The hype around social media continues in South Africa, and to some degree this is justified by the growth figures of channels such as MXit within the youth market and Facebook reaching over 1.5 million SA users. However, I think the jury is still out on social media and the impact it will have on digital marketing.
I say this for two reasons: Firstly, many of these channels still have to find a viable revenue model; and secondly, as with any technology leap in the Internet, many of the channels will have to deal with copycats, niche market developments, as well as the loss of attention that accompanies the media’s move to the next big thing.
Let’s be honest, very few will survive long enough to reach critical mass and a viable revenue stream. With this in mind, I have begun to question the impact Twitter will have on the South African market. Twitter is growing at a significant rate locally, with figures of up to 60 000 users being bantered around. But is Twitter all hype or just a mash up of meaningless rumblings and spam? Investigations have shown that meaningful tweets account for less than 10% of the tweets being generated.
From the graphs above it appears that Twitter had peaked in South Africa in July 09, with a noticeable decline taking place in August 09.
Yes, I know Twitter spreads the news fast when there is a crisis such as Iran or the downed plane in the Hudson River, but does it have a commercial, sustainable side to it, or will it fall back and fade away when more niche models are released?
Some of the digital guys are shouting from the rooftops that it is about building an influential following and tracking brand comments. I do not disagree with this, but this, in most cases, will be limited to market leaders, well known people or experts in a specific field. The vast majority of companies and marketing individuals will never get this right. There is also the issue between private and business tweeting and having to read through streams of rubbish to find the information gems.
The factor that really makes me doubt Twitter’s success in South Africa is the fact that the marketing skills need to be successful with Twitter, need to be developed internally rather than being outsourced to an agency or third party. After all, we live in a real-time world, where real-time responses are becoming the norm. An intimate knowledge of the business or product is also needed; tweet frequency cannot be random; and how are companies or individuals going to measure success or return on investment? Recent research also shows that growth and adoption by the under 25-years market is slow and under 12%. Without the younger market constantly feeding the growth, sustainability must be questioned.
The more I use Twitter and follow the digital market, the more I suspect that micro blogging (Twitter type models), will be incorporated into bigger more meaningful channels such as Facebook, Google Wave, etc. I simply cannot see Twitter as a general communication, standalone model surviving another three years.
From a marketing perspective, there is also the efficiency factor to consider. Building a following, tracking and responding to other tweets, all takes time. As a marketer, I know there are better and easier ways to build a brand, support sales and ultimately improve marketing ROI. Social media marketing is still in the sandbox phase and experimental for most. Does it have the legs to go mainstream?
So for me the next question must be: Will Facebook and Google become even more dominant in South Africa, at the expense of local media and will this mean even more online advertising revenue leaving South Africa?