Speak to Me

When the second most popular brand in South Africa happens to be a mobile networking company, there is definitely an opportunity to connect with individuals using social media. MTN is a billion dollar brand that has paved the way for South Africans communicating through cellular phones. MTN Group is head-quartered in Johannesburg, SA, and has 100 million subscribers through its operations in 21 countries. The brand is successful for many reasons and one is their invested interest in the African community. Their statement on their ‘About Us’ states,

As a major communications company, MTN is focused on the African continent. We believe that through access to communication comes economic empowerment.

Their recent campaign in conjunction with the 2010 FIFA World Cup sponsorship has an emphasis on malaria deaths in Africa. They are not only dominant in their market with many competitors they are socially involved with making a difference for the people in their country. They are a company that markets well to South Africans and here are some reasons why.

In 2005, BBC News reported that Africa was seeing the fastest mobile growth rate . The report further expressed that during their survey, 85% of small businesses operated by blacks relied solely on mobile phones for telecommunications and that 62% of them said mobile use was linked to an increase in profit despite higher call costs. These advancements were happening four years ago, and although one would assume that these changes would increase over time, it’s definitely appropriate to take in account the recent economic situations affecting the world globally.  However, Ernst & Young recently looked at the penetration of mobile phones in South Africa and assessed that it’s around 98%. Well Deon Liebenberg, Regional Director for Sub Sahara Africa Research in Motion, definitely took notice. This is the same company behind Blackberry Solutions, who has seen the opportunity for Blackberry devices and Internet to have a stake in this rising market.

Cellular phones definitely set a platform for a brand to generate conversation. Yet, notably you have to take in account what South Africans are talking about, interested in, and how what you or provide will impact them. South Africa is definitely land of diversity. Many cultural and sociological factors are part of the make-up of this region, including the fact that South Africa has 11 officially recognized languages. This can make marketing to this region extremely difficult especially through mobile outreach. Despite this challenge, South Africans are engaged through social communication. Only 6 hours ago, a recent article posted that 5,000 text messages were sent to Obama in anticipation to his upcoming speech Saturday in Ghana. Macon Philips, director of new media at the white house stated,

The text messages had come from more than 64 countries. “South Africa was particularly enthusiastic, we have seen a real spike in activity in South Africa,” he said.

“I think what we found is despite various economic challenges and development challenges, Africans across the continent have used technology to communicate very actively with one another.

Text messaging has even been used to raise awareness about the HIV-epidemic affecting South Africa.

I think one should  understand that the social ramifications of apartheid still linger in the minds of South Africans. However, they are prideful and vocal about the changes they want for their country. South Africa was the first country in Africa to hold their first political debate on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other interactive websites reported by Rebecca Wanjiku for Computerworld Kenya. The religious politician Desmond Tutu, coined as the messiah of Africa during the apartheid era has also embraced social media tools such as Facebook to convey his messages and advice to Africa and America.

While browsing blogs on Afrigator and looking at the impact of MixIt. I definitely think brands have an opportunity to connect and engage a South African audience.  Despite misconceptions, I believe that it’s a very diverse user group connected through the Internet and with mobile access. The privileged and fortunate population of South Africa are not the only ones utilizing social media to voice their opinions and thoughts. A student at the University of Cape Town challenged statistics about mobile usage and visibility in low-income communities.  He found that in that particular community about 83% of the youth he surveyed had some form of Internet use and 47% utilized mobile instant messaging applications in some capacity. Now this still proves their is a disparity between the “have and the have-not” people in South Africa; however, I don’t think this notion would be particular different in viewing any other country.

In essence, South Africa is a country of opportunity for brands using social media if you’re engaging, invested, and have a genuine message or contribution.


2 Responses to Speak to Me

  1. Good overview of the power of mobile in the South Africa culture and strong facts to support your case. It did seem that you might have written this post in phases, as the first part talks about MTN and their World Cup sponsorship, but just as we think you’re going to delve deeper into that, you shift courses to text messaging and Obama. It’s a strong post, but did lose focus a bit in the middle and meant that as a reader we weren’t quite sure of the point you were making in the middle. A good effort, but I know you can do even better. (3)

  2. Evan says:

    Good exploration of mobile media. The Obama text numbers are absolutely amazing. How can MTN leverage the World Cup through marketing partnerships with other brand beyond social causes.

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