Social media in Africa

Sat, 19 Jan 2013 Source: Tuokuu, Francis Xavier

By Francis Xavier Tuokuu and Billings Tanaa

"Regardless of the changes in technology, the market for well-crafted messages will always have an audience."Steve Burnett, the Burnett Group

In today’s world, obtaining information is important to knowledge acquisition and the development of every facet of life. Unlike in the past where it took people several days and months to obtain information about what was happening in other parts of the world and even around them, today, information can be obtained and shared within seconds. This has been made possible by the invention of the Internet and the recent development of social media such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Skype, LinkedIn among others. Such social media platforms have been used to bring political changes such as the recent Arab Spring (Tunisia, Libya and Egypt). Social media platforms have been of tremendous support to those in marketing and advertising cycles. Statistics provided by Portland Media indicates that 11.5 million Tweets were recorded from October to December of 2011 across Africa.

Social media marketing has come to stay with us. Businesses now recognize that the boundaries of marketing have exploded into ‘alien’ territories unfamiliar to the average business owner. Times have changed and customer behavior has become most unpredictable. Behaviors, strange as they may be, ranging from a pop-star fashion craze, to the ‘Gangman Style’ video explosion on YouTube, have shaken marketers, rendering them confused to fathom what exactly the magic potion is in tickling customer fantasy and interest.

Thanks to social media, Africa has been talked about now more than perhaps at any other period in history. It has been talked about particularly for the many business opportunities that the continent offers today such as the recent discoveries of oil in Ghana, Uganda, Kenya and many other places.

Africans are using social media to hold their leaders accountable. This is judging from the number of tweets, Facebook posts inter alia of the youth, especially on almost a daily basis either commending their leaders or admonishing them to do the right thing. Arguably, this has also led to more freedom of expression across the continent. Social media is indeed transforming Africa.

The explosion of social media on the African continent is sometimes overlooked. Ghana is a good case of efficient use of social media in her political dispensation. The real test of the power of social media was stretched to the limits in the just-ended elections in Ghana, with competing parties using Facebook and Twitter in creative ways. Dare I say, that the doors of online marketing were subtly knocked on, as all political parties used Facebook advertising to gain visibility using both sponsored posts and sponsored stories. Active social media engagement and advertising continues even after elections were over, with the president now broadcasting most of his engagements on Facebook. This is how far social media has gone in Africa.

According to social media Research Company Socialbakers, Egypt currently tops the Top 10 Countries in Africa on Facebook with a Facebook penetration of 15.49%.

The explosion in social media is attributed to the mobile phone explosion on the continent. The mobile subscription growth rate in Africa is easily outstripping mature mobile markets elsewhere in the world. According to Marina Lu, research associate, ABI Research, “While Western Europe languishes with barely positive overall growth quarter-on-quarter (2012), Africa managed to generate 4.2 percent growth in the same period”. Cheap WAP enabled GSM phones from China coupled with low mobile data rates have helped pushed up Africa’s social graph.

According to Dr. Karsten Karcher of Giglets Limited ‘‘Africa has an exciting social media future ahead’’.

Francis Xavier Tuokuu is a postgraduate student in Corporate Social Responsibility and Energy at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, UK and a Public Relations Intern at Giglets Limited, Ayrshire (http://www.giglets.net / Twitter @GigletsReads / Facebook.com/Giglets). Billings Tanaa is the Owner of Sparks Social Media (http://www.sparkssocialmedia.com / Twitter @Sparks_SM / Facebook.com/sparkssocialmedia). Special acknowledgement and thanks to Dr. Karsten Karcher, Chairman, Giglets, for his support.

Columnist: Tuokuu, Francis Xavier