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Africa: Social Media Updates
Feb 15, 2012 (120215)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
Although the #OccupyNigeria protests failed to gain a
complete rollback of the price increase in petrol last
month, they clearly had significant impact. In addition to
a partial rollback in the price, they spurred the beginning
of new government action against corruption in the oil
sector, including the appointment of former anti-corruption
official Nuhu Ribadu to head a task force focused on the
sector. The outcome is of course uncertain, but the protests
clearly mark the emergence of African social media to
political prominence beyond North Africa.
A new report from Portland Communications in Nairobi
highlights the rapid growth of Twitter, with the top five
countries during the last quarter of 2011 being South
Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, and Morocco, with a total of
more than 11 million geo-located tweets during those three
In Nigeria, the protests against the fuel price increase
also targeted President Goodluck Jonathan's Facebook page,
which he had used actively in his presidential campaign last
But it's not just Twitter and Facebook that are driving new
social media use in Africa. There are also new platforms
taking off rapidly on the continent, with innovative uses
particularly adapted to African markets.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains the press release from
Portland Communications, and two articles from Balancing Act
Africa, one on the growth of the new social media platform
Eskimi and the other on new systems making it possible for
low-coast internet communication to replace SMS messaging on
Of related interest: "Mobile Banking Takes Off in Nigeria"
http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/news/ / direct URL:
Balancing Act Africa (http://www.balancingact-africa.com),
with regular updates on new ICT developments, in Africa, by
e-mail and the web, also has a twitter feed and a youtube
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on information and
communication technology, visit http://www.africafocus.org/ictexp.php
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++
Africa: New Research Reveals How Africa Tweets
26 January 2012
For additional information, including link to download of
powerpoint presentation, visit http://tinyurl.com/6pmw88n
In the first ever attempt to comprehensively map the use of
Twitter in Africa, Portland Communications and Tweetminster
analysed over 11.5 million geo-located Tweets originating on
the continent during the last three months of 2011. This
pan-African analysis of Twitter traffic was complemented by
a survey of 500 of Africa's most active Tweeters.
How Africa Tweets found that:
- South Africa is the continent's most active country by
volume of geo-located Tweets, with over twice as many Tweets
(5,030,226 during Q4 2011) as the next most active Kenya
(2,476,800). Nigeria (1,646,212), Egypt (1,214,062) and
Morocco (745,620) make up the remainder of the top five most
- 57% of Tweets from Africa are sent from mobile devices.
- 60% of Africa's most active Tweeters are aged 20-29.
- Twitter in Africa is widely used for social conversation,
with 81% of those polled saying that they mainly used it for
communicating with friends.
- Twitter is becoming an important source of information in
Africa. 68% of those polled said that they use Twitter to
monitor news. 22% use it to search for employment
- African Twitter users are active across a range of social
media, including Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and LinkedIn.
Mark Flanagan, Portland's Partner for Digital
Communications, says: "One of the more surprising findings
of this research is that more public figures have not joined
Africa's burgeoning Twittersphere. With some notable
exceptions, we found that business and political leaders
were largely absent from the debates playing out on Twitter
across the continent. As Twitter lifts off in Africa,
governments, businesses and development agencies can really
no longer afford to stay out of a new space where dialogue
will increasingly be taking place."
How Africa Tweets found that Twitter is helping to form new
links within Africa. The majority of those surveyed said
that at least half of the Twitter accounts they follow are
based on the continent.
Beatrice Karanja, Associate Director and head of Portland
Nairobi, says: "We saw the pivotal role of Twitter in the
events in North Africa last year, but it is clear that
Africa's Twitter revolution is really just beginning.
Twitter is helping Africa and Africans to connect in new
ways and swap information and views. And for Africa -- as
for the rest of the world -- that can only be good."
The key findings of How Africa Tweets and a high-resolution
version of the infographic can be found at
Portland Communications hopes that this survey will serve as
a benchmark for measuring the evolution of Twitter use in
Africa, shedding new light on how Africa communicates
nationally, regionally and internationally.
We welcome feedback and comments.
