In the last few years we've seen an increase in online consumer conversation as more and more South Africans gain access to the Internet, mostly via mobile. While this increase has been on the cards for some time, this year we're seeing proof of a much larger local online community. 2012 will be the year that industries better grasp how to reach us all.
According to research by Google Mobile in November 2011, SA's population of Internet users stands at 8.7 million people (with desktops) and 14 million (via mobile). This implies SA has a fixed-line penetration rate of 17.20% and a mobile-enabled penetration rate of 27.67%.
If those figures seem high, consider that the cheapest Internet-enabled phones retail for around R300. They're not smartphones; they're basic Nokia or Alcatel models with WAP/GPRS functionality.
From quite the omniscient eye on online consumer conversation here at BrandsEye, I've seen the development of the biggest demographic within SA internet users. If you're looking at running an online campaign or are just looking at online consumers this year, this is who you'll want to be talking to and how some brands already are.
The rise of the newbies
Most South Africans are relatively new to the internet and to digital and computers as a whole. However, they're learning to talk online and quite quickly at that. They may come from lower LSM groups and, even though many are already quite proficient on digital, have less education than you'd think.
For these "newbies", Twitter is used as a public chat-system, rather than a platform for content sharing, resulting in their Tweet histories quickly numbering in the thousands. Facebook statuses are also updated often throughout the day and are thought of rather as entries in a public-facing journal.
Social media use is affording newbies more self-confidence with digital. The satisfaction of social narcissism is very addictive to a group who, without digital, has had little opportunity for publicly receiving praise and they are driven to receive more. It's both their crash course and quick entrance into the online community.
This segment is also either unaware of or apathetic to privacy settings. Few Twitter users' tweets are protected and new signups to Facebook's mobisite default to quite basic privacy settings.
The newbies are not necessarily concerned with who sees their content. The more people, actually, the better, as they, as with most more-experienced Internet users, are aiming to climb social ladders. The segment also understands the value to influencers of having large followings and aspires similarly.
Since low/absent privacy settings are more accessible to search engines, there is a large pool of branded conversation accessible to those of us who are interested in meta-data. For example, there were 19 million opportunities-to-see online conversation about the #ANC100, which generated an AVE of R4 million.
Consumers drive branded conversation
Branded conversations begin to organically appear as the newbies ask their networks for prepaid airtime and start telling people what they're going to do on the weekend.
Unless they've started directly engaging with brands' social media pages, this group is quite unaware that many brands are listening to what they're saying to them. It's the difference between engaging with @TelkomKnockout and just tweeting how angry they are that the ref wasn't fair.
This means that brands looking to communicate to this market will need to invest in promoting their Twitter handles and Facebook pages.
Even without directly mentioning a brand, the top themes in conversation harbour a rich mine for brands to associate with and benefit from windfall conversation. Kulula, Nando's and Savanna are great at turning their sails in time to catch gale-force topics in their infancy and ride, quite cheaply, on organic consumer conversation.
Social media is (increasingly) reflecting the real-world
The top themes mentioned the most in newbies' conversations include celebrity news and engagement, the weekend, sporting events and heroes, political news and politicians' behaviour and, particularly, radio and television personalities.
Within those categories, we notice certain brands being mentioned the most, as well: alcohol (particularly beer brands), large concerts (especially the celebrities playing), sports matches (their favourite team), media sources (the strongest brands including Huisgenoot and 5fm DJ Euphonik).
Tabloid magazines have integrated well onto social media because viral media lends to this segment's fascination with fame and scandal. As a result, they attract and manage a large community by sharing very simple but relevant content with them.
Keep it simple, stupid Intensely complex and philosophical strategies won't be necessary to reach this segment. The brands they use need to be able to reach them with their level of content, to be accessible on simple mobile phones and to incentivise them for engaging.
The system is in a state of learning
The final and penultimate trend is that digital is in state of constant development, implying a large learning curve for brands looking to reach consumers online. Now that it's finally more commonplace in SA, we've got some experience and the opportunity to reach a large market which hasn't really been reached online until now.
Stacey Rumble is a reputation analyst at BrandsEye (www.brandseye.com, @brandseye), a market-leading ORM company based in Cape Town and Johannesburg, with clients in 89 countries. With qualifications in international relations, marketing and neuro-linguistic programming, she approaches the world with just the right mix of process, ingenuity and strategy. Stacey is passionate about the capacity of digital space for political and socio-economic change. Email ; tel +27 (0)21 467 5960; follow @staceyrumble.
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