Is WhatsApp the biggest IM in SA?

WhatsApp is “bigger than everyone else” in the South African market, a spokesperson for the mobile instant messaging (IM) service has told MyBroadband.

This follows a recent article comparing the available statistics for the number of active users of various messaging services in South Africa.

Unfortunately, WhatsApp isn’t willing to disclose its active user statistics on a per-country basis, but there are a number of indicators of the platform’s popularity.

Firstly, WhatsApp is the most popular free app on the iTunes App Store, Google Play, and the Windows Phone Marketplace – outranking even Facebook.

World Wide Worx recently ranked Facebook as the largest social network in South Africa with 9.4-million active users in August 2013.

No less than 87% of Facebook users in South Africa access the service from their phones, World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck noted in a recent press release issued with Fuseware.

Secondly, Vodacom and Cell C have revealed that WhatsApp has shown tremendous growth over the last few months.

“WhatsApp has significantly more users on our network than any other IM platform and we’ve seen a pickup in growth in the last two months,” a Vodacom spokesperson told MyBroadband.

Cell C said that it has seen WhatsApp usage increase massively over the last two years.

Neither network operator was able to provide specific usage or growth figures, unfortunately.

MTN and Telkom Mobile were asked for their observations but did not provide feedback by the time of publication.

Thirdly, and most surprisingly, was unofficial and unconfirmed information received from a knowledgeable source which suggested that WhatsApp is possibly double the size of Mxit in South Africa.

This means that the number active WhatsApp users in South Africa could be as high as 15-million – and feedback from World Wide Worx boss, Arthur Goldstuck provided a lower amount of around 9.4-million users.

“Based on their trajectories over the past year, WhatsApp will have overtaken Mxit and will probably also overtake Facebook as the most popular social tool in SA,” Goldstuck told MyBroadband.

Social service 2013 users 2012 users
WhatsApp * 15-million? N/A
Facebook 9.4-million 6.8-million
Mxit 7.4-million 6.9-million (9.5-million using 90-day metric)
Twitter 5.5-million 2.43-million
BBM * 4.7-million (94% of users) 3.3-million (97% of users)
LinkedIn 2.7-million 1.93-million
WeChat * (unofficial data places it ahead of 2go) N/A
2go 1.1-million 1.5-million
Google+ 466,828 466,828
* Unofficial, or based on estimates

WhatsApp’s rise

According to Goldstuck there are a couple of possible explanations for WhatsApp’s sudden rise.

“Nokia continues to push WhatsApp heavily, and has even included a WhatsApp button in one of its new phones,” Goldstuck said.

“WhatsApp is one of the big beneficiaries of the continued popularity of mid-level and low-end Nokias.”

Goldstuck explained that as people at the lower end of the market buy new phones, they are presented with WhatsApp as a core option.

“Secondly, there appears to be a mass migration from BBM to WhatsApp,” Goldstuck said.

He said that, although BBM remains strong, practically every single BlackBerry user is now also installing WhatsApp “to ensure they can extend the BBM experience to contacts that have either moved away from BlackBerry or don’t have Blackberry.”

Goldstuck also highlighted that  the marketing campaign WeChat has embarked on in South Africa may have also had an impact on WhatsApp.

“The heavy marketing of WeChat occurred in the same period as this huge leap for WhatsApp, and I have a strong suspicion that, with WhatsApp already being a known brand, people confused the two,” Goldstuck said.

He said that there is a strong possibility that people picking up on the WeChat marketing downloaded WhatsApp.

“Not necessarily by mistake, but because they thought it was just another version of WhatsApp,” Goldstuck said. “The perils of naming conventions that try to stick to the mainstream.”

This article first appeared on MyBroadband.

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Is WhatsApp the biggest IM in SA?