Redesigning Journalism in the Digital Age

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large | @ChiefKMasimba | February 20, 2014

Journalism in the digital age is increasingly about helping audiences filter through the gazillions of content being produced on a daily basis through high quality, interactive and engaging storytelling. Thanks to technology, journalism is being reshaped, and stories are being told with greater innovation.

Continue reading

Why Zimbabwean Businesses Need A Social Face

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha | iZivisoMag.com

It’s unfortunate that in this day and age most Zimbabwean businesses are still relucntant to embrace the opportunities provided by the digital age. The reluctance to embrace change in the digital era only means that local businesses will continue to be relegated to the dustbin of history. According to a recent Ernst & Young report, Into the Cloud, Out of the Fog, 64 percent of surveyed business respondents in Zimbabwe have implemented limited or no access to social media sites as a control to mitigate risks related to the platforms. The global average is apparently 54 percent. While on the surface of it, it may appear that social media causes time wasting among employees it is unfortunate to have such a negative approach to its use within business.

Social media integration into business can indeed contribute to the bottomline if implemented properly – if anything, it can help business to stay in touch with their target audiences and customers. Executives must embrace new media in order to not only compete for the future, but for mind share, market share, and ultimately relevance.

Corporate entities in Zimbabwe need to recognise that social media is a goldmine that can facilitate the achievement of key business objectives. With over a billion people on social media it’s irresponsible for any brand not to have some sort of presence. Now is the time for brands to engage on a direct-to-many basis. Social media is changing everything about the way people relate socially, in commerce, and politics.

An effective social media strategy is more than just setting up a Twitter, YouTube and Facebook account – in other words, it’s more than just broadcasting advertising messages to accumulated fans. Social channels need to be treated as integral part of the communication process.

In particur, social media channels need to be used to humanize brands and/or businesses. Such channels – if used properly – can help to build stronger emotional connections with brands. The key for any successful social media campaign is to generate more and deeper involvement with the product or service. Social media can give voice, credibility, and connections to both companies an their customers.

For starters, Zimbabwean corporates need to identify great conversations about their brands, it all starts with conversation – the kind of conversations that engage, enthrall and enrapture audiences as well as influence the emotional connection and subsequently sales. Of course, social media is not a cure for bad products or services but it can sure help in eliciting rapid customer feedback.

Social media allows us to open up an invaluable dialogue with customers in a way that was simply not possible previously. It’s important to state that the execution of social media within the corporate set-up needs to prioritise substance over cheap thrills and style. While putting the brand in the middle of a conversation is key, it’s even more critical to be real and authentic.

For corporates, especially those involved in the publishing business, engaging audiences is an essential part of their continued success and relevance in an ever-connected universe. As people continue to turn to the Internet for information, businesses that continue to stick to the old ways of engagement will soon find themselves in the cold.

Are Social Network Followers A Mere Fallacy?

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Because social networks are largely fickle, it’s very difficult to tell how much influence you have on people that like or follow your postings.

Having loads of followers on Twitter or Facebook or any other social network does not automatically translate to high levels of influence, according to a new research titled, “Measuring User In?uence in Twitter: The Million Follower Fallacy.”

Just like individuals, businesses and non-profit organizations across the world have jumped onto the social media bandwagon all with the aim of influencing in an already information overloaded universe. According to the study, influence is not gained spontaneously or accidentally, but through concerted effort such as limiting tweets to a single topic.

This is poignant: what this means is that rapid updating of content on social networks does not always translate to influence. Often times such postings go unnoticed and make little to no impact. Posting links after links is as spammy as sending emails after emails for link exchange. Social media is about engagement, just like we do in real life.

Another thought is that social media ought to be fun, and thereby evolve organically. However when you wan to add value or when your intention is to seek to influence than you have to be aware of the challenges associated with using social media.

The conversational or content-driven strategies in Twitter, Facebook and other social networks are not enough in creating influence. According to the research, there are three interpersonal ways that Twitter can be used to influence, and these include: a) users interact by following updates of people who post interesting; b) users can pass along interesting pieces of information to their followers, an action known as retweeting; and c) users can respond to (or comment on) other people’s
tweets.

