The growing penetration of smartphones into the South African market is sparking dramatic changes in the way that local users are using the Internet. One massive shift is that social media is becoming the killer application for the Web, a trend that will accelerate as smartphones and mobile data become more affordable.
That’s according to Diane Charton, managing director at Acceleration Media. She says that social media and instant messaging services are increasingly providing Internet users in South Africa with their first taste of online communications as they begin to use their smartphones to connect with each other.
“Email used to be the killer app for the Internet and the first tool that a new Internet user would embrace in his or her day to day life. But now, social media is the app that attracts many users online and the tool that they embrace most enthusiastically,” says Charton.
Charton points to recent research presented by Google and conducted by Ipsos GmbH, TNS Infratest and the Mobile Marketing Association that shows that 63% of South African smartphone users access social networks via their smartphones daily. Unsurprisingly, the most popular social network is Facebook, which has about 4.2 million users, followed closely by Linked-In and Twitter with around 1.1 million South African users each.
”Social networking is a great mobile app because it lends itself so well to on-the-spot sharing of information. People want to snap and share photos, ask for advice or tell their friends about the restaurant they are visiting in real-time wherever they are”, says Charton.
“With slick social networking apps preinstalled on most smartphones, social networking tools are easy to use even for users who have had little exposure to PCs.”
What’s more, mobile instant messaging services have reached critical mass in South Africa and continue to grow rapidly. MXit, for example, has more than 10 million active users while there are around two million BlackBerry Messenger users in South Africa.
The power of these communities was recently demonstrated when a mass mobilisation of MXit users helped to secure Table Mountain’s spot as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature in a global vote. Charton notes that one of MXit’s big attractions is that it works with feature phones, allowing users that can’t yet afford smartphones to become part of the social world.
Charton says that these trends mean that marketers need to think about how they will align their social media strategies with their mobile strategies since the two are becoming more and more closely aligned.
“Smartphones are not only bringing new users online by making the Internet accessible to new market segments, but are also changing the way existing users experience the Web,” says Charton. “This is an important strategic opportunity for marketers in the years to come.”