WhatsApp takes SA mobile phones by storm

21 February 2014

More than half of South Africa’s urban adult mobile phone users are using instant messaging service WhatsApp, according to researchers World Wide Worx and Fuseware.

Releasing an update of their South African Social Media Landscape 2014 report on Thursday, the researchers said a recent survey of adult cellphone users living in South Africa’s cities and towns indicated that at least 10.6-million urban adults were using WhatsApp.

The release of the findings follow Wednesday’s announcement that the world’s biggest social media network, Facebook, is to acquire WhatsApp for US$19-billion as its seeks to consolidate its domination of both social media and instant messaging.

Facebook still dominant

According to the World Wide Worx/Fuseware survey, Facebook remains the dominant social network on local phones, with 45% – or 9-million South Africans – using it on their mobile devices at the end of 2013.

“Total Facebook use in South Africa was at about 11-million at the end of 2013, putting it marginally ahead of WhatsApp – for now,” the researchers said.

“Future expectations expressed by respondents indicate that WhatsApp will rise to 63% penetration in the next 12-18 months, while Facebook’s mobile penetration will rise more moderately, to 53%.”

Mxit, BBM, Twitter, Google+

The previous darling of the South African instant messaging market, Mxit, remains stable, and is used by 25% of adults, with the figure expected to rise to 29% in the next 12-18 months.

BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) also continues to grow, the survey found, and is now used by 21% of adults, “with the figure potentially reaching 28% if BlackBerry is able to maintain its handset sales momentum in South Africa”.

Twitter has reached 20% of the adult market, with expectations of it rising to 30% in the next 12 to 18 months.

“The dark horse is Google+, which was shown last year to have low usage in terms of users posting content – fewer than half-a-million users had done so – but has an exceptionally high user base: 32% of adults say they use it on their phones. However, many respondents confuse the Google search app with the Google+ social networking app.”

Two up-and-coming social apps also appear in the survey: Cape Town-based 2Go now has 8% penetration, expected to rise to 14%, while Chinese service WeChat, launched in South Africa in mid-2013, has reached 5% of the market, and is expected to rise to 13%.

Strong urban-rural divide

According to the researchers, the social and instant messaging market is characterised by a strong urban-rural divide, with WhatsApp used by 61% of urban dwellers, compared to 37% outside urban areas. The survey did not include “deep rural” users living outside cities and towns.

Age is also a major differentiator, especially among Facebook and Mxit users. Facebook has 58% penetration among under-25s, 45% among those aged 26-45, and 25% among the over-45s. Mxit penetration drops dramatically through the age groups, from 43% to 21% to only 8%.

“WhatsApp is more spread out, with 58% and 56% penetration, respectively, among the under-25s and 26-45s,” the researchers said. “It drops to 38% among over-45s. For both Facebook and WhatsApp, penetration among over-45s is now higher than overall penetration had been a year previously.”

SAinfo reporter