There are no publicly available Twitter and Facebook usage statistics for Zimbabwe that we’re aware of, so this article contains mostly my own observations living in Zimbabwe and those of friends whose daily work involve heavy usage of the internet.
There’s one thing that’s easy to see about Twitter and Zimbabweans; Zimbabweans just don’t tweet. I’m not talking about Zimbabweans in the Diaspora here. Adoption of these web communication tools for Zimbabweans outside the country seems just as hasty as the Americans, Britons and South Africans. I’m talking about Zimbabweans living in Zimbabwe.
You will be hard pressed to find 5,000 active Twitter users tweeting from Zimbabwe. In fact, most ordinary Zimbabweans don’t even know what Twitter is. Compare this to South Africa whose active Twitter users hit 55,000 in April last year. To paint a clearer picture; of all the real life friends and family I have that have access to the internet – both geeks and ordinary computer users – not a single one of them is an active Twitter user.
You can’t blame them. Getting Twitter for any new user is a process. Even I had to go through it. It doesn’t happen immediately. I’ve introduced a few friends to Twitter, just so I can get interesting people to follow. They usually just open an account, tweet once and that’s it. They ‘go back’ to Facebook.
Yes, back. For a lot of people in Zimbabwe, the internet is synonymous with Facebook, so a website that does something that at first sight looks like Facebook (following people sharing their opinions and experiences), and does it poorly, is not worth spending their internet bandwidth on.
I often get questions like “How is it better than Facebook” and I try as best as I know to explain how Twitter’s actually not a Facebook. If you’ve done this before, you probably know how hard it is. Now, add to that the 140 character limit, lack of native support for pictures, a totally new language to learn (hashtags, RTs, DMs, lists) and you’re selling what appears to be a very complicated tool that serves little evident purpose to the ordinary person.
It’s not that Twitter is a useless tool itself. Not at all. Twitter can be a powerful tool if you have the patience to learn it. I use it every day to peruse news headlines and get a feel of what people are sharing and clicking on globally. It’s excellent for this and there’s arguably no other tool on the internet better at the task. If you follow the right people, in less than a minute going over your Twitter stream and the trending topics, you’ll know the current issues that matter most to you.
Some local companies also use the Twitter for business actively. For example, ZOL, one of Zimbabwe’s largest ISPs, has an account (@ZOLstatus) that tweets the status of the ISP’s internet links. The company also has a protected internal company account @ZOLops, which I assume is for internal updates. That’s Twitter as a business tool right there!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying more locals must use Twitter. Indeed it’d be great if more Zimbabweans Tweeted as it’d make the platform a lot more relevant to those of us that use it. But much more, I’d rather we came up with our own easy-to-get tool which suits our communication and sharing purposes so much better that new users would find it a logical solution and adopt it faster than they create Facebook accounts. And if that locally developed communication platform gets so successful that internet users in other countries start using it, it would make all of us so proud to be Zimbabwean.
We’d love to know your Twitter experience. If you don’t Tweet, we would love to know why.