Social media for development communications

Reaching your audiences is more important than ever. COVID19 lockdown is causing an explosion in social media content, so it is even harder than ever before to be heard.

But are your audiences actually on social media, and if so, which platforms reach them? What if you want to reach people in a developing country, to tell them about your NGO’s work or spread awareness on an important campaign issue (like hand washing or other healthy behaviour messages)? How do you find those audiences and are they on social media?

Who is on what social media?

As at January 2019, social media penetration had reached an average of 45% of the population globally, reaching as high as 80-99% penetration in some countries. This is quite impressive and means if you are working in countries like the US, Australia or United Arab Emirates, you would be foolish not to have some form of social media presence!

But what is hidden by this global statistic is that almost all developing countries, outside of Asia, have far less than the global average for social media penetration, mostly under 20% (e.g. Kenya has 16% social media penetration, Nigeria 12%).

There is also variation in what social media is most relevant in each country. Facebook remains the globally dominant social media, far outstripping other platforms with over 2 billion users. The next closest is YouTube, followed by WhatsApp.

In an amazingly comprehensive piece of analysis, Vicenzo Cosenza has reviewed social media access and dominance in countries all over the world. He finds that Facebook is generally the dominating platform in most countries, with Instagram coming second in many developed countries. The research is worth a look if you are contemplating setting up a new account or wondering how best to target an existing one.

So all of that means that in most contexts, some presence on Facebook will be helpful. A presence on Twitter or other social media platforms is potentially not required, unless you find yourself working in a particularly unique enclave or want to reach audiences in another location, such as potential donors in a country with a more prevalent Twitter presence.

But is everyone online?

And anyone who has spent time in a developing country, with expensive and slow internet, if available at all, knows that accessing high bandwidth sites, like YouTube, and even Facebook, can be problematic! And this leads to an important point for social media in developing contexts – your users have to have access to the internet and power for whatever device they use. And in many developing countries, this isn’t so easy (although it is rapidly changing!).

In 2019, data from Statista indicates over there are over 4.5 billion internet users globally. These users are heavily concentrated in China, India and the United States. Across Africa, internet access ranges from 50% in Northern and Southern Africa, down to 32% in Eastern Africa and 12% in Middle Africa, as reported in data from Hootsuite.

What this means is that in many countries, you can’t assume that your audiences have access to social media – or even the internet.

So what does this mean?

Social media is still an important tool for development communications, but in many cases and countries, it will not be effective if used in isolation.

It should instead be a complement alongside other communication methods, such as using traditional media, billboards or other highly visible methods, or direct community communications.

You should also make sure that you are reviewing your social media platform analytics regularly, to ensure you are reaching the right audience – if you are targeting people in Vietnam but most of your audience is in Australia, perhaps you need to review your strategy!

In another post I will delve into these issues in a bit more depth, to help overcome the constant challenge of finding the right audience for the right message.

Not sure how to best reach your audiences? Get in touch!

1 thought on “Social media for development communications


    Great and informative article Joanna.


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