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All a-Twitter in South Africa

Last week’s announcement of research findings on social media in South Africa highlighted the rise of Twitter. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK digs deeper into the data to explain what it all means.

When we were young, oh, about four years ago, tweeting was something you left for the birds. Twittering was high-pitched gossip among ageing busybodies.

Then it was given capital letters and a 140-character limit, and before you knew it Ashton Kutcher was know for something more than marriage guidance.

Yet, while he and other celebrities attract millions of followers who want to know what they have for breakfast, tens of millions of Twitter users get on with using it as a quick information and communications medium. The ability to follow anyone on Twitter ‚ and the prospect of being followed ‚ is exhilarating for most. That is, aside from nervous public relations practitioners who ‚ ironically, of all professions ‚ appear the most likely to block public access to their ‚tweet stream‚ .

The Twitter tally is now 200-million people, making it one of the three or four most powerful social networks on the planet.

Of those, 1.1-million reside in South Africa.

According to the South African Social Media Landscape 2011 report released this week, Twitter is about to move from a critical mass of early adopters to a mass-market medium. The data, compiled by information analysts Fuseware with World Wide Worx, shows that a total of 115 000 tweets were made per day by South Africans in the six month period to August 2011. This amounted to 3.47-million tweets per month and a total of 20,820,080 tweets for the 6 months.

A total of 405 000 South Africans were actively tweeting in the last three months of the period being measured ‚ with 20 000or so more newcomers having tweeted in the previous three months but probably waiting for a sign that their friends think they’re cool.

This doesn’t mean they’re not on Twitter. The truth is, the active user base does not represent the full user base.

Twitter’s own data has indicated that only about 40% of users also tweet regularly. This ratio would translate into the total number of registered Twitter users in South Africa being approximately 1.1-million. This tallies closely with World Wide Worx’s primary research that had earlier revealed a user base of 1-million.

One of the problems with measuring Twitter is that users are not obliged to say where they’re from. Some have a thing for stalkers, and allow Twitter to show their exact geographical presence, thanks to the GPS chips in their phones. Others allow stalkware like FourSquare to broadcast their location to Twitter whenever they ‚check in‚ at a local coffee shop, mall or traffic intersection. Yes, it’s not pretty, so sensible people tend to turn off such intrusions.

That does make it more difficult to figure how who goes where on Twitter, but a high enough proportion of users give their home base on registration to be representative of the population.

Surprisingly, Twitter presence in each city it is not entirely a factor of how many people live in that city, as tends to be the case with Internet use. The most active South African city on Twitter is Johannesburg, with 19 684 users admitting it. The third most populous city in South Africa, Cape Town, comes in second on Twitter, with 14 273 people wanting the world to know. Next is not, as expected, Durban, but Pretoria ‚ at 6 537. Durban follows in a distant fourth place with a mere 2 572 users. The rest of the Durbanites, it appears, were too busy thinking of the beach when they registered.

When SA Twitter users were asked for their occupation during registration, top of the pops was not ‚journalist‚ , as you’d expect from all the self-styled reporters of their own lives on Twitter. It was ‚student‚ , followed by ‚artist‚ and then ‚ oh, the shock and amazement ‚ ‚writer‚ .

That’s the thing about Twitter: it gives everyone a forum for self-expression, if ever so brief. Everyone does become a writer, if ever so bad. Luckily for them, the next most common occupation given is ‚entrepreneur/founder‚ . Which means, if this 140-character writing thing doesn’t work out for you, chances are you can ask one of your followers for a job.

*For more information on the South African Social Media Landscape 2011 report and to download the executive summary, visit

* Arthur Goldstuck heads up World Wide Worx ( and is editor-in-chief of Gadget. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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