Each day, telecommunication brands view many social posts from current, potential future, and former customers. While many significant businesses have developed robust social customer care centers to handle the vast array of incoming issues, few are capitalizing on all the many ways that social can support their business. This trend is especially true in a quickly developing market like that in Africa.

With social intelligence, online conversations allow brands to inform product strategy, measure campaigns’ effectiveness, understand what drives churn, gain competitive intelligence, or connect with potential buyers.

Increasing Mobile Connectivity in Africa

Mobile connectivity is growing at an increasingly rapid rate in Africa, and it seems only natural that the way we do business will change as well. However, how can African telecommunications companies embrace and prepare for this change?

The development of mobile networks and connectivity has long stalled due to the lack of infrastructure in more rural areas of the continent. Additionally, crowded urban areas pose an issue as well due to the low quality of the networks.

However, we see significant progress to increase the capacity on both the international and national levels. This backhaul is improving fixed-line telecoms as well as supporting growing mobile data traffic.

The size and range of Africa’s diverse markets have contributed to varied market penetration rates between countries. According to reporting by BuddeComm, by early 2019, the highest mobile penetration occurred in countries including South Africa (169%), Botswana (160%), Gabon (159%), and Mauritius (147%).

However, at the other end of the scale, several countries have far greater government direction, market competition, and regulatory oversight are required for the local mobile markets to develop further. The lowest continental penetration rates are in Madagascar and Malawi (both at about 35%), Chad and Djibouti (both at 41%), and Niger (49%). Some other countries are notable for having suffered considerable civil and economic disruption, including South Sudan and Eritrea (both at 11%).

The most expensive mobile data in the world

While most emerging markets and developed countries use their mobile devices daily with unlimited internet access to accessible Wi-Fi at all times, many emerging African countries face another reality.

Indeed, as mobile data and internet at home would represent too much expense, many choose the more expensive but useful mobile data. Though more expensive, lower-income communities most rely on the latter. With inadequate banking facilities and a lack of physical money, many Western and Central African people rely on mobile payment services either through the internet or directly in their mobile carriers.

According to a survey done by Cable.co.uk, a UK-based price comparison website, out of the 230 countries, Africa had three countries topping with the most expensive mobile data. On average, African countries pay three times more than users in other regions relative to average income.

How Social Intelligence Identifies the Challenge for Telecom Brands

While some cell service providers in Africa span quite a few countries, some exist in just one country. Universally, however, brands look to determine what their customers communicate about online and figure out what their priorities are as users. Using Synthesio’s social listening dashboards, we examined the online conversation about four leading African service providers, Cell C, Vodacom, Airtel, and MTN.

The African Telecom Market Competitive Landscape

To have a holistic view of the telecoms market’s brand health, we wanted to take a multi-factor approach and looked at the leading players in Africa. We achieved this through a combination of volume (the number of conversations mentioning the focus brands of our study), average potential impressions (calculated by dividing potential impressions by the number of posts), and the social reputation score.

So what does this tell us about the leading telecoms players in Africa?

Since this graph’s best position is the top right, two players make a difference in the telecom industry’s competitive landscape; MTN and Vodacom. Both of them show a high volume of mentions related to their brand and a satisfying number of potential impressions than the other companies. The difference, in this case, lies in the Social Reputation Score. We can see that MTN shows a significant lead over Vodacom making it a leader in the African market. Remember, the volume only matters if engagement follows.

On the other hand, Airtel doesn’t seem to be in quite the right position, showing a satisfying relative volume but lower impressions and SRS than other brands. This figure means the overall buzz surrounding the brand is not as strong as it could be.

Now let’s look at the Share of Interactions to determine which brands users engage the most with and whose voices get amplified according to this metric.


Vodacom and Airtel seem to lead the conversation on the telecoms market in terms of interactions, while MTN and Cell-C have a hard time engaging with their consumers. Let’s dive deeper into these interactions to understand the kind of engagement both brands are receiving.

