Should Your SA Brand be Investing in Niche Social Media Platforms?

As a Social Media Manager you will probably find yourself engaging in more than your fair share of competitive landscape assessment. It’s how you pinpoint your brand’s current state, its flaws and most importantly the opportunities to be had.  When a client commissions me to paint their competitive landscape, I initially approach the matter with an overview and then I delve in to the nitty gritty of engagement rates, post frequency etc. My overview looks a little something like this:

It’s not a masterpiece, it’s not a marvel of detailed analysis, but it’s a pretty honest reflection of where your brand finds itself in relation to its key competitors. The numbers themselves are from a South African brand’s competitive assessment I did a while ago, and without needing to have immense powers of perception, you will quickly notice bit of a pattern. Facebook and Twitter leading the way, Youtube, Google Plus and Linkedin filling up the middle and then, at an almost inaudible distance, you have Pinterest  and Instagram – solidly taking up last position in terms brand social media presence. Granted, the industry in question is not well known for its social media dynamism, but the brands in question are recognisable to most South Africans.   Now is a good time for me to get to the point! Why are Instagram and Pinterest treated with such neglect? The above table is one I’ve reproduced countless times, and it’s a result I’ve seen countless times. Yes, as the title infers this article is about South Africa, but really it’s a trend that to some extent I see reproduced with my UK clients. This then begs the question, do more specialised social media platforms deserve their time in the sun or are they to be banished to the social media hinterlands, where engagement rates and ROI go to die? For the purposes of this article I will use some creative license – you’ve heard of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly right? Well, allow me to flip that cliché on its head – starting with an ugly bang, tempering positivity with the bad and then lastly shedding those shackles with unbridled enthusiasm and general goodness.


Social Media User Numbers – South Africa 2013

*source: World Wide Worx and Fuseware – South African Social Media Landscape 2014 There it is – I told you it wouldn’t be pretty. Much like my own table, it’s a simple yet forceful reflection of the lay of the land. Facebook, Twitter and the ever present, oft forgotten, Mxit are the dominant figures on this table. Looking at the bottom of the table you see the laggards – Pinterest, Instagram and Google Plus. Pinterest and Instagram are the focus here, Google Plus deserves more tailor made scrutiny in a future article. The numbers are hard to argue with – 9,6 million Facebook users vs 680K Instagram users. What reasonable brand manager would look at those numbers and say – “I’m not interested in Facebook spend! Put some budget towards that Pinstagram thing!” When all is said and done, any marketing strategy’s success is measured in bang for buck – is the money you’re spending reaching the right people, at the right time, with the right message? With Facebook’s vast user base you can be assured that somewhere on the platform is an audience segment waiting to buy into your brand. Can the same be said of say Instagram, which has just over 7% of the user base Facebook has? Even if the desired audience is on Instagram, is targeting that user base a scalable solution to your brand’s marketing needs?


I really do apologise for this spate of negativity – but it’s time to consider the downright bad aspects of using Instagram and Pinterest in the South African marketplace, starting in no particular order with: Paid Social Media: Organic reach blues have you down? No problem, Facebook and Twitter allow you to quite effectively throw money at the problem. Both Facebook and Twitter tirelessly work at offering digital marketers some truly spectacular targeting options, nearly guaranteeing results and that previously mentioned “bang for buck”. What about Pinterest and Instagram? The answer is a resounding – “not really.” Both Pinterest and Instagram are beginning to roll out advertising products but they are in very rudimentary phases of their development, not nearly offering the sophistication of say, Facebook. Furthermore, approaching the matter from a South African perspective, you are looking at quite a waiting game before the ads reach our shores. Using Pinterest as an example, advertising products are, to a large extent, only available to US users with some truly tentative steps in to markets such as the UK – South African marketers should probably not hold their breath. The Elitist Factor:  Don’t get me wrong, I love nothing more than smacking a Valencia filter on my snap of this morning’s soy latte, but it does pang of hipsterdom. Instagram carries the heavy burden of being associated with people that look like this guy: 

Pinterest has its own cross to bear, having a female user base that stubbornly hangs around the 70% mark. The upshot of all of this is that your platform strategy better be an incredibly well thought out one, should you be thinking of a move to Instagram or Pinterest. Both platforms need unique and tailor made strategies and the truth is, require quite a time investment. Particularly the space of Pinterest appears to attract half-hearted profile attempts by brands looking to capitalise on the mostly female user-base, which eventually fade in to obscurity and disuse. In stark contrast Facebook and Twitter – the meeting place of all walks of life.  As mentioned, the Facebook user base is so large that there really isn’t an interest group that is under represented.  Then the big question to address – will a well laid out strategy on Pinterest or Instagram be able to reach as many South African consumers as a Twitter or Facebook strategy? Of course the answer is no. Taking Instagram as an example: the platform is an app only available on Android or iOS, which immediately cuts out the ever popular Blackberry devices, which in 2014 are set to overtake Samsung as the second most used cellular devices in SA. This then means that a large proportion of the lower income marketplace is simply out of reach when marketing on Instagram. This may incline large South African retailers to be less than favourable to an Instagram based marketing strategy.


