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For the past four years the Facebook wave has been breaking over South Africa, bringing a deluge of excitement, controversy and hype with it. During that time the user base has grown from less than 10 000 to well over three-million people. To put it in context, if our population had grown at the same rate as our Facebook users, there would now be 15-billion South Africans on the planet.
That’s great for Mark Zuckerberg and his crew of teenage gazillionaires, but what does it mean for South African brands? In theory the platform gives marketers an unparallelled opportunity to interact with three-million of South Africa’s most sought-after customers. But is anyone actually getting any traction?
To find out I decided to sniff out the local brands with the biggest and best Facebook offerings. Given how many brands are in the space, and how many different ways there are to engage with Facebook (groups, profiles, apps, pages) I decided we needed some ground rules for the rankings:
Criterion 1: Facebook fan pages – nothing else
Fan pages are the best way for brands to connect with people on Facebook. Some brands started groups early on, before pages existed, but most have since abandoned them and moved on to pages – which often muddies the waters with duplication. While there is room to explore branded apps or profiles in a later list, it makes more sense to keep this one focussed purely on fan pages.
Criterion 2: South African born and bred, not just localised
There are plenty of huge international brands on Facebook that just happen to have South African branches or versions, but counting them is largely pointless. Just because some of National Geographic’s 1.6-million fans are South Africans, doesn’t mean we should include them in this list.
Criterion 3: One metric at a time
There are hundreds of great local brands on Facebook, many of them doing interesting things with the platform. There’s also no absolute measure of “best”, so I’ve decided to cheat and have several lists based on different metrics. This first list is about pure numbers – the brands with the most fans. The next two lists will be for the most innovative brands, and the brands with the highest impact per fan.
And so, without futher ado, the list:
1. The Springboks (167K+ fans)
No surprises here. Our beloved national rugby team tops the rankings by a margin of nearly 30 000 fans.
2. Gary the ToothFairy (134K+ fans)
The first surprise in our list. Gary (aka local actor Bevan Cullinan) began life as a mascot for MNET, but his quirky antics have turned him into a celebrity in his own right. His success on Facebook is a great example of how the right content can “go viral” regardless of whether it is advertising or not.
3. I love Cape Town (117K+ fans)
South Africa’s most beloved city was bound to make an appearance somewhere in our list. The fact that half the fans are probably German is irrelevant. Cape Town Tourism deserves a big pat on the back for this one.
4. Die Antwoord (114K+ fans)
Waddy Jones and Yolandi Visser, South Africa’s original pop-terrorist duo, finally hit the big time in 2010 with their latest incarnation of musical performance art. Boing Boing, an enormously popular US blog, picked up their video on YouTube and the rest is history. If we made a list of fastest growing pages in 2010, these guys would win hands down.
5. Bafana Bafana Supporters (94K+ fans)
Our heroic national soccer team are another obvious entry in our top 10, though I suspect they would have ten times this many fans if internet access were more equitably distributed.
6. Jack Parow (77K+ fans)
Another viral phenomenon that proves the power of great content. This misanthropic local rapper rose to fame with some of the catchiest (and funniest) rhymes ever crafted in Afrikaans. His music videos are equally amusing and have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times online. Who needs a marketing strategy when you have talent?
7. Huisgenoot (64K+ fans)
One of South Africa’s oldest and most beloved publications has proven to be a real hit with the Facebook crowd. Interestingly they are the only print publication in the entire list. (FULL DISCLOSURE: I used to work on the brand’s social media team, but it’s obivously here on its own merit.)
8. The Blue Bulls (62K)
Probably the most neglected and underutilised page in our list, but also proof that a great viral brand is enough to attract fans on Facebook with very little effort. That said, this page is currently a huge wasted opportunity for the Bulls’ marketing team.
9. The Power of 5FM (59K+ fans)
The only radio station in our list, 5FM has a real commitment to social media and it shows in their numbers. The station also has one of the most active and well-managed pages in the list.
10. Steve Hofmeyr (59K+ fans)
Another tribute to the cult of personality. Love him or hate him, Steve sells and sells big.
Some runners up
Some more thoughts on the list
On the whole, the list is a pretty fair reflection of South African popular culture — quite a few of sports teams and local pop stars, with a few local media brands thrown in for good measure. But it’s great to see grass roots internet phenomenons — guys like Jack Parow and Die Antwoord — also making an impact.
Do you know of a local brand that should be in this list? Facebook makes searching for local pages pretty near impossible, so I had to rely on my network of super secret social media informants, a dash of intuition and a good deal of guesswork. I’m pretty sure I have missed a few whoppers – so please let us know in the comments below. Include a link to the page in question and we’ll update the list (and credit you).