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. In 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.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.