligently target marketing messages at users when they may be most receptive to receiving them.
The massive size of the addressable mobile market and its projected growth means that marketers can no longer afford to ignore it.
They need to be experimenting with business models in order to find the ones that drive engagement for their businesses, so as to position themselves for the groundswell of social media on mobile devices that we will see in the next few years.
Tony Sousa is CEO of Acceleration Media.