It is not easy to divine how many South Africans frequent specific social sites, because there is not much research in this field and because the area is notoriously difficult to quantify, with many people having multiple presences on social sites.
Universal McCann's annual social media tracker, Wave 4, included South Africa for the first time in its 2009 research. Wave 4 puts the internet penetration in South Africa at 9.4 percent of adult population. The figure is somewhat lower than local estimates, which cite the internet penetration level at about 10 percent (about 5.3 million users out of the total population of about 50 million people).
According to Wave, 25 percent of South Africa's active internet users have uploaded videos to a video sharing site. Two million have had a brush with at least one social web site (even if only to read someone’s blog or to watch a video), and 1.4 million have a social network profile.
However, a look at the figures provided by Facebook puts the number of South African users at about 2.8 million (see below)…
The 2009 MWEB Friendship 2.0 survey, conducted by TNS and based on responses by 401 participants aged 16 and more, found that 76 percent of internet-enabled South Africans go to social networking sites. Applied to total internet population that means that almost 4 million South Africans frequent social sites – a figure that is roughly double the one given by Wave 4.
Friendship 2.0 survey puts online socialising on the sixth place of the most popular internet activities among South Africans, after accessing the email (94 percent), work related activities (81 percent), reading the news (76 percent), searching for information (76 percent) and online banking (75 percent). Sixteen percent of participants use social platforms to promote their business.
The survey found that, on average, adult social networkers in South Africa are in their thirties and employed full-time. Majority, 82 percent, subscribe to Facebook. YouTube follows with 32 percent, then MXit with 29 percent and Twitter with 28 percent.
According to Alexa, at the beginning of July 2010 Facebook ranked second among the web site most often accessed from South Africa, surpassing Google.com for the first time (Google.co.za is at the very top).
Facebook estimates that 2.8 million South Africans have a profile on that site; about 2.6 million of them are over 18. There are marginally more female (1. 4 million) than male users (1.34 million).
The Friendship 2.0 survey reports that the average age of Facebook users in South Africa is 33. Perhaps surprisingly for such a mature audience, 16 percent of them are on Facebook all day. An additional 58 percent visit the site once a day or more. This means that 74 percent of South African Facebook users surveyed in Friendship 2.0 access this platform at least once a day.
Measured by number of unique visits, Twitter ranks higher in South Africa than anywhere else in the world (like everywhere else, more people go to Twitter to gawk than to actually tweet). At the beginning of July 2010, Twitter was the sixth on the list of web sites most often accessed from South Africa (source: Alexa).
In a 2010 report devoted to South Africans’ tweeting habits, Fuseware puts the number of active South African Twitter users (with at least one tweet in the previous month) at 55,000 and the number of monthly tweets from South Africa at 1.5 million.
According to Fuseware, local tweeters are a well-mannered bunch; only 1.47 percent of “made in SA” tweets contain swear words, they say. That is not all that surprising if one bears in mind that the top Tweeter users in the country are designers, students, engineers, entrepreneurs, artists, writers, photographers, DJs, managers, journalists and consultants.
At the beginning of July 2010, Alexa ranked YouTube as the fourth most popular site in South Africa. In May 2010, YouTube launched its South African version, the YouTube.co.za (which redirects to http://www.youtube.com/?gl=ZA&hl=en-GB). This is the first local YouTube domain in Africa.
Figures for the local YouTube user base (people who actually uploaded videos) are not available. A manual count revealed exactly 100 channels (users) that had "made in SA" printed all over them (but there may be more - or less). The most active of those 100 channels had 268 videos, and the least active - one video. As for the number of views, they range between over 1.3 million to just under 4000 per channel.
The bunch that hangs on MXit can be easily spotted. They are the ones who are always frantically pressing the buttons on their cell phones. They are the youngest South Africans socialising over the internet. Friendship 2.0 survey puts the average age of the MXit users at 27, but empirical observations points that they are much younger that that (teens and even tweens).
MXit is a free instant messaging software application developed by the South African MXit Lifestyle. It runs on cell phones and computers. Most users access MXit only via their cell phones to chat to their friends and are not even aware that the application involves internet connection.
MXit puts its user base in South Africa (the application is also available in other countries) at about 19 million. With numbers like that, MXit is by far the most popular social networking platform in South Africa.
Blogging requires more time and commitment than other forms of online social activities. The most recent available estimates date from 2008, when the number of South African bloggers was put at between 4000 and 5000. According to a 24.com survey from 2008, which covered about one thousand bloggers, there was at the time an even split of men and women blogging. About 58 percent of South African bloggers were between 25 and 44 years old. Most of them lived in major centres (Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria) and almost all earned at least 30 percent more than the average salary (at the time, the average salary in the formal sector of South African economy was about R15,000). Very few earned anything from blogging.
There are currently three South African blog aggregators, plus several sites that have sections dedicated to blogs from contributors.
Afrigator, the continent’s first blogging aggregator, lists 4114 member blogs from all over Africa, with majority being from South Africa. According to Afrigator, nearly three in every five African blogs come from South Africa.
Amatomu lists only South African blogs. There are 500 of them on their list of “most popular”.
myScoop, the newest South African blogosphere aggregator, lists 150 “most popular” South African blogs. This site also has a graph (see image) that shows the state of the local blogosphere: from “on fire” (blogs with ten or more posts per week) and “active" (between half a post and five posts a week) to “inactive" (one post every two to six weeks) and “dead" (less than one post every six weeks). However, it is not known on how many blogs the statistics are based on.
In March 2010, several local Internet Service Providers announced the introduction of uncapped ADSL internet access. Even though the small print generally reveals that “uncapped” does not equal “unlimited”, South Africans are finally on the verge of entering the uncapped and (hopefully) fast broadband age (4Mbps is currently the fastest ADSL available in the country). Once that happens, expect to see more South Africans hanging out on social sites.