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Half of SA's population now active on social media

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 01 Jul 2022

The fall in the cost of mobile data has had a positive impact on internet penetration, with an estimated half (30 million) of the South African population now being active on social media platforms.

This is one of the key findings of the SA Social Media Landscape 2022 study, released yesterday during a webinar hosted by Ornico Media Monitoring, in partnership with World Wide Worx.

The research provides an in-depth analysis of the shifts in online behaviour in SA, focusing on the use of social media in 2021.

According to the study, SA saw a surge in online access and social media use, as South Africans needed to take a new approach to staying connected while staying apart.

There has been more than 10% growth in the number of internet users in SA from the pre-pandemic period to the winding down of the lockdowns – to an estimated 40.8 million internet users in SA.

The growth in internet access has, in turn, spurred the use of social media, leading to an estimated 48.8% (30 million) of South Africans being active on social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and TikTok.

The number of social media users grew from 25 million (41.9%) in 2020, to almost 30 million in 2021, with LinkedIn, Twitter and TikTok showing the fastest growth, highlights the study.

As of June 2022, the current population of SA was around 60.7 million people, based on the latest United Nations data, according to Worldometer.

Arthur Goldstuck, CEO of World Wide Worx.
Arthur Goldstuck, CEO of World Wide Worx.

Speaking at the event, World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck said the “healthy growth” in internet penetration has contributed significantly to the growth of social media use.

While Facebook continues to be SA’s most popular social network, with 22 million having used it in the “past seven days”, TikTok is exploding in growth, with nearly 10% of the population accessing the app daily, he noted.

“Internet penetration represents healthy growth, suggesting the fall in the cost of mobile data has had a positive impact over the past two years.

“Typically, access to social media will depend more and more on an internet-connected smartphone, and this has, in turn also spurred growth in the use of social media, with rising stars like TikTok being the main beneficiary among younger users. Video-intensive platforms like YouTube and Instagram would also benefit,” explained Goldstuck.

According to the report, the majority of those with internet access use smartphones to connect, while the rest use desktops. 42.7% of all internet users are made up of city/town dwellers, while 49.2% are based in township areas.

The report also found that 64.2% of mobile internet users are based in cities/towns, while 53.3% are based in townships. Of those who use computers to access the internet, 51% are based in cities/towns, while 27.5% are in townships.


While there is no consensus on the exact number of internet users in SA, due to differing methodologies producing different results, the SA Social Media Landscape 2022 used “triangulation” of multiple approaches. This includes the Digital 2021 report from We Are Social and Hootsuite, which showed 64% of South African adults were using the internet at the beginning of 2021.

Analysis by World Wide Worx and Ornico Media shows this equated to the figure for the end of 2021 being 40.8 million.

The social media-focused data is sourced from a vast dataset compiled by Ask Afrika in its biannual Target Group Index (TGI) survey, which every year interviews around 30 000 South African adults aged 15 years or over, living in various parts of SA.

According to Goldstuck, the TGI data is weighted to SA’s current digitally-active population and provides a reliable estimation of the current number of South Africans who are active on social media.

Addictive TikTok

This year, the report did not provide a break-down of the total number of users for each social media platform, but rather focused on the growth metrics.

TikTok usage is exploding, with nearly six million people accessing the app daily, notes the report. The video-based social network has seen 25% growth in the number of brands using it as a platform for marketing campaigns.

“TikTok remains the fastest growing social platform in SA, driven by a simple user interface. Swiping up and down to view content that fills an entire portrait-oriented screen makes it inviting and almost addictive to use.

“This, coupled with strong South African content creators, makes TikTok one of the social media gems that’s expected to keep growing as it captivates more South Africans,” said Goldstuck.

The 15 to 24 and 25 to 34 age segments hold over two-thirds distribution rate, indicating a promising trajectory for TikTok among a varied young audience.

Black Twitter grows

Twitter remains one of SA’s most loved platforms. The on-boarding of more black South Africans during the pandemic, and now, coming out of the pandemic, reflects a large base of users wanting to read and write short-form content, or simply engage in debate, or interact with other users.

“Socio-economic factors reveal a huge swing once looking at distribution, which shows 59% of the Twitter user base is black, and 23% white. The top hashtags back this up, with majority black interest topics like Big Brother Mzanzi and Big Brother Naija holding their top spots,” said Bryan Turner, data analyst at World Wide Worx.

“In SA, it has given rise to the phenomenon referred to as Black Twitter, which covers a wide range of topics and often leads the trends on the platform. This creates a sense of belonging for black users.”

LinkedIn, as a professional network, is growing in importance to South Africans, having continued to increase from its 8.4 million local users recorded in the previous report, to 9.9 million users in 2021.

Its growth may correlate with the size of the unemployed segment of the country, as LinkedIn is a place where an entire segment is seeking jobs. The unemployment rate was 63.9% for those aged 15-24 and 42.1% for those aged 25-34 in the first quarter of 2022, according to Statistics SA.

“On the topic of employment, employability has a strong correlation to those using the network. Nearly three in four LinkedIn users have completed tertiary education, and a further 22.1% hold a matric. The sub-5% value for all other users is telling that this network is perceived prohibitively by this user set.”

Most of LinkedIn’s feature set was revamped during the pandemic, when it changed how job-seekers send out multiple job applications with minimal effort and remain in contact with recruiters via LinkedIn’s chat functionality – factors which contributed to its growth between 2020 and 2021.

Google’s video-sharing platform, YouTube, continues to reach more South Africans. Last year, the platform had 24 million users and continued to grow among young users. However, in terms of its use by big local brands, the platform slowed down in 2021.

“Through resources like ‘video tickets’, mobile network providers are giving users the option to have an alternative data balance that caters to streaming video. While there is little innovation outside of its video platform offering, YouTube has proven to be a popular alternative to paid platforms like Netflix and Showmax,” notes the report.

SnapChat, on the other hand, has lost some of its seven million local users.

“SnapChap has probably dropped by less than one million users in SA and has been decimated by TikTok,” said Goldstuck.