What will it take for you to diss global social networks for local ones or at least use both global and local networks with equal zeal. Following this interesting post by @Whiteafrican and the ensuing incredible discussion on how Safaricom “ditched” Sembuse (Kenyan) for MXit, a South African company as their partner of choice, I was left asking one question – what will it take for local apps and networks to gain popularity among Kenyans such that they are the preferred choice instead of imports such as MXit?
The preference for local social networks is not alien concept. In fact, it is becoming more and more a norm across the globe. Yes Google, Facebook and Twitter are the ish right now but they are increasingly facing competition in certain countries that have their local social networks and/or search engines. For instance, In China, Baidu is their preferred search Engine; in Russia Yandex beats Google as their preferred search Engine, Bigadda is not doing too bad in India, there is Lunarstorm in Sweden, Grono.net in Poland, Mixiin Japan, MXit in South Africa, iWiW in Hungery, Black Planet for African Americans and more abound…
What is the difference between the local networks that are competing with the global players on equal footing in their respective countries and Kenyan local networks and apps? The biggest difference I can identify is the numbers. Social networks and apps are a numbers game. Google any of these networks and you will see some number attached to them. 500,000 million users, 10 billion Tweets, 1 million downloads in the first month and so and so forth. Numbers is the currency that scales and without the numbers to back up a network or app – people will always prefer other networks/apps to local ones.
The number apart from being currency for negotiation in boardrooms, they are also an important facet for users – more important actually. The thing is, it is easier for me to connect with my friends on their preferred social networks. If my chat friends, my friends on Facebook, and twitter followers were on a local social platform, I would jump to it in a second. But we now dictate the platform we use to chat based on the numbers. Just the other week, the creative team of writers behind the Princess Project Kenya wanted to move to Google Wave as our preferred writing and editing platform for the weekly webisodes but we continued to use Facebook messages because there was difficulty for some of the writers to use Google Wave. Some had not even heard of it. And that is the dilemma for local apps and networks.
Too many people have not heard of them, too few are using them, not to mention the platforms we are now using though global are serving us quite well. The only impetus for us to move to a new even local one will be dictated by whether it can accommodate all of us and whether we can use it with as much ease and still have the same reach that we had with our Twitter, Facebook pages and accounts. The numbers therefore do not just matter to the sneaky fellows at Safaricom but to users too because if our agenda is to broadcast to the Kenyan community – the numbers we might be reaching need to impress us too.
I was just looking at Safaricom’s new partner from South Africa and I gotta give it to them, the numbers are impressive.
MXit has a registered userbase of over 19 million, about 20 million log-ons per day and over 250 million messages sent and received per day – around 35 000 messages per second during peak times. The application is distributed internationally and used by users in over 120 countries daily, but the bulk of its userbase is in South Africa and Indonesia with fast growth in 123 other countries.
What will it take for Kenyan networks and apps to have such numbers on their resume? I think there should be a shift in strategy to aggressive marketing geared towards synthesizing local synergies. @WhiteAfrican suggested targeting the 120 or so million East African Community of Swahili speakers. Whatever the angle our developers decide to go, it is imperative that they get their marketing right because if the numbers do not start going up, we will be seeing more importation of partners who have the necessary numbers backing them up.