South Africa’s blogosphere: white network or open to all colors?

You don’t have to look far to find a blogger. Platforms Blogger, WordPress, Twitter and others put blogging and micro-blogging into the hands of anyone with a computer and an Internet cosnnection. Armed with those tools, a blogger can quickly generate an audience of friends and family, but finding other readers can be difficult. 800px-Flag_of_South_Africa_svgIn South Africa, some of the country’s most talked about bloggers are white, leading others to speculate the color barrier supposedly eliminated with the end of apartheid may still exist in the blogosphere.

The issue came to the forefront when writer Mandy de Waal posted a story on ITWeb about Who’s Who in South Africa’s social media world. Mandy’s list, generated from the recommendations of tech-savvy professionals, was all-white. She even points out, at the very end, that she listed no blacks or anyone of color.

Finally, in doing this article there’s the obvious realisation that the article header should rather have read “Welcome to the white boy’s club”. Empowerment seems to have touched every other industry sector, but this one.

That seemingly throwaway line, tucked at the very end, led to a firestorm of emotions—everything from celebration of those social media types mentioned in the story to anger from Ramon Thomas who compiled his own list because he believe Mandy’s list was “lazy journalism” without any non-whites and frustration from Mario Olckers who wrote that South Africa’s social media for business is:

an almost pointless pursuit for businesses in South Africa when the same small group of people who are also the same group who got the contracts to develop these sites, now have to go around and stir up their small, limited circle of friends to go and see what Company A or B has put up and comment there or add a digg, or del.icio.us bookmark or in South Africa’s case Muti or Laaik.it or Amatomu or Afrigator.

Without knowing the debate in the South African blogosphere, companies looking to develop or grow their brands in the country could stumble into the trap Olckers warns against—friends connecting with friends, but not truly spreading the word to the larger public (black, white, and beyond). To avoid this pitfall, I pulled together a list of insights that I learned by studying South Africa’s social media scene and the wine industry, which is the subject of my classmates’ upcoming social media assignment.

1. Look Beyond the Obvious. Every country has its influential bloggers and social media experts, but that does not mean your customers are reading their blogs or subscribing to their Tweets. Do your research and find out who your customers are really reading. You might be surprised. For example, a recent survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 11% of American adults online use Twitter or a similar service. In South Africa, Twitter is the ninth most visited site, according to Alexa. If your strategy hinged only on Twitter, you would be missing too many people.

2. In-person Relationships Matter. In South Africa, social media experts don’t rely on online interaction to build their audience. They meet in person through 27Dinner, a program that encourages professionals to get together and talk technology in person over dinner on the 27th of every month. In the wine industry, VinTank, a social media consulting company, released its social media report for the wine industry with an lively discussion in person.

3. Social media begets more social media. A blogger (D Chetty) who wanted to break into the influential circle within South Africa got good tips from other bloggers. First, you cannot allow your blog to stand alone. Get out there and reference it on Twitter, Facebook, and beyond. D Chetty listened and learned.

4. Your Tools Matter. The same blogger (D Chetty) was also advised to drop Blogger and turn to WordPress for more creative and individualized content. As his blog grew, he launched a new site powered by WordPress.

5. Good Social Media Takes Care and Attention.

Murphy-Goode is looking for the next really goode social media expert.

Murphy-Goode is looking for the next really goode social media expert.

The owners of Murphy-Goode winery in California got lots of recent attention online in their A Really Goode Job contest to find a social media guru to build their online profile. The candidates who rose to the top ten were not social media neophytes, but skilled communicators who were already online every day with blogs, their own websites, and other social media tools (just check out Eric’s top ten entry).
In the end, no matter the country, quality online work takes time. Companies headed to South Africa need to heed the same advice. Don’t launch online unless you have the time, skill, and attention to devote to your new media adventures.

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7 Responses to South Africa’s blogosphere: white network or open to all colors?

  1. It seemed like this week took some time to research and pull together, but you did a nice job of bringing supporting points in and offering some credible insights that any reader could learn from. Your choice to use a list to share your conclusions worked particularly well. The only negative this week is that your title didn’t give us enough of a taste of how strong this post would be. If you do have a list in your post, consider mentioning that in the title and you can draw in more readers. (4)

    • mintybeth says:

      Rohit,
      I never thought of using list in the title. Great idea! I look forward to trying that in one of my future posts. By the way, there were fabulous resources on VinTank. I only hope my classmates assigned to create a social media strategy for South Africa found the site and studied it. Their social media report looks at the various wine social networks and rates them. Plus, the top ten finalists for the Murphy-Goode lifestyle correspondent had wonderful social media ideas that could be translated to the wine industry in South Africa.

  2. Alex Greenbaum says:

    After reading your post I found myself asking, why didn’t de Waal put her explosive comment up front? It would have made a much stronger statement. Or maybe she was hesitant to make a strong statement?

    Great use of images and video to support your points. I really enjoyed reading this.

    • mintybeth says:

      Thanks, Alex. I asked myself the same question about de Waal. It was almost as if she tossed her controversial statement in at the end as an afterthought. You can’t mention a topic like that and then just end your article… unless she just wanted to create the buzz that she definitely got in the blogosphere.

  3. starla stiles says:

    This is a great post Beth! I also wrote about the color barrier in South African social media and asked the following question in my post, “ How can business be conducted through social media if the majority of the population has no clue as to what blogging, Facebook, and twitter mean?” I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that any business entering the social media sphere in South Africa should not launch unless they have the time, skill and energy to devote to new media ventures. I would add that they should also make sure they are investing in social media to meet the needs of all South African’s both black and white.

    • mintybeth says:

      All very good points. I’ve learned from my own personal life that social media takes time. If you can’t devote the time necessary to nurture your online relationships, they can fail just as much as your in-person relationships. You are on target that a company needs to reach all of its audiences, not just the color that is easiest.

  4. maurice09 says:

    Hi Beth, in my blog I came to the same conclusion as Mandy de Waal, which you quoted at the beginning of your blog: “Welcome to the white boy’s club.” And I still think it is true, even though others have proven different perspectives. In my blog I reduced everything to numbers. However, I agree with you and think there are powerful bloggers everywhere – also among the South African’s native population. I liked the second point you listed: In-Person relationships matter among Africans. We tend to forget in our heavy reliance on computers and media consumption.
    -Moritz

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