Empower Your Citizens to Brand a Nation

July 13, 2009

SASMAfter researching numerous websites about social media in South Africa, two big movements are readily apparent:  1) the Brand South Africa campaign, and 2) interest in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. I have never seen a similar branding campaign for a country before, so it was interesting to learn how the country is creating a unified, positive marketing movement for an entire country. A campaign of this nature will certainly help stabilize local marketing efforts, and plays an important role in the prevalence of World Cup news and information on many Websites. FIFA soccer is a huge event worldwide and puts everyone’s eyes on the host country, much like the Olympics do. By teaching South Africans to unify their overall message, and incorporate a bit of the soccer mania, the country is poised to become a center of attention, all while keeping focus on the offerings of South Africa. The Brand South Africa site even gives tips on how to take advantage of the coming World Cup. The Brand South Africa campaign as a whole delves deeper into social media with a full toolkit of Web 2.0 applications (picture at left), including videos, a Twitterfeed, Podcasts, Share buttons,  and a blog. In terms of using social media to advance a brand, this whole campaign has overarching possibilities because if the country of South Africa as a whole is looked upon favorably, it follows that the companies and the economy should benefit as well. So in terms of social media being used advantageously, South Africa really took the use of new tools to a high level.

In addition to a nationwide branding campaign, the South Africans went a step further with an entire “series of logo_movementforgoodcampaigns aimed at mobilising South Africans to get involved in creating the country they want to live in” comprised of a “network of organisations that have come together to inspire and mobilise South Africans to become active citizens for good.” Known as the Movement for Good, this campaign provides tips on how all South Africans can help spread the good name of SA. Furthermore, within the Movement for Good, there is the Social Networking Platform For Good. On this Website, people can join the campaign and receive SMS messages providing details and information on how to take action to show South Africa in the best possible light. (SMS was the chosen medium of delivery because only 10% of South Africans have access to the Internet, while many citizens have mobile phones.)

Overall, this campaign is interesting because it allows the citizens to share their stories and thoughts about South Africa through the blog and by uploading videos and participating in social networks. Conversation is a cornerstone of social media and active participation from somebody other than a PR or marketing person is key to a successful campaign. But more interesting is that these campaigns are about an entire nation participating in social and traditional media. There is no blog of the United States like there is a blog for South Africa. Nor does the United States have a Facebook page. So in that regard, South Africa is using social media in one of the most interesting ways that I’ve ever seen—marketing the country, as a whole, as a unified brand. Though other countries have tried similar campaigns, South Africa’s approach is unique because of the social media implications and I will be curious to see if other nations follow suit.


South Africa Will NOT Be Left Behind!

July 13, 2009

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Social Media branding efforts has yet to be proven to be a complete waste of time in any part of the world and South Africa is not an exception!

One of the most insightful points I found in the reading was posted by Mario Olckers who stated that Social media scene in South Africa is too frail and disproportionate for companies to reasonably invest their time in.

Olckers reasoning for this theory is largely based on his assessment that due to the struggling economy, the average African is more concerned with obtaining and maintaining basic commodities like food, clothing and shelter NOT access to computers and internet. He further states that the mass majority of social media influencers in South Africa are comprised of “a small minority of predominantly white geeks and geekettes with an odd sprinkling of Coloured, Black and Indians…”—making social media strategy almost a pointless effort for companies to pursue.

While I do not disagree with the fact that there currently exists a small list of prominent bloggers in the South African Blogosphere, I do see the potential on the horizon and it is ignorant to underestimate the impact social media will have as South Africa moves into the future of bridging their digital divide—especially with the internet population in Africa expected to double from to over 9 million within the next five years.

I believe Social media can and will win BIG in South Africa and it is a shame that some people are too pessimistic about the current state of the country to believe it.   I believe AND the projected data reflects that it would be a mistake  to underestimate where the entire country of Africa is heading digitally.  Many critics falsely believed Apartheid would never in South Africa… until 1994 when it indeed ENDED!

Companies looking to reach South Africans through Social Media marketing strategies would be wise to invest on the forefront of the digital movement because as it arrives THEIRS will be the products and brands most valued and interesting to the people of the country. Companies can start by investing in emergence of the “digital villages” as a branding strategy for their products.

By helping the citizens of South Africa obtain computer usage and internet access,  companies can show good corporate/ social responsibility AS WELL as brand their products. Creating a Win-Win for all.


Crisis Meet Citizen Journalists, Citizen Journalists Meet Ushahidi

July 12, 2009

ushahidi_button2_170pxAs South Africa evolves further and further away from its tumultuous past, citizens are arming themselves with their freedom to communicate. South Africa is one of Africa’s leading media centers with a diverse population. After apartheid ended in 1994 and the Bill of Rights was enacted in which guarantees that every citizen has the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of the press and media, the freedom to receive or impart information or ideas, etc. With South Africa undergoing an infrastructure upgrade to include online, wireless, and satellite connectivity, subscribers and users are on the rise. Subsequently, this increase in wireless technology has catapulted Africa to be one of the fastest growing mobile markets in the world. Online and wireless technologies aren’t perfect as there continues to be a disproportionate amount of poverty resulting in a vast majority of people remaining without reliable connectivity and technology capabilities.

