It may be surprising that in a country starved for bandwidth and an internet penetration that has not yet reached 20% that mobile is a viable alternative to reaching a South African audience. Despite its track record in technological development, South Africa is at the center of a mobile revolution.
Out of the mobile boom in South Africa has sprung Mxit the extremely popular online mobile instant messenger and social network. In South Africa, MXit is significantly bigger than Facebook and Twitter combined. Each day, around 700 million messages are sent and received globally on MXit which to put in perspective is 3.9 times more messages than the total amount of Tweets sent around the world each day.
MXit originally launched in South Africa in 2005 as primarily an instant messaging platform and by all accounts is extremely addictive to its largely young demographic (47% of Mxit users are between the ages of 19 and 26.) One user even wrote a song about his MXit habit. The original concept of Mxit may remind you of the days of AOL chat rooms and instant messenger but on your mobile phone. However, in the last several years MXit has transformed itself into a full-fledged global social network.
Besides its popular one-to-one and group chat features Mxit allows for creation of email on mobile phones; entertainment features such as interactive games, music and mobile phone application downloads; sports, news and weather updates, competitions, surveys, and questionnaires and MXit exchange a classified section.
MXit also features MXit Cares, which offers its users free real-time advice and counseling. This is particularly important in a country ravaged by HIV/Aids and could potentially make a huge impact on young South Africans. MXit works directly with agencies like Childline, Cell-Life and RLabs to bring professional counseling to its users.
While some of Mxit features may sound relatively rudimentary to Americans accustomed to smartphones we must remember that many South African’s mobile phones do not yet have smartphone capabilities and MXit is much friendlier to use on a low end phone than many other applications. While MXit does make an iPhone (MXit iPhone application screenshot seen to the right) and Droid applications it must cater its features to the largest demographic in South Africa which is those with an internet browser but not yet what we would consider a “smart phone.”
MXit offers companies the ability to buy a hosted chat zone to engage with consumers. A Chat Zone on MXit is a collection of chat rooms where members of the MXit community can engage in conversations about a brand. MXit allows companies to create a virtual world that suits your brand’s personality. Companies can even have a popular personality or spokesperson join in on the conversation in that chat zone.
One campaign that had huge success on MXit was the Engen Endless Summer Campaign targeted at teenagers traveling in their cars with their parents during the summer. The campaign’s goal was to engage the young teens and keep them occupied in the backseat of the car and of course, get them to beg their parents to stop at the next Engen convenience store.
In a country where many people remain unconnected to the traditional Web, companies would be foolish to miss out on an opportunity to engage consumers on MXit.