The research states that in order to gain and maintain influence, users need to keep great personal involvement. As social media guru, Brian Solis notes, the path to engagement is strenuous, uncharted, and anything but easy.

“Everything begins with understanding the magnitude of the gap and what it is that people want, are missing or could benefit from in order to bring both ends toward the middle. No matter how hard we try, we just can’t build a customer-centric organization if we do not know what it is people value,” says Solis.

” Social media are your keys to unlocking the 5I’s of engagement to develop more informed and meaningful programs: 1. Intelligence – Learn about needs, wants, values, challenges; 2. Insight – Find the “aha’s” to identify gaps; 3. Ideation – Inspire new ideas for engagement, communication, new products/services, change; 4. Interaction – Engage…don’t just publish, bring your mission to life; 5. Influence – Influence behavior and in the process, become an influencer,” he adds.

According to Solis, social media doesn’t have to be void of “fun”; it must offer value and usefulness to be successful.

Zimbabwe’s Newspapers Shortchange Readers

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

SINCE June last year, Zimbabwe’s print media sector has experienced significant growth but how much of this growth is benefiting citizens’ right to information remains in doubt. Among the independently-owned daily newspapers registered and operating since 2010 up to date include: NewsDay, Daily News and The Mail. This bring to seven daily newspapers published in Zimbabwe including the two state-owned dailies, The Herald and The Chronicle and tabloids H-Metro and B-Metro.

Add to this a batch of weeklies including The Sunday Mail, The Zimbabwe Independent, The Standard, The ZimbabweanThe Worker, The Zimbabwean on Sunday, The Financial Gazette, The Manica Post and The Patriot among others.

In fact, according to media analysts, the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC), a government body responsible for media registrations, licensed a total of 22 publications but it’s telling that no broadcasting license has been issued as the same time.

However, the state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation remains the sole broadcaster in the country and its coverage is largely in favour of President Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party.  There is also a flurry of South African-based newspapers that are encroaching into the Zimbabwean market including The Sunday Times, Mail & Guardian and Business Day. At the same time, several Zimbabwe-focused online newspapers have emerged during the past ten years. Examples of online news platform include http://www.NewZimbabwe.com, http://www.ZimDaily.com; http://www.ZimEye.org; http://www.ZimOnline.co.za; http://www.ZWnews.com among others.

“The arrival of new players is refreshing but whether they are contributing to the public sphere is another matter. However, there’s an opportunity for more voices and opinions to be heard, but whether this is happening is another issue altogether,” said Eernest Mudzengi, Executive Direction at the Media Centre in Zimbabwe.

Suffice to state that while there’s a semblance of diversity in the print media sector, a critical analysis shows that the newspapers are not really serving the information needs of audiences. The coverage of issues in the newspapers is highly predictable.

“It has become very easy to predict what appears in most newspapers without reading the whole paper – save for sports pages, which actually give the best coverage despite the fact that most disciplines are not widely covered,” said Leonard Kari, an avid newspaper reader.

“On the first page of most of our newspapers we have not seen much diversity in terms of coverage. It largely more of the same. We need from the new papers a preferring of alternatives from the same-old polarised politics,” said Mudzengi, adding that much of the reportage in the local newspapers lacked exuberance and vibrancy. “There is a continuation of polarisation in the media. We need more media debate around political issues and key processes such as constitution-making in the country. We need more in terms of analysis because some of the stories especially on the first pages are predictable.”

Mudzengi said that it was not enough to only license newspapers because the most effective medium to reaching out to Zimbabweans was radio. He cautioned that the registration of the newspapers could be a cosmetic reform, and that the newspapers had to be vigilant in their coverage of issues.

Most of the newspapers merely mirror the polarized nature of Zimbabwe’s political arena which is dominated by ZANU PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) at the expense of telling compelling stories that are of relevance to the lives and livelihoods of Zimbabweans.