After that double dose of unadulterated negativity, I feel as though the reader is deserving of some rays of positivity; queue the all-round goodness:

The Precedent: For reasons ranging from technological infrastructure to the general economic wellbeing of the South African consumer, South Africa is in most cases a mid to late adopter of global social media trends. Usually it’s seen as a source frustration, but as I’ve mentioned this is the positive section, and positivity will be abound.  The nice thing about being a late adopter is that by the time developments reach our shores, we’ve had plenty time to look at how international strategies have fared and we can adjust accordingly. I give you the case of Audi’s Instagram profile

To my mind the above profile is testament to the fact that your brand can indeed have a highly successful presence on Instagram. The fit between Audi and Instagram, while not a stretch, is still a strategy which requires some careful consideration. How do you market a German luxury car brand to the trendsetters of Instagram? Audi nailed it.

Dead simple copy, strong image, and the result is over 61,000 Likes. The equipment required for such a post? A smartphone with a free app. There’s a noteworthy point to be made on the considerable ‘Like’ count of 61.1K. Taking a look at the same brand’s USA page on Facebook, you will notice a fan count of 8.4 million, which is roughly ten times the amount of followers the Instagram page has. So what of the Facebook page’s posts? Do they fare as well as the Instagram posts? 

Looking at the above Facebook post you would be inclined to say yes. Over 14K Likes, 458 Shares and over 200 comments, this post no doubt garnered a heap of impressions, especially considering that Facebook rewards posts with high engagement with higher spots in newsfeed. This as opposed to Instagram, where the user probably only sees the post once unless they actively search it out. To me, however, the real story is in that Instagram Like count at over 61,000. That roughly means the Instagram post has a ‘Like rate’ of over 7%. Facebook pages can only dream of such rates, especially considering the degree to which Facebook is chopping back on organic reach. The bottom line is, if done properly, your Instagram account could be garnering engagement rates that are hard to ignore. Some of you will no doubt bellow out some critique at this point – “What of the numbers you spoke of in the ugly section?!” Audi do play in a far bigger pond than our South African one, and not only is it bigger, but it’s also further along the social media developmental stage. Still, if it’s a South African precedent you are looking for then you need not look further than local retail giant Woolworths’s Pinterest and Instagram accounts. Both accounts are highly successful and an integral part of the brands’ social media portfolio. Of course, if ever there has been a brand which is a good fit with Instagram and Pinterest, it would probably be Woolworths. Nevertheless, it does show that there is some willingness on users’ parts to engage brands on the platforms in question.   Early Adopting: It’s safe to say that most people in South Africa on Instagram and Pinterest are and/or variations of hipsters, teenagers, hipster interior designers or….teenagers. I am obviously grossly exaggerating, but a quick look at the numbers should give you an indication that those users which are active on say Pinterest, are early adopters of technology and international trends. Think of this space as the primordial soup of all those trends that your brand will have to be lapping up in a few years, whether it likes or not.  While this may seem an intimidating space to play in, the correct strategy can ensure your brand’s foray in to this space is a highly rewarding one. It can also ensure your brand is at the forefront of trends as opposed to scrambling to incorporate trends set by others. I will concede that entering the realm of all things trending is easier for some brands than others. If you manage the social media account of an energy drink you are probably already playing in this space, but what of the insurance company, the bank, the cellular network provider? Adapting such a brand to Instagram or Pinterest would require a considered approach, but is well within the realm of possibility – if the US Army can run a successful Pinterest page, then so can you. 

Expected Growth: Clients and bosses like numbers – so maybe throw these around the next time you find yourself pitching a move to visually based social media: From 2012 to 2013 the South African user base for Pinterest grew by 136% and Instagram grew from a 100,000 users in 2012 to just under 700,000 users in 2013.


With so much positivity counter balanced by equal measures of negativity, this article may leave you scratching your head, so here’s my opinion: The fact is, a social media presence on Instagram or Pinterest will take social media savvy and a time investment not everyone would be capable of making. User numbers for SA are still quite low and your message needs to be a strong one to reach the desired target audience in a way that will elicit engagement. Another fact, SA marketers don’t have the buffer of being able to pay for impressions, clicks and engagement. Twitter, and especially Facebook, now offer marketers truly impressive ways and means of reaching a highly defined target market. My point is, that a lot of careful thought must go in to assessing whether your brand’s resources are best utilised by investing on the platforms in question. Pinterest should, in my opinion, be approached with caution. I think there needs to exist a strong fit between platform and brand which needs to be coupled with innovative and highly relevant influencer engagement to ensure a successful presence. On the other hand, I must admit that I am a sucker for Instagram. I think the simplicity and bold imagery harkens back to a time when content really was king and problems of reach could not simply be solved by money and clever targeting. Unlike Pinterest, Instagram is not restrained by its gender specific nature and I suspect that the platform’s growth will only accelerate as more mobile users in SA switch over to Android and iOS. Instagram should be on most radars as an excellent opportunity to ensure one’s brand a market leading position on one of the more exciting platforms out there.

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