What we can learn about Africa from the Global Digital Report of 2019

The Digital 2019 report by We Are Social, in partnership with Hootsuite, GlobalWebIndex, GSMA, Statista, Locowise, Similarweb and App Annie, has rich data that can be used for attaining a deeper understanding of digital and social media trends in Africa. 

This is due to the large number of African countries that are included in the report.

As a result, there is a great opportunity for African Datapreneurs to dig into the relevant data and find usable insights that are relevant for their countries and for the continent. 

As a part of this community of practice, this got me excited and got me going.

I extracted data for a selection of African countries and crunched the numbers. 

While I covered a bit more in my analysis, I share my findings only on social network penetrations, quarterly growths and reach metrics in this blog. 

More about this later.

Table of Contents

About the Digital 2019 report

First, let me give an overview of the report.The Digital 2019 report analyses trends in digital and social media. 

The report, which is in its 5th year, covers 245 countries.

eNitiate | Digital Report 2019 | July 2019
Table 1

This report is arguably one of the most authoritative sources of information for Datapreneurs and the digital marketing and communications community at large. 

Here is why I put my stamp on it:

  • There is collaboration between, and thus contribution of expertise by, some of the highly reputable data analytics companies in the industry (as a Datapreneur myself, I use many of these companies’ tools, so I know),
  • The data for the report are drawn from multiple and verifiable sources (e.g Internet World Stats),
  • Analysed trends are divided into global, continental, regional and individual country trends,
  • According to World Country‘s expanded definition, there 247 countries in the world.
    In essence, this report covers virtually the whole world!

The report is so up to date that the change of Swaziland’s name to eSwatini – which took effect in April 2018 – is also captured the latest report. 

Because of the name change, this Southern African country appears twice in the tally, but this is understandable given the need to preserve the integrity of the historical data.

More about how Africa can benefit from the report.

All the African countries are included in the Digital 2019 report 

Here is what I found exciting. Of the 245 countries covered in the report, all the 54 African countries – or 1 in 4.5 – are also included.

In my experience, this is a rare occasion for any global report. 

At best, the top 5-10 African countries would be included in such reports. 

Not the whole lot

This is highly commendable.

While I had a wealth of data for Africa to dig into given that all countries are in the report, I extracted data for only the top 7 by active Facebook users.

Here are the contributions of the 7 countries:

  • 13% of a total of 54 countries on the continent;
  • 38% of the continent’s population;
  • 59% of the continent’s Internet user base; and
  • 66% of the continent’s active Facebook user base.

As a result, I am happy with the representivity of my sample base.

The graph below, which was published on our blogsite in 2017, shows the top 10 African countries by active Facebook users, from which I selected my top 7 list.

While there have been user growths in the 2 years since, the top 10 rankings have not changed.

eNitiate | Penetration of Facebook | Top 10 African Countries Digital Report 2017
Graph 1

In addition, I focused on the 5 most popular social networks on the continent – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and LinkedIn – for comparative analysis.


Facebook monthly active users grew by 39% in Africa in 2017

According to findings of social network penetrations, Africa fares well against the world

Comparing social network penetrations between Global and Africa shows that the trends for the 5 most popular social networks are similar.

eNitiate | Digital Report 2019 | Social Network Penetrations
Graph 2

The one exception worth noting is Instagrams’ penetration in Africa (7%), which makes this social network the second largest on the continent.

Here is a graph of social network penetrations – defined as active users of a social network as a percentage of total population:

eNitiate | Digital Report 2019 | Top 7 African Countries
Graph 3

Here are the findings from a comparative social network penetration analysis I conducted between the top 7 African countries (representing Africa) and Global:

  • The social network penetrations are in line for Facebook,
  • Africa’s social network penetration is 7 times higher than Global for Instagram (would you believe it?),
  • It is third for Twitter,
  • It is twice more for Snapchat, and
  • It is half of Global for LinkedIn.

The graph above also shows that the bulk of Africa’s Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat communities are found in North African countries – Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Egypt. 

Are we surprised that social media played an influential role at the start of the Arab Spring in Tunisia on the 18th of December 2010?

Expressed differently in a graph below, here are the social network penetrations for each of the top 7 countries:

eNitiate | Digital Report 2019 | Top 7 African Countries - 2.1
Graph 4

The highest comparative penetrations for Facebook and Instagram are found in Tunisia, for Twitter and LinkedIn they are found in South Africa, and for Snapchat it is in Morocco. 

