Beware bad stats about South Africa

Advertising and PR agency We Are Social recently released its “compendium of global digital statistics” for the coming year, which included a number of slides about South Africa.

The report, entitled “Digital, Social & Mobile in 2015”, drew sharp criticism from heavyweights in South Africa’s research community, with World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck pulling no punches.

“Well, there they go again with secondary research based on extrapolation that gives no cognisance to what is really happening on the ground,” Goldstuck said.

Among the statistics in We Are Social’s report are figures on Internet penetration in South Africa, which it pegged at 46% – or 24.9 million people in SA online.

It went on to say that of that number, 20.9 million access the Internet from a mobile device.

These numbers, which We Are Social said it got from Internet Live Stats (Q1 2015), Internet World Stats (Q1 2015), and Global World Index (Q4 2014) are much higher than previous data suggests.

“They are probably taking the networks’ stats on number of ‘data users’ and adding a number from desktop use, but that is definitely not synonymous with ‘active Internet users’, Goldstuck said.

What does first-hand research say?

Last year, Ipsos released a report based on 3,730 face-to-face interviews which found that only 34% of South Africans say they access the Internet.

The interviews were conducted between March and April 2014 with a random sample of South Africans older than 15.

Statistics South Africa’s latest census data found that 40.9% of households in the country had at least one member who has access to the Internet at home, work, place of study, or an Internet café.

Internet penetration stats not the only problem

We Are Social’s Internet penetration stats aren’t the only problem, Goldstuck added.

“The ecommerce stats are ludicrous,” he said of the statistic which claimed that 23% of the population bought something online via a PC in the last month.

“It’s stats like this that have the potential to cause damage when retailers base their marketing and sales strategies on them,” Goldstuck said.

Social media stats

Other stats included in We Are Social’s report are the most popular social platforms in the country based on numbers from Global Web Index.

These “don’t look too bad, but most are a little out of kilter with reality”, said Goldstuck.

In particular, We Are Social suggests that LinkedIn is almost as big as Twitter; that Pinterest is bigger than Instagram; and that WeChat is smaller than all of those.

World Wide Worx’s own “Social Media Landscape 2015” report that it conducted with Fuseware and released towards the end of last year painted a very different picture.

The table below summarises how Fuseware and World Wide Worx’s findings compare to We Are Social’s report.

Social Platform WWX + Fuseware We Are Social
WhatsApp N/A 16.74
Facebook 11.80 14.04
YouTube 7.20 N/A
Twitter 6.60 7.02
WeChat N/A (5m estimated) 3.78
Mxit 4.90 N/A
LinkedIn 3.80 6.48
Instagram 1.10 4.32
Pinterest 0.84 4.86
Google+ N/A 8.1
Numbers given in millions of users

Most popular social platforms in South Africa

SA Internet penetration stats

Biggest social networks in SA

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Beware bad stats about South Africa