Government-owned papers have exploited their hitherto dominance on the market to act as cheerleaders for Mugabe, 87, and to denigrate Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai, according to a report on Zimbabwe’s new print media in the Global Post. On the other hand, the independently-owned media have a coverage stance to criticize President Mugabe and ZANU PF.

Further, experts and sources quoted in the newspapers are quite predictable. It appears that the newspapers lack ambition to expand the circle of the so-called experts that comment on issues of national relevance.

To make matters worse, the distribution of newspaper products in Zimbabwe is largely urban-centric. The majority of the population – approximately 70 percent of the population – are effectively left out. According to Dr. Ibbo Mandaza, a former newspaper publisher, 80 percent of the newspaper sales take place in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city. It is not surprising that the voices of rural folk are marginalized in newspaper reports. To state it bluntly, the rural folk are a missing voice in the new print media in Zimbabwe. One hardly gets to hear what is happening in Zimbabwe’s rural areas in the new print media.

Mandaza noted that the cost of many of the newspapers which range form US fifty cents to two dollar were still beyond the reach of many Zimbabweans. While there is batch of newspapers now the Zimbabwean market, advertising – the mainstay of newspapers – is very low in most of the publications raising questions about the sustainability of the enterprises.

“The arrival of new newspapers was long overdue but its too early to tell whether the papers will proffer and alternative and whether they will be financially viable. What is happening in Zimbabwe is not new – it happened in Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania but it’s to early to tell,” said Mandaza. “It’s hard to believe that many of the newspapers will survive beyond a year. The newspaper are limited in terms of reach and spread. The print media is limited in terms of its impact nationally.”

Mandaza said that there was a failure by the new print media to understand the reader. He added that in terms of technical capacity, the government-owned newspapers were far stronger that the new newspapers.

According to Kari, many voices are being left out in the national conversation.

“Many voices are left out in the national political dialogue and many voices have been silenced and have died a silent death. There are very few development stories which one can glean from our publications. Headlines are obsessed with politics yet very few people are benefitting from this kind of news coverage,” said Kari.

Kari suggested that local newspapers should revisit their mandate which is to inform, educate and entertain while ensuring a plurality of voices and a diversity of issues covered in order to influence a new conversation in the country.

Social Media Not All That Hot In Zimbabwe

By Chief K. Masimba| AfroFutures.com Global Editor At Large

IN the wake of the political protests in North Africa, Vikas Mavhudzi made history by becoming Zimbabwe’s first “Facebook arrest”. He had posted a comment on Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangierai’s Facebook page on February 13. It read: “I am overwhelmed, I don’t want to say Mr. or PM what happened in Egypt is sending shockwaves to dictators around the world. No weapon but unity of purpose worth emulating, hey.”

A Facebook user told the police about the comment. Officers found the comment on Mavhudzi’s mobile phone, which he had used to post the message, and arrested him. He was accused of “advocating or attempting to take-over government by unconstitutional means”. Mavhudzi was incarcerated and a court case was filed against him. He is currently out on bail, after being held for over 35 days. The government’s response shows that it is taking no chances on social networking sites.

Social networking websites obviously fuelled the political protests inNorth Africa and other Arab states. As a result, oppressive governments have become suspicious of new media technology. At the same time, experts say that that democracy will increasingly depend on access to the Internet and technology in the 21st century.

In Zimbabwe and other African countries, however, one should not overstate social websites’ potential for transforming governance. While it is true that they offer a low-cost and relatively low-risk way to engage in protest, Zimbabwe’s technological infrastructure is not sufficiently developed to make web-based expressions of dissent reach many people. According to the World Bank, only around 1.5 million Zimbabweans – 12% of the people – have some kind of internet access. Internet literacy is underdeveloped, and there is not much web content that relates specifically to Zimbabwe.

Access to the net, moreover, is largely urban-based. Most people in the cities, however, can only use computers at their workplace, which obviously restricts their scope for independent action. In terms of technology, Zimbabwe is currently estimated to be five years behind other countries in the region. The main reason is the lack of investments in technology in the past 10 years.