Because mobile penetration has been on a steady rise and is more easily attainable to citizens than internet connectivity, Short Message Service (SMS) sent via mobile devices has become the most widely used form of data communication in South Africa.

With social media and mobile platforms on the rise in South Africa, popular sites are cropping up to disperse information to the public. Social media website Ushahidi seeks to build a platform to “crowdsource” crisis information. The purpose of Ushahidi is to allow “anyone to submit crisis information through text messaging using a mobile phone, email or web form.” The Ushahidi goal is to “create the simplest way of aggregating information from the public for use in crisis response.”

The website has been used to track reports of violence, send updates regarding major crisis activity, information on the general elections, and the communication of updates and information on health crises like Swine Flu.

Ushahidi is currently working to revamp their system to “create a platform that allows anyone around the world to set up their own way to gather reports by mobile phone, email and the web – and map them.”

Over the past year our globe has been plagues by various crises – terror attacks, war, heath concerns, treacherous weather, etc – and social media has been able to provide an open outlet to affected citizens to inform the world as to what is going on. This type of crisis communication has changed how our world becomes informed and updated on major events. Ushahidi provides a service to South Africans that engage citizens to communicate during a crisis to inform and be informed. Because so many South Africans have SMS capabilities, this service can reach many people, and very easily.

The future of Ushahidi looks bright – with proposed innovations to include mapping and visualization, this service will become duly important to users, especially during a time of crisis. Citizen Journalists coupled with other South African media outlets can use this platform as a means of coherent crisis communication.

For investors and corporations still hesitant to occupy space in South Africa due to continued socio-political unrest, this tool will serve to provide transparency to the public, from the public regarding events and critical information. This tool will also serve as a platform enabling citizens to become journalists and engage in social networking for the betterment of their society.


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

July 12, 2009

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.


It Takes a Village

July 12, 2009

The dark cloud of legal racial segregation has been lifted from South Africa as the country celebrates 15 years of democracy.  The country has experienced a renaissance that has allowed South Africa to flourish economically, politically, and racially.  An emerging black middle class has materialized; however, despite its success, the repenting model nation still remains divided.

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A digital divide exists in most developing countries. South Africa is no exception.  Presently, less than 10% of individuals are internet users and less than 400,000 households have broadband access.  The lack of broadband has severely restricted South Africas online population.  However, if South Africa plans to become a player on the world stage, it has to build a bridge and connect their population with the rest of the world.

The development of an a new undersea telecommunications cable will be the first step in connecting South Africa.  This development will allow South Africas broadband to grow fivefold over the next five years as South Africa gets high-speed broadband internet access.  The internet population is expected to double from 4.5 million to over 9 million by 2014.

The 2010 World Cup will provide the perfect stage for brands to more than market but truly engage with South Africans. Telkom, Africa’s largest integrated communications company and a signature partner of the World Cup, has already begun positioning themselves for internet growth.  They have partnered with Microsoft for over five years to create state of the art computer resource centers known as  “Digital Villages”.  These centers have given schools and communities the ability to harness technology in order to develop computer skills.  “This project provides another opportunity that brings South Africa a step closer to bridging the digital divide,” says Minister Frazer-Moleketi.

200px-2010_FIFA_World_Cup_logo_svgIt would be beneficial for Mahindra Satyam, a World Cup sponsor, to adopt a strategy similar to Telkom and move beyond just being a sponsor but to create a strategy that will enable it to become an engaged partner. Presently, they are setting up and managing 240 self-help ticketing terminals in South Africa to distribute nearly four million tickets. However, this isnt enough; they should actively connect with South Africans by donating computers and access to internet through townships, Citizen Post Offices, and internet cafés.  This will align with their rebranding effort as corporate partner after the scandal that has plagued this India company. It wont remove the dark cloud that exists with their accounting dilemma, but by becoming an entrenched partner, it will allow them to leverage an event with a critical social need to bridge the divide and a template to follow in India for redemption.


South Africa, Full of Possibilities

July 12, 2009

Less than 20 years ago, South Africa was a country that legally separated whites and non-whites. Despite the suffering of its people, violence at home and international sanctions, the country did not end apartheid until 1994.

Although far from being problem-free, in 15 years, South Africa has gone from being an internationally condemned country for its racially oppressive government, to one that is slowly trying to recover from decades of damage and attempting to move forward to resolve its issues and present a better face to its people and to the world.

