To the casual observer, Njeri* (not her real name), can easily be mistaken for a smartphone addict. But to Njeri, who is in her early 20s, her smartphone serves as her business premise where she conducts virtually 90 per cent of her transactions.
“I buy clothes from suppliers who import them from Dubai, take photos of them on mannequins and share them on WhatsApp and Instagram,” she explains.
Njeri is in more than a dozen WhatsApp groups where her clients scroll through the photos she posts almost on a weekly basis and places an order on what they like.
“I started with one customer and with time and referrals through the WhatsApp groups, I have a client pool of thousands of people from across several parts of the country,” she explains.
Njeri is just one of the many young people who has resorted to social media to reach out to prospective clients and grow their business.
With many young people struggling to raise capital for their business and meet the expensive costs associated with marketing and advertising to gain brand visibility on traditional media, social media has become a game changer.
According to a study released by research firm Consumer Insight earlier this month, 96 per cent of online users in Kenya spends more time consuming social media compared to traditional media.
“We found that 93 per cent of Kenyans used social media to access organisations and the same percentage of Kenyans found social media more preferable to email and other platforms for news and information,” said Ruth Ruigu, research director at Consumer Insight.
This has been attributed to the fact that more than 90 per cent of Kenyan Internet users, the majority of them young people under the age of 25, access the Internet through their mobile phones.
Majority of the Kenyans sampled in the study said social media is now their first port of access in interacting with organisations and brands - whether it is in looking up recommendations of what to buy or consume, or in submitting consumer complaints.
“Of the several social media platforms available, WhatsApp emerged as the most preferred platform with 98 per cent of the respondents saying they relied on the messaging app for news and keeping in touch with friends and family through groups,” said Ruigu.
The findings were made in Consumer Insight’s annual Digitalk survey conducted between November 2018 and January 2019 across Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, and South Africa.
More than 4,000 Internet users aged 18 years and above were invited to fill in online questionnaires for the study that also revealed the power of smartphones among young consumers in the continent.
“The mobile phones of choice seem to be smartphones, with smart-phone ownership among internet users being highest in Kenya at 85 per cent, followed by South Africa at 84 per cent, Nigeria at 80 per cent, Uganda at 78 per cent, and Tanzania at 71 per cent,” read the study in part.
“It is also emerging that varying costs of data by mobile service providers may be influencing the growth of a multi-SIM culture.”
A big portion of the respondents in the study reported to have more than one SIM card with many owning dual-SIM phones that enable them to take advantage of mobile data offers from the various service providers.
However, young people also expressed emerging challenges brought about by social media and prolonged Internet use. “Addiction, stalking, account hacking, identity theft, and bullying are some of the factors that our respondents cited as contributing to the dark side of social media,” explained Ms Ruigu.
Addiction was among the leading factors with 38 per cent revealing an addiction to one or more social media platforms while 17 per cent reported having experienced identity theft.
Privacy and fake news also emerged as a huge concern of many social media users with many saying they distrusted forwarded messages on WhatsApp unless the source of information is verified.
Vincent Wanga, a public relations practitioner in Nairobi says regulators are falling behind on policing the emerging harms of social media and it’s upon individual users to safeguard themselves. “Cyberbullying, defamation, and misinformation are among challenges social media users face on a daily basis which can often lead to depression and in worse incidences suicide,” he explained.
“People often hide behind the anonymity the Internet provides to harass other users and it becomes hard for authorities to go after these faceless accounts.”
Globally, policymakers and digital scholars are raising the red flag over the harmful impact of hyper-connectivity. A study by Stanford University released in January this year revealed that deactivating one’s Facebook account leads to improved feelings of wellbeing.
“At the individual level, many have pointed to negative correlations between intensive social media use and both subjective well-being and mental health,” explained the study in part.
“Adverse outcomes such as suicide and depression appear to have risen sharply over the same period that the use of smartphones and social media has expanded.”
In the study, 2,844 Facebook users deactivated their accounts for four weeks and their experience along several welfare measures was documented during and after the experiment.
“We find that four weeks without Facebook improves subjective well-being and substantially reduces post-experiment demand, suggesting that forces such as addiction and projection bias may cause people to use Facebook more than they otherwise would,” explains the study in part.
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