Suggested hashtag: #AfricaTweets
It came out of nowhere - Low-end, mobile social network
Eskimi shoots to 2.5 million subscribers
Balancing Act Africa, Feb. 10, 2012
http://www.balancingact-africa.com / direct URL -
The speed with which Facebook grew in Africa was startling
but the story is now well-known. Latvian social network
Eskimi is designed for low-end handset users and in a little
over 18 months it has gone from nothing to 2.5 million
users. Anyone who believes that mobile content is important
has to understand why this has happened. Russell Southwood
picks over the bones with VytasPaukstys, CEO, Eskimi and
Nigerian Ayo Alli who has taken on the promotion of the
site. [Correction Eskimi is Lithuanian, not Latvian]
There's a cycle of events before the content moment arrives.
International fibre connections have to be in place: content
and apps don't grow on satellite bandwidth. Wholesale
bandwidth prices have to come down so that retail prices for
the individual user come down: operators have to stop
selling shortage. Then international brands like Google,
Wikipedia, Facebook and Twitter begin to grow. From research
we have done elsewhere, this is generally followed by local
versions of the international brands, particularly in larger
The Eskimi story is one of a social network that didn't come
from the usual places and chose to break out in emerging
markets rather than the crowded European and North American
markets. Also as with the "iTunes for Africa" site, Spinlet
(which formally launches at Mobile Web East Africa next
week), this is a collaboration between a small European
country and Nigeria. The trading centre of gravity in the
world is slowly beginning to tip on its axis.
According to Vytas Paukstys, CEO, Eskimi:"We started
experimenting in the Baltics and it went great there. So we
decided to go international and do test marketing elsewhere
in the world. We started in Asia and then went to Africa. We
focused on four countries: South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and
All this has taken it to the point where at the beginning of
November 2011, 1.7 m of its 3 m global users were Nigerian.
But also use at that point in other African countries was
also growing: 250,000 registered users in Ghana, 35,000
users in Kenya and over 30,000 in Namibia. Now it has 5
million global users, of which half are in Nigeria. Overall,
Africa now has 1 million users. In other words, it is
gaining critical mass in Ghana and other places, making it
more than a one-hit, one country wonder.
Eskimi is a low-end, mobile web product and it is building
an Android app but it believes, it's too early for a
smartphone application. The pattern of use must be
reassuring for Nokia as in November 2011, 73% were using the
Opera Mini browser which is most frequently found on its
handsets. At this point, 90% of use is on Opera Mini or the
proprietary browser on the handset. Critical mass needs a
wide potential user base as not everyone who has the right
phone will use the product or service.
So if there are say 1 million smartphone users, only 10-30%
may use a particular service and only a smaller percentage
use it regularly(see look and feel in graphic) Also this
year, Eskimi will go out to local developers to develops to
help create more services around the platform.
What are they all using it for? What a small number of them
used to lurk in cyber-cafes and do: discovering new friends,
messaging, public chat, fan boards, picture sharing and
dating tools and games. In other words, flirting, dating,
romance and much, much more. 86% of them in Nigeria are in
the social category that moves technology change across
Africa, 18-34 year olds. You can guess that these people are
less deferential and probably more in a hurry than their
parents. Usually these things are heavily focused on the
capital or the main city but not Eskimi. Only 32% of its
users are in Lagos, the majority of the rest being spread
across seven cities.
Part of its growth phenomenon is down to how it was
marketed. In the early days, it paid special attention to
feedback from users, fine-tuning the product at that stage.
And although it has spread throughout Africa, largely by
word of mouth, it has offered incentives for users to write
to their friends and connect with them, giving them some of
the virtual currency available to users.
The business model for the site is two-fold: sale of virtual
currency (purchased through operator and which it shares
with them) and advertising. For the latter, the 18-34 year
old audience is attractive and can be highly targeted. Where
African media is researched, the methodology is often open
to question and where it is not, who knows how many people
actually listen to, watch or read it?
Eskimi knows enough about its list users to be able to
target very precisely and it is getting a 20% response rate
on those targeted lists. It can also trade its virtual
currency to advertisers to use in competition promotion and
for other incentives.
Elsewhere the breakdown of revenues has been half from
virtual currency and half from advertising revenues. In
Africa, this has been more like 20% virtual currency and 80%
advertising. But Eskimi's Paukstys is not just chasing the
traditional advertisers:"Africa's at the media creation
stage. Classifieds, business listings, news portals, etc are
all growing. Revenues will come from these media creation
businesses." Media creation? Uh? Think people like Mocality
and Jobberman who have to also get to critical mass for
their businesses to succeed. Another source of revenue will
be mobile money operators: there are ten licences in
Nigeria, making their climb to critical mass a daunting task
without a carefully focused marketing platform. It can also
provide a platform to do the kind of research about media
consumers that is currently sorely lacking.