Too slow

Mobile internet access, however, is beginning to make a difference. In recent months, there has been exponential growth in this field. Over 600,000 people can access the web via their mobile phones now, and their number is growing daily. Nonetheless, the cost of hand-held devices and web access remains a limiting factor. Moreover, internet connections tend to be too slow to support video or podcast streams.

The internet is likely to play a greater role in the future. Zimbabwe is being connected to the undersea cable. Fibre-optic infrastructure is being set up across the country. It is expected that the nation will have ubiquitous connectivity and low-cost access to data by 2014. New opportunities are thus likely to arise, in terms of both business and politics.

The most popular website among Zimbabweans is Facebook. Sometime in the not too distant future, this sort of social media tool could facilitate spaces for people to openly express themselves in defiance of censorship, circumventing both state-owned and privately-owned media. The tech-savvy young generation could play a leading role.

But we are not there yet. At the moment, Zimbabwe’s technological infrastructure does not facilitate social media with a wide reach, enabling activists to mobilise a mass public. So far, the internet poses no real challenge to the status quo. It has not changed habits and patterns of news consumption and information sharing. Basically, the government still controls what information people get.

History of suppression

Zimbabwe’s government has a track record of suppressing dissent. It is likely to pass laws to allow it to cut off communication services. The arrest of Mavhudzi not only showed that the government is prepared to quash dissent on social networks; it also proved that technologies like the internet and mobile phones are useful for spying.

Governments can interfere with websites and e-mails. They even possess the power to switch off the internet, as was briefly done in Egypt before the old regime fell. The New York Times reported that governments in North Africa used communications technology to track down activists. It stated that Facebook accounts were hacked in Tunisia and that Egyptian authorities used technology that turned mobile phones into furtive listening devices.

A crucial issue for democratic change is whether people dare to speak up. In Zimbabwe, fear is quite common, however. People may shy from using social media for protest purposes because they think they may be under surveillance. The memory of brutal violence during the various election campaigns of 2008  is still very much alive. Unless such fears are overcome, there will be no democratic change. In Egypt, the people had to brave tanks and guns in Tahrir Square to topple their dictator, and that was certainly not an exercise in virtual reality.

To complicate matters in Zimbabwe, leaders in the pro-democracy movement have not always been adept at providing clear positions and leadership. Tsvangirai promised democratic change when he was running against President Robert Mugabe in 2008. Mugabe only prevailed in office because he unleashed unprecedented violence, and afterwards an odd coalition of the  adversaries was formed, brokered by other African leaders. It is not a good omen that Mavhudzi ran into trouble because he posted a message on Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s Facebook page.  This is, after all, the leader who says he is the alternative to the autocrat.

The internet and social network sites will not suffice to bring real democracy to Zimbabwe. Active citizens are necessary to achieve that goal. The opportunities for using up-to-date communications technology are likely to improve in Zimbabwe, and they are likely to give some scope to activists. But unless there are courageous people to grasp such opportunities, things will not change.

How to Communicate In A Crowded Universe

IMAGINE how many unwanted messages you receive in your inbox each day; messages that you simply trash away without bothering to check. Yet some person at the other end of the chain is pampering themselves that they have done their job to communicate whatever it is they have at hand, so to speak. Is the golden age promised by the Internet for communicators over? Continue reading

Communicating One Message At A Time

In an information cluttered world, it is increasingly clear that communicating value-propositions of any kind, whether in the profit or not-for-profit world has become a difficult challenge. This has been compounded by the emergence of a wide array of communication channels in recent years. It is not far-fetched to say that the digital revolution has totally changed the way to conduct communications. The traditional model of neatly packaging communication and dispatching it, expecting it to have a silver bullet effect no longer works.

Companies need to think in a multi-channel fashion when putting together communication strategies to ensure consistency and effective communication. Cross media management is indeed the in thing – and companies that ignore this reality only diminish the impact of their messaging and communication effort. Organizations need to create a unified message across different platforms to significantly influence perceptions.

It is essential identify, anticipate, and satisfy client’s content needs and customize it across the different mediums without compromising both the quality and the consistency of the key messaging. Continue reading