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TikTok changes the social media rules in South Africa

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 11 Jun 2020

Since making its debut in the South African social media scene in 2018, the uptake of video-sharing app TikTok has been “astonishing”.

This is one of the key findings from the South African Social Media Landscape 2020 report, unveiled virtually yesterday by World Wide Worx and Ornico.

The 2020 edition of the report is based on a corporate survey conducted among more than a 100 of SA's biggest brands and consumer behaviour data sets from on-the-ground research.

The report zones in on the size and penetration of popular social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tinder, as well as the new kid on the block TikTok.

Launched by Beijing-based company ByteDance in 2017, TikTok gives users as young as 13 the opportunity to share 60-second short videos with friends, family or the entire world. Since launch, it has amassed over 800 million active users globally.

The video-sharing app has also taken South Africa by storm. It was the biggest social media sensation of 2019, and is continuing its momentum in the youth market in 2020, according to the report.

“In less than two years, numerous TikTok creators had thousands of followers,” it states. “The most popular South African creator, a magician who calls himself @WianMagic on TikTok, had no less than 4.1 million followers by February 2020. A young woman known by most of her followers simply as ‘Chane’, came in second with 1.8 million followers of @chanegrobler.”

Based on the above figures, the report highlights that TikTok’s user base in the country must be well over five million. “The app is massively popular among all race groups, and was the country's second most downloaded social app on the Android Play Store, behind Facebook Lite.”

A TikTok spokesperson quoted in the report believes there is enormous potential for TikTok in SA to become the preferred platform for creative expression. “We are looking forward to continuing the momentum by creating a fun, positive and joyful experience through short videos for our users.

“TikTok's user profile in South Africa is as diverse as the platform and the country itself. The content explored and loved by local audiences at TikTok includes comedy, talent, food, dance, music, travel, to name a few.”

However, the South African Police Service this week issued a warning about the dangers of TikTok, as its growth has come with several vulnerabilities that expose young users to cyber criminals. In a Facebook post, SAPS says: “TikTok can be a safe place for kids 13 or older, but parents are encouraged to discuss online safety and best practices.”

On his TikTok experience, World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck says he has never seen such traction on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram, no matter how famous, infamous or unknown the subjects of the content. “TikTok has its own rules, and the first one is that all the rules of social media have changed.”

In addition to being the fastest growing social media platform among consumers, the report foresees that TikTok is set for explosive growth among brands, noting that almost a third of major brands intend to become active on TikTok. “Fewer than 20% of brands have used it in the past year, but none believe they are doing so very effectively.”

Oresti Patricios, CEO of Ornico, states: “Launched in China in 2016, TikTok is seen as the new kid on the block in South Africa, which marketers and communicators are scrambling to understand.”

Goldstuck agrees, adding: “The popularity of social media environments for brands has in the past been shown to be directly related to the level of usage of those platforms by marketers. Hence, TikTok is almost non-existent among big brands, as the marketers behind those brands are not active on TikTok.”

Social media boom

Facebook-owned instant messaging platform WhatsApp has been gradually on the rise in SA, accounting for 10.2 million active users, according to the latest stats.

In terms of the local active user base of the other platforms, the report shows Facebook has 9.2 million users, YouTube counts 9.1 million users, Instagram and Twitter both have 4.7 million users, LinkedIn comes in with 3.7 million users, Pinterest boasts 3.4 million users, Tinder has 3.2 million, while WeChat and Snapchat both have 1.2 million users.

The rise in figures is in line with international trends, which show the popularity of social media across the globe.

According to the report, the most remarkable statistics in the data are the rise of Pinterest and Tinder. “The former [Pinterest] had previously been seen to be in decline in South Africa, falling to below a million users, while the latter [Tinder] was non-existent.

“At the same time, the WeChat user base has all but vanished, having at one time been estimated at more than five million users in South Africa. These shifts show the extent to which social media is an ever-shifting landscape, and social dominance or lag is never set in stone.

Along with the shifts seen with Pinterest and Tinder, the report indicates the most significant as the numbers showing Instagram catching up with Twitter.

“Twitter remains a powerful medium of expression as well as news dissemination, but Instagram has proven itself as more of a tool of social connection than of sharing views or broadcasting news,” the report reads. “In particular, the rise of Instagram Video has meant that it has become a far more versatile tool than Twitter.”