Facebook threatens MXit in SA PDF Print E-mail

While MXit has been the social networking service of choice for most low-income South Africans, the tide may be shifting in Facebook`s favour.

A recent survey shows young people in SA`s townships are moving away from MXit in favour of the world`s largest social network, Facebook.

The survey was conducted by Cape Town-based research firm, ikapadata, and involved face-to-face interviews with 715 township residents from Johannesburg (247), Cape Town (221) and Durban (247).

According to the results, 55% of respondents have Facebook accounts, compared to 50% with MXit accounts.

“This is really big news as until now MXit has been considered the social media tool of choice among young South Africans from low-income backgrounds,” notes ikapadata, adding that things are clearly changing.

“While for a long time MXit could rely on the unique accessibility of its service due to economic constraints among its core constituency, the increasing affordability of more capable cellphones is causing a shift in the South African social media scene as more and more individuals can afford entry-level smartphones, thus gaining access to a wider range of services, and especially Facebook.”

In terms of instant messaging, SMS is still king among 98% of respondents. MXit is, however, used by 45% of the respondents, while 12% use cross-platform messenger WhatsApp. Only 10% are using BlackBerry Messenger, which ikapadata says is “a bit surprising” given the aggressive marketing and pricing of BlackBerry phones in SA.

The results also showed that 13% of respondents have a YouTube account, 8% have a Google+ account, and another 8% have a Myspace page while 2% are with LinkedIn.

Digital divide shift

“We do not claim genuine representivity of our data as we are not using probability sampling for our regular survey routine,” explains ikapadata.

“But the numbers presented here are arguably the closest approximation to social media usage patterns of township residents currently available, as they are based on face-to-face interviews instead of online surveys which are usually the basis for this kind of data.”

In terms of actual Internet access, 14% of respondents said they never access the Internet. Twenty-six percent of respondents access the Internet only via their mobile phones, while 20% only use computers.

“This might be seen as a shift of the digital divide from users versus non-users towards full-users versus light-users,” says ikapadata.

The majority (54%) of those accessing the Internet via a computer do so using the facilities at shops or Internet cafés.

Facebook favourite

“We see that 45% of respondents claimed to visit Facebook at least once a week on average, but only 38% said the same thing about MXit. Whether casual MXit messaging has been accounted for by all respondents is questionable, but in any case the numbers certainly confirm the overall trend towards Facebook.”

Facebook is also identified by the respondents as their favourite social networking service, with almost two-thirds of those with both MXit and Facebook accounts, preferring Facebook.

Jan Schenk of ikapadata says while the data does not allow for any far-reaching conclusions about the future of MXit, it does indicate that more affluent respondents are likely to switch from MXit to Facebook.

“In how far this also has something to do with social status (Facebook a sign of success? Personal social networks starting to reach beyond MXit`s limits due to new contacts at the workplace, etc), besides the availability of affordable smartphones, would be an interesting subject for further research,” says Schenk.

Staying competitive

According to Schenk, it`s too early to talk of Facebook and other competing services as being a deathblow to MXit.

“Despite the competition, MXit continues to be very popular among young, and especially very young, South Africans and has a strong brand presence. Without having any inside knowledge, my feeling is that it needs to expand value-added, purpose-driven services (eg, micro-finance) instead of trying to compete solely in terms of social networking, if it wants to stay competitive.”

Earlier this year, MXit`s head of international business development and marketing, Juan du Toit, said the social network was wary of its competitors.

In July, Facebook released its `Facebook on any phone` application which was aimed at making the service more accessible in developing countries by being compatible with over 2 500 different handsets.

“People constantly ask us if we are threatened by the growth of Facebook,” said Du Toit at the time. “It`s a very complex discussion, but – while MXit does have features that are similar to those of Facebook and services like BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) – we are also unique in a number of aspects.

“We are very much aware of the growth and popularity of BBM. A major reason behind the development and launch of MXit Version 6 is because we recognise the need to update our user interface for easier use and navigation, especially on smartphones, and to keep up with the international market.

“Instead of simply being concerned about competitors, we`re trying to use the pressure in a positive way to inform the growth and development of our own offering.”

Holding on

By mid-year this year, MXit reported a 25% increase in new registrations, with over 60 000 new members per day. MXit is the largest instant messenger and mobile social network in Africa, with over 39 million registered users.

A recent national report published by World Wide Worx and Fuseware, entitled `South African Social Media Landscape 2011`, showed MXit is still SA`s most popular social network with approximately 10 million active users.

According to the report, MXit is also still growing, but World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck says churn is very high.

“It is entering a phase where churn will probably exceed new sign-ons. A lot depends on how the new management refreshes both the app and the brand.”

In the report, BBM emerged as the fastest growing social service for the second half of 2011, with a growth rate of 500% expected from 2011 through to early 2012.

“The rate of BBM growth is a factor of BlackBerry growth – for much of the last quarter BlackBerry has been taking 70% of the smartphone market in SA, and that has been driven to a large extent by the demand for BBM, along with the low-cost of unlimited Internet access on the device,” explains Goldstuck.

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