2015 has been an eventful year in Africa and lucky for all Africans, social media has been there to capture the ups and the downs. Downs in this case in the literal sense of the word considering the “President Mugabe falls” memes that went viral earlier this year. With a social media audience hungry for the latest trend, the picture of the Zimbabwean leader found its way onto the internet with hashtags and captions as dramatic as can be. Such events that catch the public eye have proved the strength of social media in modern day Africa now and again. With the present day African public figures typing away on the internet, one can surely conclude that the future of Africa is social.
In 2014, Facebook, one of the Africa’s most visited websites reached 100 million active users in Africa. The exponential internet uptake rates are fuelling the increasing number of social media users.
“Triple-digit growth rates are routine across the continent. The widespread availability of mobile phones means that the mobile Web can reach tens of millions more than the wired Web,” says Jon von Tetzchner, a co-founder of Opera, a popular mobile browser.
Most of the internet users in Africa do not browse up the news or google up research but instead update statuses and upload photos onto social networks. Social media is fast becoming an indispensible part of the African socio-economic dynamic. It is only sensible that businesses are starting to recognise the potential in social media and tapping into it to produce results. The former CEO of Ecobank, Mr Arnold Ekpe told the audience of Africa 2.0’s “Start Up Africa London” in September 2014 that if he had the chance to start up his company again, he would build a digital only bank. This is proof of the transformation in perspective that the continent’s business people have undergone. Social networks are no longer just a place for meaningless trends and hashtags but a vibrant marketplace and a virtual village.
General manager of Uber Lagos, Ebi Atawodi is quoted as saying Uber no longer pays for traditional advertising, instead it relies entirely on social networks for marketing. Uber is only a part of a larger catalogue of African companies that are using the power of social media to market products. Firms like Arik Air, South African Airways and most banks in Africa are starting to warm up to the idea of social media marketing. Captivating posts on social media easily become viral trends that shape culture. What better way to market a product than create a cultural seismic shift? Informal traders like Zimbabwe’s Ximex mobile phone traders have also started using social networks to market their various products under the name Ximex Online. They are only a part of so many other growing entities like 10ngah and Zimazon. These companies owe their success to Twimbos, as the cyber-socially active call themselves in Zimbabwe.
African social media has also helped in the movement towards a transparent continent as politicians and businesses alike are now more accessible than ever before. Facebook’s Head of Public Policy for Africa, Ebele Okobi used the Social Media Week in Nigeria to encourage Africans to hold politicians accountable. This is in effect ushering in a new dynamic that allows the ordinary citizen to get answers from leaders. Prior to the advent of social media, Africans did not have many opportunities to interact with their politicians but that is now a thing of the past. South Africa’s Julius Malema for one has over 800 000 followers and no less than 9500 posts on twitter. Though social media popularity seems to have no correlation with political popularity, platforms like Julius Malema’s twitter account can be used to start movements that call for change in the country. They help leaders stay relevant to the public by staying in touch with the real issues on the ground.
With so many more Africans gaining access to the internet, Africa is now moving from just using social networks to making them. The evolution of African social media started with the highly popular Mxit, which became an absolute sensation among Africans by striking the delicate balance between the structures of Facebook and Whatsapp. Yookos, built by the Christ Embassy church as a religious platform for the church’s pastor to interact freely with church members also adds to the list of African social networks that are made by Africans for Africans. With even more innovative networks like Motribe coming into the picture, Africa is no longer just conversing but starting to own its conversations.
The future is indeed bright for social media ventures and for the corporate industry that has even more chances to create the next cultural trend. With social media, business is becoming intertwined with culture and is more personal than ever. A hashtag on the internet can make or break a product in modern day Africa. Mr Japhet Omojuwa is a perfect example of why social media matters in Africa. Mr Omojuwa lost his iPad in an Arik Air plane in Lagos, Nigeria. He then started a social media campaign against the company’s poor service with the hashtag #Arikwhereismyipad. More customers came forward with their own stories of sub-standard service and what started as one disgruntled customer became a movement. Such is the influence of social media in modern day Africa. A personal post can easily become the heartbeat of the next big movement.
(Image Credit: For Harriet)