Social network quarterly growths are a mixed bag

At a Global vs. Africa level, this is how the 5 most popular social networks are performing:

eNitiate | Digital Report 2019 | Social Network Growths in Africa - 1
Graph 5

The graph above shows the trend lines between Global and Africa are similar for 4 of the 5 social networks. 

Snapchat is enjoying a good run – thanks to the women of Africa. 

More about this later.

Analysis of the quarterly growths of the 5 social networks at a country level clearly shows Snapchat is experiencing healthy growth, thanks to Kenya. 

On the hand, Twitter is in trouble, and it is pronounced in the case of South Africa.

eNitiate | Digital Report 2019 | Social Network Growths in Africa - 2
Graph 6

I am aware that Twitter is on a mission de-emphasize the importance of active user numbers and increase the importance of the quality of shared content and engagements therefrom. 

However, I would still be concerned if I were them. Is this microblog’s shrinking African user base a permanent trend? Only time will tell.

So, which social networks yield the highest reach for advertising money?

The $1 million question that Marketers always ask is which social networks stretch their advertising money the farthest. 

Here is the answer:

eNitiate | Digital Report 2019 | Social Network Advertising Reach in Africa
Graph 7

A brief explanation. Advertising reach refers to the percentage of audience that can be reached with adverts on a social network.

As shown by the graph above, the advertising reach trend lines between Africa and Global are similar.

All things being equal, Facebook (at 39%) leads by far in so far as audience that can be reached with adverts in Africa. 

Twitter is the worst performing social network, where only 2% of the audience can be reached with the adverts (4% for Global).

Is it concerning that, sans Facebook, Africa lags behind Global on the advertising reach of the other 4 social networks?

The breakdown by the top 7 African countries is in the graph below.

eNitiate | Digital Report 2019 | Social Network Advertising Reach in Africa - 2
Graph 8

What will be noticed is that advertising reaches mirror penetrations (see relevant section above), where Tunisia’s advertising reaches are the highest for Facebook and Instagram, while South Africa leads with LinkedIn.

Which social networks are best for reaching females?

The answer is at hand, using gender contributions to social network reach!

Just a brief explanation of the graph below, using Facebook as an example. According to the extracted data, females contribute 39% to this social network behemoth’s reach in Africa (represented by the top 7 African countries). 

Thus, the balance of 61% is contribution by males.

eNitiate | Digital Report 2019 | Female Contribution to Top 7 African Countries - 2
Graph 9

Overall, it is good to see that Global and African trends are mirroring each other when it comes to female contribution to social network reach. 

The female contribution to Twitter reach has the highest gap between Global and Africa, pointing to the fact that this microblog is predominantly a male communication platform on the continent.

On the opposite end, Snapchat is mainly a female platform.

Let us have a closer look at the female contributions to social network reach in each of the top 7 African countries:

eNitiate | Digital Report 2019 | Female Contribution to Top 7 African Countries - 2
Graph 10
By and large, the female contribution to social network reach shows a similar trend across the 7 African countries as well.

The additional finding worth pointing out is that South Africa has the highest female contribution to social network reach across all the 5 social networks, as compared to the other 6 African countries. 

The social network with the highest female skew in Mzansi’s (isiZulu colloquial for South Africa) is Snapchat, where 4 in every 5 users are females, and the gender split is more or less equal for Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. 

Could this point to the fact that South African females are the most vocal of the top 7 countries? 

Could this be because of the relatively conservative culture in North Africa – or is this a wild speculation?

In essence, if you want to reach female social networkers in Africa (and the world), look to Snapchat, followed by Instagram and then Facebook. 

Twitter is best for reaching males.


Will Africa be the fertile ground for Facebook's Libracoin?

In a nutshell...

Facebook continues to be the the most dominant social network in the globe and in Africa, and it is also the most effective platform for advertising reach.

Instagram is doing really well in Africa, bucking the global trend, and it has become the second biggest social network on the continent.

Snapchat is surprisingly doing better than I expected in some African countries, while Twitter is the worse performer for advertising reach and is facing tough times in most parts.

The 5 most popular social networks on the continent have gender biases, and this needs to be bourne in mind by Marketers and Communicators alike.


66% of active Facebook users in Africa are found in 13% of the countries

Here are the links to Digital 2019 report links of the top 7 countries used in this blog:

Regions Countries
North Africa Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia
Southern Africa South Africa
West Africa Nigeria
East Africa Kenya

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