The use of social media is growing at an exponential rate globally and Pakistan is no exception. In fact, in Pakistan, the requirements for social media usage are near perfect. About 65 per cent of our population is under 35 years and 50pc is under 22 years. This means a tech-savvy, app-driven youth cohort, whose principal medium of dealing with the world is through an app.

Combine this with the teledensity and GPS (global positioning system) coverage. It is estimated that Pakistan has 169 million unique subscribers of which 87m are smartphone users. With the recent introduction of smartphones built especially for the masses, smartphones with long-life batteries, all popular applications built-in, and the phone provided free of cost if the customer agrees to a 12-month post-paid contract, it is expected that smartphones will be 80pc of the market within 3 years.

Ownership of a smartphone enables a user to access apps. YouTube leads the market with 44m monthly active users (MAU), followed closely by Facebook with 36m MAU and then TikTok at 24m MAU. The number then drops for Instagram at 6m and Twitter at 4 million. LinkedIn has 6m users in Pakistan. Local apps are also showing scale and some have the potential to become super apps. As these apps scale up, they will also become potential mediums for social media marketing.

Pakistan does not have a significant marketing industry since in a country of 220m the estimated spend is $700m and this number has been shrinking over the past three years

Pakistan in reality does not have a significant marketing industry. In a country of 220m, the estimated spend is $700m. This number has been shrinking over the past three years. If we further peel the onion, the split between conventional media (television, print, radio, and outdoor hoarding) versus social media, is 72:28 in favour of conventional media. On the conventional side, television dominates the segment commanding 70pc of the spend. On the social media side, Facebook and Google command 80pc of the spend.

Marketing experts believe that with the exponential growth of the key components of social media, smartphones, teledensity, smartphone prices and GPS coverage, the social marketing spend will overtake the conventional marketing spend with an increase in the size of the pie within three years. The reason for this is that social media marketing provides big data-driven analytical tools which allow advertisers to better identify their audience. They can curate your spend thereby making the marketing far more effective than conventional media.

The effectiveness of social media marketing can be illustrated by analysing the TikTok experience. TikTok is a social media app which allows any user to upload a 15-second video. It currently has 800 million users globally and is a Chinese-owned company. In Pakistan, while it has a presence in all socio-economic groups, it has a larger presence in the lower socio-economic groups. A TikTok user typically spends 47 minutes a day engaging with the app and is equally split on a gender and rural/urban basis.

Advertisers, around the world, started taking notice of the immense growth of daily and monthly active users on TikTok, particularly since the start of the Covid-19 lockdowns. Similarly, in Pakistan, the number of downloads and increased usage of the app daily has made it a very attractive platform for Pakistani advertisers. More recently a Pakistani student, Janat Mirza, currently studying in Japan, became the first Pakistani to get 10 million followers, resulting in a lot of news coverage across Pakistan and also in international media. Close behind her, Chaudhary Zulqarnain Sikandar has over 9m people following him.

As the social media juggernaut continues to grow exponentially, people have started creating their own content. The more interesting content creators start getting followers and some of these, over time, became ‘influencers’. Given the 22-years median age of our population, they do not necessarily watch or read conventional media nor do they always relate to the celebrities used for product endorsements. Their heroes and heroines exist in the world of social media. They seem to put their trust on what their social media influencers have to say about a brand, especially if the influencer is from their own social class. Influencer marketing has become so popular that a recent start-up representing over 40 brands was able to on-board over 300 influencers within three months.

The ingredients required for social media marketing are falling in perfect alignment. As an increasing number of people switch to social media providers for entertainment and information, this medium will eventually overtake conventional media in terms of viewership. The infliction point is in sight. This will in turn lead to a high social media spend at first, then equal and then eventually overtake the conventional media spend.

The writer is a tech entrepreneur

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, November 2nd, 2020

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