Twitter not Zimbabwe’s favourite social media network

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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.

Twitter birdThere’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.

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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.



26 Comments

  1. Kurai says:

    I think it goes down to type of phones the majority have. In my opinion, twitter is more functional on true smart phones, where the tweets are live. following links and lots of stuff on a 2g phone is hopeless (slow and therefore a hassle). If you have a BlackBerry or Iphone or any other gud phone with a live feed….the merrier to be on Twitter, I dont use it for this reason. lol.

  2. Yalismuizic says:

    Already following you kabweza, mostly for your IT slanted blog. I tweet from SA tho @Rusitu

  3. Kurai says:

    Can you explain how these work. (hashtags, RTs, DMs, lists, I have no clue. Musaseka. kikiki. Maybe thats why I tweeted once also and go back to facebook. Maybe i can increase my tweetts.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Hello Kurai, read this when you have some time: http://mashable.com/guidebook/twitter/ Has everything you need to know about Twitter

      1. Kurai says:

        Thx. I think the news feed slant make me wanna try it. lol (I am a news monger)

        1. Kurai says:

          I am following you, hoping to get Tech nuz. @kwamhlanga:disqus

  4. OS says:

    I also find it pretty useless but then I do not go online from the phone, I use a computer for that. And have access to RSS, websites, social networks etc.

    As for ZOL – what is the point of “tweeting” something is down when it is down and most who need the info can not get/see it…

  5. That’s where techzim.co.zw comes in to help zimbabweans in zimbabwe learn to use twitter and improve their tech knowledge. Let’s bring solutions to our lack of knowledge. Thanks

  6. My Twitter story began in February 2009, I only became a “regular” almost 2 years later in November/December 2010. Like many other people I could not appreciate Twitter because I likened it with Facebook – something I largely blame on the phrase “social networks” whose meaning over time has broadened outside the scope of Hi5 and Facebook only. To better appreciate Twitter, one must first “unthink” of it as a Facebook competitor. I usually introduce people to Twitter as a “news feed” where you can get all your news from many people on one channel – of course that is not what Twitter is (exactly) but eventually they get to understand and like it.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Good idea that hey. thanks. news feed, yes.

  7. Nqabamatshazi says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more, tried to get my friends tweeting but they gave up after two tweets. At the moment its a hardsell, but it will catch up

  8. Nqabamatshazi says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more, tried to get my friends tweeting but they gave up after two tweets. At the moment its a hardsell, but it will catch up

  9. Ishe says:

    I think it boils down to the fact that its about marketing a product. Twitter is just like an SMS service, that’s all. Whether its for news or its just telling others that you are going to luncy, its up to you.

  10. Ishe Chinyoka says:

    I forgot to say that it is not necessary for someone to know all the tags to use a service. All the DMs you refer to it is like telling someone that before they can use Windows, they have to know those arcane commands used on the command line like dir, mkdir. Just as we have graphical objects that interact with the command shell, so with twitter, if you have got a good twitter client, you just click on the Direct Message or Reply or Retwit (rt) buton. I use an iPhone and I don’t have problems with Twitter. In fact, like what you admitted that you had no way to conduct the usage statistics survey, I think more and more people are using Twitter. Most news houses like Daily News, Newsday, Independence and Tourism groups are using Twits all the time. I suggest that you put up a survey form on this site for three months and get user feedback on the use of twits in Zimbabwe. That way, your article could be considered to be informed. Of course, Facebook still remains number 1 social network because of some reasons that have to do with interaction. Finally, I don’t think its fair to say that Zimbabweans consider Facebook as the internet. We just take it as one resource on the network, albeit our favourite but that does not mean that we are dumb not to know that Facebook is the internet as a whole. People know a lot more than we credit them with. We only don’t have high tech gadgets like developed countries to take advantage of all that we know of. Thank you anyway for this piece, but consider a survey before writing pieces like this one.

    1. Facebook = Internet just as Floor Polish = Cobra and Toothpaste = Colgate, that is the REAL Zimbabwe, LOL. Do Zimbos consider Facebook as the Internet? NO. It is just an “alias” for the Internet.

      From a business perspective, I know ZOL, the newspapers and even some politicians are using Twitter very well however in Zimbabwe, out of 10 people (who are on Facebook daily) you will be lucky to find 2 who have a Twitter account let alone use it. I do agree with you that a more exhaustive survey has to be done to have more conclusive evidence on Twitter usage in Zim but fact is that it will be low (at least lower than Facebook!) I think the real questions should be: What is the use of the application (Twitter) in a Zimbabwean context Are the resources to support it available (network, hardware)

      From this we can be able to draw some definitive conclusions:

      Smartphones (aka multitasking) have not really penetrated, “you cannot be on Twitter unless you are on TWITTER” so the application is not fully supported – therefore people do not use it. You will find that SMS is still king in this regard.

  11. MD says:

    So what do you get when you mesh-up You Tube, Twitter and FaceBook? YouTwitFace! A bit
    of

    light banter…. however the most difficult part about technology adoption is that if the solution is outside the realm

    of

    my personal thinking and experience framework, I just dismiss it as too hard. And if you think deeply about twitter it is just so revolutionary a social media application, it requires me to reset my mental model because the concept

    of

    follower and followed is not a social matrix in my domain. And what makes it doubly difficult is that, it looks more like a tool for celebrities to talk to their followers during this new 24 second news cycle – driven by the need for immediate access and gratification. But true Metacalfes

    law

    of

    holds also in Zim…the value

    of

    twitter community in Zim will grow at the square

    of

    the next additional twitter. Setting myself up now, to bump you the network.

  12. MD says:

    So what do you get when you mesh-up You Tube, Twitter and FaceBook? YouTwitFace! A bit
    of

    light banter…. however the most difficult part about technology adoption is that if the solution is outside the realm

    of

    my personal thinking and experience framework, I just dismiss it as too hard. And if you think deeply about twitter it is just so revolutionary a social media application, it requires me to reset my mental model because the concept

    of

    follower and followed is not a social matrix in my domain. And what makes it doubly difficult is that, it looks more like a tool for celebrities to talk to their followers during this new 24 second news cycle – driven by the need for immediate access and gratification. But true Metacalfes

    law

    of

    holds also in Zim…the value

    of

    twitter community in Zim will grow at the square

    of

    the next additional twitter. Setting myself up now, to bump you the network.

  13. Nyakudirwa says:

    neva been on twitter, guess coz i find it all too much, im on gmail, facebook and skype and that is more than enough

  14. w3ll$ says:

    to quote the luis & ned cartoon from PCFormat march 2011, “TWITTER JUST TOOK THE STATUS UPDATE PART OF FACEBOOK…” nuf said….

  15. I realise this is an old article, and I agree that Twitter doesn’t begin to rival Facebook in the popularity stakes here, but was just wondering if you also feel that more people locally are tweeting, and more often. Do you think there’s a tiny slice of the 110% global increase in daily tweets (230 million) that can be attributed to Zim?  I’d be interested to read a follow-up article – even if it’s only based on hunches and / or hearsay.

    1. great post [email protected]:disqus. And yes, I also see an increase in tweets and twitterers. loving it!

      1. My geo-stream today is showing *at least* a tweet a minute!

  16. We are only about 12 million people in Zimbabwe and of that about 3o percent is an urban population. Of that percentage, day to day use of the internet is very low. And the price of bandwidth in Zim is just crazy.

  17. Twitter is awesome from my experience.

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