First-time internet users in Nigeria use the internet in a unique way: Here’s why that matters

10 June 2020

Many people fuelling the rapid growth in mobile phone usage in Nigeria are not fully utilising all the content and services available to them. Sebastien Codeville, CEO, KaiOS Technologies explains what their concerns are – and how they can be overcome

Nigeria is one of the most exciting frontiers for emerging technology usage. The country, known as the “giant of Africa,” shows up in headlines calling it “Africa’s unofficial tech capital,” and “the new economy of Africa.”

However, many Nigerians fueling this rapid growth in the tech space actually under-utilize their technology. While these Nigerians show great interest in mobile devices and the internet, our research shows that they aren’t aware of the ways they can leverage technology to their advantage. There’s a huge opportunity to help new users engage with technology and the internet in new ways, proving beneficial to both newly connected consumers and the key industry players that facilitate that connection.
KaiOS recently completed a study to better understand how the average Nigerian currently uses and perceives mobile phones and the internet.

Research overview

We surveyed 819 individuals and 48 retailers and phone sellers from seven Nigerian states. Overall, respondents were interested in owning a phone and having mobile internet, but were not fully aware of all the benefits and ways to use the internet.

We found that first-time internet users enjoy reading and surfing the web, but many have yet to discover how the internet can be beneficial to their entire community. New users tend to learn about the internet from members of their local communities in an offline setting, which often leads to a narrow view of what the internet has to offer. For example, they might only hear about a few specific apps and have misconceptions about both the internet and how to access it.

A large portion of respondents work informal jobs such as petty trading, farming, and artisan work. Although they spend most of their income on food, shelter, and clothing, they are still willing to invest in things that make their lives more fun and allow them to connect with others.

Who was included in our study?

We designed our study to provide an accurate depiction of newly connected consumers in Nigeria. As such, we structured our respondent pool to include specific age ranges, income levels, and geographic locations. Our interviewees can be segmented as follows:
• 40% rural, 35% semi-urban, and 25% urban: This split provides an accurate picture of Nigeria’s urbanization status.
• A significant portion works in informal and/or unstable jobs such as farming (15%), petty trading (31%), or artisan work (21%).
• All respondents earn less than NGN 360,000 (USD 990) annually.
• Our sample was slightly skewed toward a younger population because 54% of the entire Nigerian population is under 20 years of age. Ages 16-50 were included in the study.

Internet perception

Our study shows that respondents have a specific perception of internet content that is very different from that of the developed world. For example, using Opera, a major web browser app, is seen as synonymous with “browsing the internet". This leads to the unintended consequence of users not discovering the browser app that comes with their mobile device if the app icon does not look similar to the Opera icon. We found a number of similar misconceptions of the internet and device capabilities throughout the study.

Finding: internet is a status symbol, but not widely understood

The majority of the respondents claim they need an internet-enabled phone, but their reasoning is based more on social status and perception than the actual benefits.

“Well, this world right now is a global or internet world; everything is all about internet, so that is why everybody needs an internet-enabled device.” Male, 21-30 years, Anambra state, semi-urban

“In our time now, if you don’t have an internet-enabled mobile phone, it’s like you are nothing, and you must let people know you have it.” Female, 21-30 years, Abuja city, urban

From these responses (and others), we discovered that the need for internet access did not tie back to what respondents actually do online. Instead, their reasoning was based on how other people view them.

Recommendation: Market to communities, not individuals

New users need to be persuaded to adopt mobile internet and will turn to their social circle for guidance. To convince an individual, start with the community.
Urban residents tend to use the internet for a wider range of activities because they have more exposure to mobile internet through friends, family, school, and work.
Rural residents, on the other hand, do not have the same level of access, which means they have fewer real-world examples of how the internet can be used in their communities.

Both urban and rural first-time users generally look for ways to use the internet in a way that benefits the community as a whole.
To reach a wider audience, advertisers can focus on promoting the internet not to the individual, but to the entire community. For example, newly connected Nigerians are more likely to respond to a pitch that presents WhatsApp as a tool for organizing church gatherings and sharing study materials as opposed to an app for chatting with friends.

Finding: New users are unaware of how the internet can benefit them

Nigerians have heard good things about the internet, yet have yet to discover how to take advantage of all the benefits.
As in most other markets around the world, we found that new users generally use phones for communication and entertainment. The most impactful uses—career development, personal health management, and business applications—are the least popular.
Nigerians in rural areas are even less likely to understand how mobile internet can benefit them personally. One rural interviewee said, “It doesn’t help my business. I farm, it’s just me, my hoe, and the farm…”

Recommendation: Educate users about how they can use the internet to their advantage
Mobile internet can provide support in areas like health, education, and business. However, these uses are the least popular because new users are unaware of their potential value.
Industry players can engage new users by clearly stating how they can gain practical advantages from mobile internet. Some examples:

• Promote your products to customers beyond your town by sharing photos on Facebook
• Are you a farmer looking to get a competitive advantage in the market? Use farming apps to access the latest crop prices.
• Do you live in an area where clean water is difficult to access? Use Google to search “how to kill bacteria in water at home.”
• Save $1-$2 a month by using WhatsApp instead of SMS to stay in touch with friends and relatives in other towns.
• Let your child learn English for free by watching educational videos on YouTube.
• Have you heard of Sudoku? It’s a free game that can train your logical thinking skills.

In Nigeria, as well as other emerging markets, new consumers responded best to visual marketing as opposed to text-heavy promotions. However, new users are reluctant to use data to play videos or download images, especially if they do not know how doing so will benefit them. Industry players should consider making onboarding content available without data charges. This small up-front investment is likely to pay off by converting text-only users to data consumers.