So in the cycle of events described at the beginning of this
article, things are still largely at the stage of the
arrival of international brands. Brands like Flickr and
Tumblr have yet to make a noticeable impact on the
continent. But local entrepreneurs - particularly in the
larger markets need to think about what will work (probably
in a vernacular language) that is not just a "me-too"
product and developers who are all hyped up about smartphone
apps need to think about whether they might be doing
something more responsive to the market (most likely on
feature phones) in the short to medium term.
To follow the exchanges about this news, you need to be on
Twitter. Follow us on @BalancingActAfr
This week on Balancing Act's You Tube channel:
Nigerian digital entrepreneur Ayo Alli on the rise of social
network Eskimi in Nigeria. It has 2.5 m subscribers and the
secret to its success is that it works on low-end handsets
Also to understand how social media is used in Africa:
Nigerian digital entrepreneur Ayo Alli on social media and
the Occupy Nigeria protest http://www.youtube.com/user/BalancingActAfrica#p/u/8/A3thJuHbl3Q
The beginning of Africa's long, slow transition away from
SMS - new browser kids on the block making mobile Internet
Balancing Act Africa
http://www.balancingact-africa.com / direct URL:
Issue no 589 27th January 2012
At the end of 2011, there were the first signs of smartphone
use on SMS: for the first time in some countries, rather
than the volume of SMS growing inexorably, it declined for
the first time. Russell Southwood looks at how wider use of
mobile Internet may affect SMS volumes in Africa and at two
of the new generation of interfaces designed to make it
easier for Africans to use the mobile Internet.
You don't need to be a rocket scientist to know that the
number of smart phones and feature phones in African
countries will increase. With this increase, many users will
go from an unvaried diet of voice and SMS messages (with a
soupcon of paid services) to a much more varied diet of use.
It is not hard to envisage the day when the number of smart
phone and feature phone users may make up as much as 40-60%
of all subscribers
SMS is simply e-mail in "short trousers": it's easy to use
but it's significantly more restricted and more expensive
than sending an e-mail. You can't use it to share things
like photos with friends unless you can use even more
expensive MMS's. But although price is one of the single
biggest factors affecting consumer's decisions on the
continent, the other big factor is habit. The change of use
requires not just a person to send an e-mail but someone to
understand how to receive it.
This is where the new generation of browsers come into play.
If both of those sending and receiving are on Facebook, then
it solves that problem: they both understand how to do it.
The widespread use of MXit on Blackberry in South Africa as
an Instant Messaging tool to avoid SMS costs is another
illustration of how this works. What starts with 15-24 year
olds, slowly cascades across the age groups.
So whilst this may not have a short-term impact, there will
come a point over the next 5 years where one or more African
countries will reach "peak SMS": the point at which growth
will slowly flat-line and then decline gently for many
There are two things that affect this scenario. Firstly,
increased numbers of subscribers will mean more SMS users
enter the pool. But even now some African countries are
approaching their "peak subscriber" moment, where the number
of people who are still to subscribe is not enormous. The
second thing that might affects SMS use is literacy, both of
the simple "can this person read?" kind but also of
functional literacy; can this person understand the tasks
required to perform sending an SMS? Now the latter is more a
brake than might first be understood: in Ghana only around
40% of all mobile subscribers use SMS.
If you take a clutch of the bottom end literacy rates from
the UNDP Development Report 2011, the limit on certain
countries growing SMS or mobile Internet beyond a certain
point become obvious. Going from low to only slightly lower,
the problem becomes obvious: South Sudan (27%), Mali
(26.2%), Chad (33.6%) and Sierra Leone (40.9%). Now these
figures have been improving but generally not dramatically:
for example, Chad was at 26% a few years ago. There may be a
sudden improvement in education levels in some African
countries but it would be hard to predict this will happen
in most African countries based on past performance.
