Twitter users in Africa are five times more likely to use the micro-blogging service to voice their political views than they are in the US and the UK, a new study reveals.
An analysis of 1.6 billion geo-located tweets and the top 5,000 hashtags showed that one in 10 of the most popular topics were along political lines, compared with one in 50 for both Britain and America.
While tweets about entertainment and celebrity culture were the most common conversations had online in Africa, there has been a 10 percent increase in discussions around politics, according to Portland, a London based communications firm and the authors of the research.
Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia and Egypt had the most politically engaged Twitter users, but the report found current affairs issues crossed borders. The Nigerian presidential elections and political strife in Burundi were among the most popular topics discussed in Africa last year.
“Our previous studies showed that Twitter in Africa was much more of a space for social interaction or frivolous banter. This study, our third, demonstrates that the platform is coming of age with the prevalence of serious debate about politics and government,” says Mark Flanagan, Portland’s senior partner for content.
Another revelation from the study showed that tweeters in Africa didn’t like to talk about brands nearly as much as their American counterparts. In fact, discussions in Africa are 25 times less likely to be around products, which could be explained by the lack of local brands using the service to promote their wares.
Or alternatively, they just don’t care that much about whether Nestlé is going to bring back the Secret chocolate bar.
Since Portland started collecting data on Twitter in Africa, the number of Tweets has increased by 3,400 percent on the continent. That’s some serious growth, especially given the company’s expansion in the United States – its biggest market – has flatlined.
As 77 percent of Twitter users in Africa Tweet in English, it’s a marketplace Twitter should pay more attention to – given the relative ease in which companies could reach users on a continent that speaks more than 3,000 languages.
Twitter could become a vital part of the business community, something it has struggled to do elsewhere, given Facebook and Google’s dominance of the small business market online.
Twitter users are also typically young, educated and based in cities. They also have higher disposable incomes than the average non-Twitter user. All of this makes these these users a new political, financial and economic force on a continent known for its fragmented nature. Africa through Twitter is a unified marketplace.
Africa is important to Twitter, but it needs to do a lot more.