Is Social Media Relevant to South African Businesses?

In South Africa on July 24, 2011 by Katherine Hutton

In the United States, almost 80 percent of the population is an internet user. That number is even higher in Norway at around 92 percent. South Africa is a different story, though.

Out of the countries we have studied in this class, South Africa has the second lowest population of internet users according to percentage of overall population, at just under nine percent. (Of these countries, the only one with a lower rate is India.) Like India, social media within the country can only currently work with a small, specific group of people.

Since apartheid ended in 1994, South Africa is supposed to be free from racial segregation. Legally, it may be. In terms of the internet, however, there is still a vast difference in internet usage and demographics. The white minority makes up only 9.2 percent of the country’s population, yet is a whopping 61.76 percent of the internet population. On the other side is the black majority, which makes up 79.4 percent of the South African population, yet only 26.66 percent are internet users. There is still a clear divide between the ethnic groups in the country.

Most of these statistics show that the internet simply hasn’t reached all areas of South Africa; the Whites live in the main metropolitan areas, while the Blacks live in more rural communities.  This uneven distribution of internet access demonstrates that, as of right now, it is difficult for businesses to use social media to communicate with all South Africans, only the urban Whites.

So is social media a good tool for South African businesses? Here are a couple examples of attempts by South African companies.

1. Steri Stumpie

Steri Stumpie, the makers of a flavored milk drink, is one such company attempting to use Facebook and Twitter to create a dialogue between itself and its customers. From its website, a visitor will note that he or she can become an Official Unofficial Ambassador of the brand. Another point of interaction is a contest they recently held for fans to send in creative photos of the product.

Its number of followers on both Facebook and Twitter (at 39,000+ and 900+ respectively) are fairly good in comparison to the number of internet users. The contest and the ambassador programs are both successful ways of using two way communication. But in looking at the above screenshot from the Steri Stumpie website, it’s clear that mostly the minority White population have access to the website.

2. De Beers

South Africa is known for its mining industry, and probably its best known company is De Beers. The diamond giant is recognized internationally, but was founded in South Africa and headquartered in Johannesburg.

In 2010, JWT helped create a viral video campaign for De Beers called “Drop Everything For Love” that was strictly online. Professional camera crews follow a select few people in their extraordinary love stories to start the campaign and consumers are encouraged to add their own “webcam declarations of love.” This is a great way to reach out to the international community as well as associating De Beers diamonds of love.

But what about marketing to South Africans themselves? Is it once again only worth connecting with the small group of internet users?

Granted, it makes sense to use social media only for audiences who actually have access to the internet. But a huge population of South Africa is being ignored because of their lack of access. Members of those populations might have made some fascinating entries in the Steri Stumpie, but they were not able to contribute to the internet contest.

Once more South Africans have access to faster and better internet, social media will be much more relevant to the country’s people and its businesses as a whole.













One Response to “Is Social Media Relevant to South African Businesses?”

  1. I really liked the way that you focused this post on asking a big question and then starting by looking at some big stats. You focus on the important divide in Internet access between ethnic groups and then share two good examples of brands who seem to be using social media well and reaching their target markets … though those target markets certainly seem more focused on the more affluent populations. What is missing is that I am not really sure how you chose to answer the question that you posed in your title. Do you think that social media is not relevant right now but could be “once more South Africans have access to faster and better internet” – or are you saying that it is relevant, but only if your target audience is the more affluent groups in South Africa? The important point here is to make sure that you have a clear takeaway so that your bottom line point of view is clear. (4)

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