But the transition that is occurring is that users are
beginning to find browsers or interfaces that will allow
them to not only send e-mails (with attachments) but also to
use a far more varied diet of content beyond the 160
character boundary of SMS: a diet of content that will
include audio, pictures and video. An analysis we did for a
client last year of SMS content in one major African market
showed that there was almost no difference between the
different services offered by operators. Indeed many were
simply sourced from the same content providers.
The dilemma for mobile operators is do you let your
subscribers simply wander away from the rather limited
content, black and white offers in your existing walled
garden or do you go with them on the journey into the
technicolor world of the Internet? As you will have judged
from the way the question is put, there is only one answer
to it otherwise as an operator, you risk losing the
connection and loyalty of your customers.
At the high-end of the handset pyramid, the choices are easy
for the customer: there are several smart phone browsers and
you take your choice: iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows and
other lesser variants. But for feature phones and low end
phones, there are not many alternatives. So imagine a group
of young African sitting in a bar with their phones on the
table: 1 of the 5 can afford a smart phone but the others
can't yet. You need browsers and interfaces that will allow
them to keep up with the people who've got the smart phones
and get that more varied content diet. Of the two examples
below, one operates using the Internet and the other using
Australia's biNu is a Java-based browser targeted at feature
phones set up by Gour Lentell who grew up in Zimbabwe. It
operates out of the cloud on a highly compressed, thin
client. According to Lentell, it offers: "a ten times faster
browsing experience than other browser, using a tenth of the
bandwidth." The latter has to be something that operators
must be interested in as data volumes continue to grow.
Only made available in January 2011, it has grown in 12
months to 466,510 biNu users in Africa, out of a total
global user base of 1.97 million. The table below shows the
relationship between users and usage levels.
These numbers may seem modest but they have been achieved
without any marketing and no relationship with operators:
"It's been viral growth." The app has been available through
places like GetJar and the Ovi Store.
The content currently available includes books (from the
Guttenberg Project), dictionaries, news, sport,
entertainment, financial news and foreign exchange data and
last but not least, the all-important Facebook and Twitter.
It has also signed a recent MoU with World Reader.
biNu is keen to talk to mobile operators and can offer a
"white label" version that allows the operator to brand it
as their own.
Mobile XL has been created by a company of the same name run
by Guy Kamgaing and creates an interesting route for more
low-end phone users to "get a taste of the Internet." Once
the consumer has downloaded the XL Browser, he or she will
get immediate access to social media, local and national
news, music updates and even access email:"It will allow
something of the same experience for the user as the highend
phone and enable them to access relevant content. The
billing is clear and it's available on all devices."
So for a user with a basic Nokia, Alcatel or Chinese phone,
it will allow them to check their Facebook page and read email
with the only requirement being a GPRS connection. With
or without a connection, you can go into the available
applications which are all on a single platform.
This is a client side app that connects to the cloud: "We
have a connection into Facebook's APIs to get the content.
When delivered to the user, it looks like a regular SMS."
Because it puts together 3-4 SMSs, it enables you to read up
to 600 characters of an e-mail.
Two years ago it did small pilots with Orange Cameroon,
Safaricom and MTN Ghana for a year. Then it was approached
by Vodafone in India (145 m subscribers and IDEA Cellular
(95 m subscribers) and it will launch with both early in
2012: "We have gone from Africa to India, which is the
reverse of what usually happens." It will be launching with
all the three African operators above in Q1, 2012. The pilot
attracted 100,000 users across all three operators.
The early adopters used Facebook a lot but there were also
interested in sport and local news: "In Cameroon it was
possible to offer a local job search. Local content will
In terms of pricing, in India, they were allowed to
introduce an unlimited bundle (to mirror the way the
Internet is used) for 30 rupees a month (US59 cents a
month). Safaricom is going to offer it for KS5 a day (US5.7
cents) or KS30 a month (34.7 cents) a month. In Cameroon, it
will be 1,000 CFA a month (US$1.95): "It becomes like the
Internet but it's way cheaper." The revenue share is 40-50%
to Mobike XL depending on the size of the market.
It's done deal with Alcatel and Nokia and MiFone looks
likely to offer a MyXL handset in 2012.
These two offer different routes to giving users access to
the Internet. In the long run, users will want the
technicolor internet rather than the black and white world
of SMS. So it's time for operators to get on the bus before
To follow the exchanges about this news, you need to be on
Twitter. Follow us on @BalancingActAfr
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