AI permeates SA social media platforms

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 30 Jun 2023

Artificial intelligence (AI) tools are gaining ground in SA’s social media space, as more brands experiment with generative AI technologies to engage users.

This is one of the key findings of the South African Social Media Landscape 2023 report, released today by brand intelligence consultancy Ornico and market research house World Wide Worx.

According to the report, as online lives become increasingly curated by emerging technologies, the integration of AI-based technologies is permeating social media. Marketers are increasingly experimenting with generative AI tools − such as AI image and text generators, and AI-based chatbots − to improve user experience and better understand their audience.

The AI craze is resurfacing, after interest moderately diminished during pre-COVID times, when brands became disillusioned with what AI could do for them, notes the report.

This has seen more local brands investing in generative AI tools, as the AI race intensifies.

“AI is bouncing back from disillusionment, as more brands find use cases for generative AI,” says Arthur Goldstuck, CEO of World Wide Worx and research author.

“We’ve seen a significant rise from 28% to 38% in brands that are planning to invest in new technologies. There is far greater intention to use AI on social media, with 53% of brands saying they are planning to invest in AI. Generative AI has, in effect, saved AI, and what’s interesting is that it has increased significantly across the board – chatbots, machine learning and even interest in the metaverse has increased.”

As we witness the increasing integration of AI-based technologies into every facet of online existence, users are inadvertently surrendering the right to their internet freedom to unconscious algorithms, the report cautions.

Leaping TikTok

Ornico and World Wide Worx also included data based on Ask Afrika's Target Group Index, which surveyed 24 744 local respondents. The data represents 28 million South Africans, it says.

The "big five" social media platforms in SA have been shaken up, as TikTok leaps past Instagram into second place, and challenges the dominant social network, Facebook, in several segments, reveals the report.

Facebook, with 56.7% penetration with South Africans aged 15 and over, living in cities and towns, continues to dominate the social media scene. TikTok has seen explosive growth, surpassing Instagram to claim second position at 30.6%.

TikTok's appeal extends beyond its under-15-year-old target audience, making significant inroads into the over-15 market, states the report.

Instagram remains a popular choice among South African social media users, with 27.6% penetration. Twitter retains a significant following despite its troubled takeover by Elon Musk, standing at 22.5%, it points out.

While LinkedIn is far behind, its 14.7% penetration is healthy for a professional networking platform that does not hold youth appeal, it adds.

“The youth audience is key to social media in South Africa,” comments Goldstuck.

“When a platform like TikTok, which has deep reach among those aged under-15, breaks through to this extent in the older youth market, as well as among young adults, we can see the landscape undergoing a significant shift.”

The study highlights the correlation between social media platforms' popularity and the proportion of highly-active users.

“Facebook emerges as the leader, with nearly eight out of 10 users being highly-active. TikTok and Instagram exhibit similar levels of user engagement, while LinkedIn has a relatively small proportion of highly-active users.

“This distinction implies that platforms like Facebook, TikTok and Instagram are deeply integrated into users' lifestyles, whereas LinkedIn is more closely associated with their ‘workstyles’, concludes Goldstuck.