Before moving to London, I spent four years living in Nairobi, Kenya. A few years back, while getting ready for an anniversary weekend, I distinctly remember receiving a phone call from my boyfriend’s brother (who was in London) asking whether we were safe. Immediately confused, we started scanning the internet to see what happened. Minutes later twitter posts appeared about a terrorist attack at Westgate Mall. The date was September 21, 2013. At the time, it did not surprise me that Twitter had the news before anyone else. But looking back, I see it as a clear signal of the rising influence of social media throughout Africa, a trend that only continues to grow.
It would be a stretch to say Twitter is used by every Kenyan, or that Meru grandparents are posting regular pictures of their kids on Facebook. But since the first tweet was sent from Kenya in 2007 to receiving its own local feed in 2013, over 5 million tweets have been sent from the country. Twitter is the third largest social media platform in Kenya with Facebook dominating and Linkedin a far second. Over 4 million users in Kenya, (around 10% of the population), make Kenyan social media a force to be reckoned with. These online users represent urban populations with growing pocket books, and a thirst for information from around the Globe. Of course, Kenya is one of fifty four African nations with online chatter, and while social media has not penetrated all nations on the continent, the numbers continue to rise. So what does this emerging social media trend in Africa imply for the future of online marketing and communication? Here are a few interesting insights I picked up from the Kenyan market.
- Mobile is king. We hear this everywhere, but it is even more relevant in nations like Kenya where development has skipped the personal computer all together. I took a ten hour bus and forty five minute motorbike to visit my friend’s family in rural Kenya near Lake Victoria. While they had no electricity on their compounds, guess what, they had cell phones! The police station nearby had a shop where people could pay 20p to charge their phones. Ninety-nine percent of internet usage in Kenya comes from mobile devices. Personal Computers are too expensive, and electricity is too scarce. As CNN says, not only is Africa a mobile first continent, but it is a mobile only continent. This means mobile marketing is the way forward, and in markets like Kenya, think Facebook and Twitter communication. Not everyone has a smart phone, and Kenyans often access twitter and Facebook via SMS. Safaricom (the largest mobile provider in Kenya) answers immense amounts of customer service via Twitter. In these formats, online chat is available via SMS, a necessity in a country where not everyone can afford smart phones. Realizing this, Google recently started offering g-chat via SMS as well. Do not forget mobile money. Through Mpesa (a mobile product that allows people to pay for things via their mobile phone), Kenya has the largest usage of mobile money in the world. Since credit cards are limited to the extremely wealthy, Mpesa has allowed people around the country to gain access to financial institutions without formal bank accounts. Find a way to connect your products to mobile money, and you can sell to the masses.
- Market research is possible, and it must be taken with a grain of salt. With only around 10% of the population in Kenya, there are a lot of people missing from the online conversation. But those who are present are more likely to be your customers – the urban middle class youth. It is also important to note that these youth are incredibly influential on the wider population. But remember there is a huge gap with reference to the elderly, and the very poor, so if you are looking for information on them, social media may not be the best method.
- Cultural sensitivity is paramount. CNN found this out the hard way after talking about Obama’s visit to a ‘hotbed of terror’ ~ Nairobi. Nairobians responded with over 75,000 tweets in one day to the hashtag #SomeonetellCNN forcing a senior executive of CNN to fly to Nairobi and apologize. They still are in jeopardy of losing a marketing deal from the Kenya Tourism Board. This means whether you are selling products in Africa or not, be careful about stereotyping a continent, or making assumptions in your communications. People are not forgiving to being stereotyped, and are loyal to brands that show respect. Earn yourself the next generation of brand loyalists, and be smart about how you talk about different nations, there are several twitter wars going on between Uganda and Kenya, and people do not like being lumped in a bunch!
While I was there for the awful Westgate Attack, rather than deeming Nairobi as a hotbed of terror, I saw a nation willing to fight back and use Twitter to do it.
If you want to learn more about how social media is changing the world, come to the #PreCommerce summit in London and hear insights from world-class industry experts and leaders, in spaces from health and technology to government intelligence. The Summit will be a great platform to geek out about how social media helps us understand the world!