Despite acceptance by the world’s athletic community, recognition of the country’s natural beauty by travelers and the admiration of South African wines by connoisseurs, it is no secret that problems remain. The government is making a strong effort to position its brand and to portray itself in a more positive light while dealing with the issues that still plague and divide its society, including HIV and AIDS, poverty, violence against women and racism.

Shine2010_FNBLogoTopSouth African officials are very conscious of how they want to present the country to the world. Social media already has a place in South African government, with Facebook and the country’s Brand South Africa blog featured prominently on the country’s web portal. The website invites visitors to join the conversation, and asks how the world perceives the country, which ispoised to host the FIFA World Cup next year. Efforts to boost tourist traffic go beyond a website and a blog to include a frequently updated Twitter account.

Wider use of social media might give the world a different glimpse into modern South African society, and also enable sainfoSouth Africans to get a different perspective on how the rest of the world lives, bringing both worlds closer to each other. Social media by its very nature is more open, authentic and transparent—and, for better or worse, not ruled by the same norms as mainstream media.

Heightened use of social media in a country that is embracing change to move forward presents opportunities for companies willing to take the associated risks. And although limited Internet penetration presents a challenge, mobile Internet usage is popular and on the rise in South Africa, giving marketers an expanded platform for reaching customers. The South African government, people and organizations have shown they can use social media to communicate with the rest of the world. With the upcoming World Cup events, as well as booming business and increased world attention on South Africa, social media tools give marketers a way of communicating their message to people and organizations in South Africa.

In her blog, South African marketer Yvonne Johnston commented that “new media poses an amazing opportunity, as everyone becomes connected by the Internet or cell phone, the possibilities for communication open up. It is up to Africans to tell their story because in fact, THEY are the brand”

Johnston writes also about the role all Africans play in helping build the African brand, and in contributing to change world opinion about the continent and the countries within it. It is a country poised for renewal, and companies willing to take a risk can both contribute to this renewal and benefit from it.


There’s more to cafes than coffee

July 12, 2009

Having lived and worked on three continents (Africa, Europe and now North America) I think I know a thing or two about how relative norms can be. In the process of researching this week’s post, I could easily come to the conclusion that there is little to no point in trying to connect online with blacks in South Africa. The consensus seems to be that all bloggers are white products of privilege and all the blacks are using mobile phones, mostly to text.

The data supports those broad generalizations and to be honest, I’m not concerned with that. What I am concerned about for the purpose of this post is that ‘access’ to the internet is being discussed as synonymous with ‘computer at home.’ If the measure of access is a computer at home then absolutely, as a marketer I would probably not bother with the black population in South Africa. However, if the measure of access includes people who use the internet at work, at an internet cafe or on a mobile phone then I would sit up, take note and start strategizing on how I will connect my brand or product to the Black Diamond, the emerging and emerged black middle and upper class in South Africa.

Here’s why:

  • South Africa has an abundance of internet cafes, so many in fact that tourism site Why Go South Africa uses the stats as one of the key selling points, boasting:

South Africa is wired! The internet is everywhere here – well, almost everywhere – is decently fast and relatively cheap, and there are hundreds of internet cafes eager to bring it to you. Don’t ever pay more than R25/hour at an internet cafe! Chances are, the next one down the road is cheaper… Most have headsets for Skyping, and charge R15/hour or less.

  • The majority of South Africans who regularly use the internet do so via mobile handsets, which makes sense since the nation has 10.5% population penetration for internet usage via a computer compared to over 98% mobile phone population penetration
  • In Soweto for example, people even offer internet cafe services in their homes so what is counted as one household with ‘access’ to a computer could be something totally different in practice
  • In 2006 mobile phone giant MTN, recognizing the demand for internet access in Soweto and the infrastructure limitations of providing access via fixed lines, leveraged its 3G and Edge wireless network to provide high speed internet access at a phone shop in Alexandria township, the first of its kind in the world
  • The UNHCR recognizes South Africa as having high level of digital media freedom.
  • Affordability and capacity is expected to increase significantly in South Africa with the Seacom undersea fiberoptic cable this year.
  • South Africa is currently ranked fourth in Africa’s Top Ten of countries with people on the internet. That isafrica2009top fourth on a continent that has seen an increase in internet use growth of 1100% between 2000 to 2008 compared to 332.6% in the Rest of the World for the same period.

Don’t take my word for it, according to World Wide Worx,

South Africa’s internet population is expected to grow as much in the next five years as it has in the 15 years since the internet became commercially available in the country.

In my opinion, South Africans clearly want to be connected to the rest of the world – the mobile phone stats speak to that. Internet service providers have been limited by infrastructure and simply could not meet the demand or make access cost effective or attractive to the masses. I’m willing to bet that with the Seaweb project expected to increase available international bandwidth 30-fold, South Africa will be topping the charts for internet population penetration sooner rather than later. In the meantime just remember that in some places people go to cafes for everything but coffee!