Over the past month, Airtel has seen most conversations come from a peak of mentions on the 11th of October. This interruption was due to a network issue, which caused delays in downloads for its users and created a wave of negative sentiment. Over this period, Airtel tied 42% of conversations mentioning their brand to negative sentiment (only 14% were positive). This trend confirms what we observed through the brand landscape: many users are engaging and talking about Airtel online but mostly to denounce low network quality and lack of customer service.

On the other side of the competition, Vodacom was also showing a significant number of interactions, and this time, it looks like it comes from a smart communications move. In October, Vodacom sponsored a large sporting event: one of the popular rugby competitions in South Africa. The hashtag #SuperRugbyUnlocked generated more than 100K interactions for Vodacom, along with 23% positive feedback and only 6% negative feedback.



Telecom Customer Pain Points

Keeping track of what customers struggle with and post about online is incredibly important as well. Let’s take a look at what people are having problems with.


Semantic analysis of top keywords found in mentions with negative sentiment about brands in the African telecom market reveals some of the biggest customer frustrations. These include network issues, customer services, and pricing.

To illustrate how consumers express their issues through social, we have included a few social posts below.





Companies must listen and act upon the desire of their customers by consistently tracking conversations.

How COVID-19 Has Impacted Telecommunications

“During this challenging time, telcos have performed reliably and consistently under tremendous strain to support remote working, video streaming, and business continuity, although their network performance may have slowed in some cases. The COVID-19 outbreak is thus highlighting the importance of connectedness.” — Senior Analyst Mervin Miemoukanda, IDC South Africa.

The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the vital role of digital technologies and telecommunications in the fight against the pandemic. The current moment has accelerated the digitization of many businesses and services. This digitization includes establishing teleworking and videoconferencing systems, as well as access to healthcare, education, and essential goods and services. Pre-existing policy and regulatory measures have impacted the affordability, accessibility, and use of Information and Communication Technologies in various African countries.

Let’s dive into the crisis’s impact on MTN, starting by comparing the Share of Voice of the different critical players regarding coronavirus and when it doesn’t. Share of Voice indicates which topics drive the conversation by displaying the number of mentions across all online platforms.


The chart above reflects the most mentioned subtopics excluding COVID-19. We see that network data issues and problems with customer service attracted most of the user’s attention.


However, looking at how the pandemic affected the theme of conversations, we see that price played a much larger role. As data usage soared during lockdowns, so did cost. The lockdown imposed in most African countries increased digital channels and telecommunications usage.

Additionally, as life and work go on virtually, telecommunications companies and digital solutions providers play a crucial role in ensuring that people can access goods and services through mobile money, which is now the preferred method for local transactions and payments in Africa, making telecom networks more vital than ever.

Evolution of sentiment of various topics during the crisis

Following the MTN example, we decided to look at the sentiment attached to the conversations. The two widgets helped us determine which topics drove the most negative conversations and therefore identify MTN’s focus on facing the crisis.

To do so, we compared conversations in the same period and applied a Synthesio proprietary filter to highlight conversations related to the COVID-19 crisis. The data shows that customer service has been impacted negatively in the conversations during the crisis.


Deep diving in the mentions, users denounce a lack of empathy from customer care though they expected it during the recent lockdown.


The graph also highlights a constant negative sentiment attached to pricing. And indeed, many users accused telecom companies of abusing their consumers by keeping high prices even during a national lockdown.


To face the crisis and ensure consumer retention, based on the social insights we briefly exposed today, telecoms players should:

  • Work on providing more reliable network coverage
  • Ensure a constant and satisfying customer experience, especially when facing high volume on their networks, by investing time and resources in customer services
  • Reassess their pricing structure to remain aligned with consumer’s expectations and regulatory laws applying
  • Consider including Events and sponsorship in their marketing initiatives to raise both brand awareness and reputation by federating around most loved gatherings

According to KPMG surveys, 58% of telecommunications businesses claim to either have high data analytics literacy or be rapidly moving towards it. What about you? At a time where not much is certain, you want to make sure that you understand your customers entirely. To learn more about how social intelligence has navigated brands through past crises, download our crisis management use case story here.