According to Stephen Newton’s BizCommunity.com article, The RSA just reported the highest rate of internet growth since 2001, up 12.5% to 4.5M users. And according to Jonathan Gosier’s blogpost, Social Media in Africa Part 1, Africa is the fastest growing mobile market in the world with an average growth rate of 34%. The Republic recently made history as the first country in Africa to hold a political debate on Twitter, Facebook and blogs, and the Obama Administration has made digital outreach to the continent an integral objective (as evidenced by his recent sms engagement following his Ghana speech)
While South Africans comprise one of the most robust and engaged online social networking communities in the world, we cannot ignore the cultural context within which this fact exists. Fifteen years after apartheid, all things are not equal in this republic. The continent overall still suffers from disproportionate amounts of poverty, and of the roughly 48M people living in the RSA, only somewhere between 2-5M (about 10%) have access to a PC with broadband connections. They are the white elite who largely control the republic and influence the dialogue which tends to dominate the overall thinking and consumer behavior across the continent. The other 90%; however, are very active on mobile social networks and most do have mobile phones that support these applications.
So whether you are trying to reach the 90% of disenfranchised blacks who use mobile networking or the 10% of affluent whites with broadband PCs, plan on the flow of information in RSA being controlled by the latter.
When researching marketing trends in social media and other information about South Africa, I’m astounded by just how much of the information is coming directly from bloggers. The RSA similar to many emerging economies worldwide have more active bloggers than those of the USA. In an April 2009 blog post, Oresti Patricios estimates their online activity rate as having grown by 58% between 2006-2008. Patricios believes, as do I, that the RSA is ripe with opportunity for marketers to engage in the relationship-building, brand monitoring and ongoing dialogue that can pay huge long-term dividends for their company.
Just as Newton argues that companies wishing to penetrate the market in the RSA, should not underestimate the importance of getting online during this global economic downturn; it’s how they get online that can make or break their sales here.
With the cost of internet slowly going down, and its speeds slowly accelerating, many South Africans, are opting to save money by staying at home. Additionally, they look to online reviews of products and services to get the most value for their money.
If you wish to market to consumers in the RSA, engaging bloggers there is not an elective, it’s an imperative. Brands “live” through shared experiences of other consumers, brand equity will be enhanced or compromised based on consumer interaction online. Because bloggers dominate the online content within and about South Africa, their credibility is nearly unmatched by any other marketing outlet. E-WOM is the leading factor in driving sales here. Sites that rate user-generated content like Muti, Afrigator and Laaikit are exploding and vibrant, which gives bloggers unrivaled credibility and influencing power.According to Patricios only 15% of consumers trust advertising, compared to 72% who trust what others tell them about products, therefore, bloggers in the RSA can exponentially increase the reach of your message and the equity of your brand among African consumers via mobile and online social networks like Mpesa, Celpay and Etranzact in ways unmatched by any other medium.
Their opinions matter and their reach is vast. They are almost exclusively PC-live which means that their influence will reach the wealthy elite consumers first, and their endorsements will quickly spread to the mobile social networks—reaching non-affluent consumers via mobile social networks.
While there are relatively few cultural nuances for American marketers to consider when engaging this audience, one reigns supreme: you must not treat them like journalists, but rather thought leaders, and avoid spamming them with press releases or advertisements. Instead, focus on establishing credibility and building a genuine relationship with them that is based on a mutual interest in common issues. Strategies here should seek to involve them in an aspect of your brand by soliciting their expertise or thoughts on issues as they relate to your brand.
If you can create an experience for these thought leaders that they positively associate with your brand, they will be your strongest ‘E-vangelists’—exercising their formidable WOM platform to drive your brand in the RSA and throughout Africa.