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.

Zimbabwe Mobile Telephony’s Scope Of Growth

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

ZIMBABWE’S mobile phone industry has been projected to reach 13,5 million subscribers in 2015 and worth a phenomenal US 1,34 billion by 2016, according to IE Market Research (IEMR) and the growth partnership company Frost & Sullivan (F&S), respectively. Projections are that Zimbabwe will have universal mobile connection by 2014, and with demand for voice services increasingly met, future growth is predicted to occur around data, mobile internet and broadband provision.

Currently, the mobile penetration rate is 54 percent, while the internet penetration rate stands at 14 percent. According to statistics, Zimbabwean mobile communications market earned a total of $372,2-million in 2009.

F & S reports that the mobile market in the country will experience a compound annual growth rate of 20,1%, considerably lower than the 40,6% revenue growth experienced from 2008 to 2009. The company’s forecast report titled “An Overview of Zimbabwe’s Vibrant Telecommunications Market” says that subscriber numbers in Zimbabwe trebled from early 2009 to mid-2010, whereas fixed-line subscriptions remained stagnant. Mobile subscriber numbers jumped from less than two million at the end of 2008 to 6.9-million in mid-2010.

“With demand for voice services increasingly met, future growth is predicted to occur around mobile internet and broadband provision. Both mobile operators and internet access providers will benefit from this second wave of growth,” states the Frost & Sullivan report.

According to IEMR’s five-year Mobile Operator Forecast on Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe’s largest mobile operator, Econet Wireless is expected to take 70 percent of the market share.

“I think the company that will emerge the winner is the one pouring money into infrastructure right now, Econet Wireless. New entrants will obviously have a hard time penetrating as they will face some resistance from the incumbents,” said Limbikani Soul Makani, Zimbabwe’s leading technology blogger. “Interconnection, for example, hasn’t been a walk in the park for Internet Access Providers wanting to introduce voice services. Small entrants are therefore facing delays while the incumbents grow their networks even bigger.”

Zimbabwe, which is projected to be at least five years behind technologically, is currently undergoing an expansion of its technological infrastructure which will – all things being equal – see the country universally connected by 2014.

The country’s decade-long political and economic fallout coupled with international isolation clearly resulted in little to no investment in the technological sector. The Global Information Technology Report 2007-08 ranked Zimbabwe in 125th position on the Networked Readiness Index (NRI), out of 127 countries surveyed by the World Economic Forum.

With the political system still in somewhat of a limbo, there are fears that the projected growth in the mobile telephone sector will be inhibited.

The impact of politics on mobile telephony in Zimbabwe is without a doubt. Take for example, the country’s mobile penetration rate rose from 9 to 56 percent since the inception of the inclusive government in September 2008.

When incumbent President Robert Mugabe signed a power sharing agreement with arch-rival Morgan Tsvangirai, and Arthur Mutambara two years ago, hyperinflation was estimated at 6,5 quindecillion novemdecillion percent, or 6,5 followed by 107 zeros. Violent elections in which President Mugabe was declared the winner result in Zimbabwe being ostracized at international level, stemming the transfer of technology into the country among other things.

According to Information, Communications and Technology Minister, Nelson Chamisa the country is making strides in the technology sector and is looking at actively taking information technology to rural communities. Further, ICT products can now be imported into the country free of duty.

Recently the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) completed the installations of the optic fibre cable that now links the state owned fixed operator to the East African Submarine System (EASSy) undersea cable through Mozambique. This is expected to significantly increase Internet and other communication connectivity speeds. The fibre, covering a distance of about 280km, is the first phase of the planned national backbone rollout.

A combination of growth in mobile telephony, installation of the fibre optic projects and increased use of data services are likely to result in a boom in the technology sector.

Mobile telephony is likely to stimulate a host to innovations in the country. In effect, experts say that an increase of 10 mobile phones per 100 people typically boosts gross domestic product (GDP) by 0,6 percent per annum in developing nations.

There is no doubt that technology will play a vital role in Zimbabwe’s political, social and economic recovery, and the mobile phone will feature prominently in that trajectory.

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

101 for Campaigning for Human Rights in Africa

WHAT does it mean to campaign for internationally recognized human rights in sub Saharan which is chock-filled with rampant human violations? Does it mean that because governments in the region violate human rights willy-nilly, there should be no concerted effort to engage in a campaign for their recognition.

It is not enough to feel outrage when we learn of the number of children exploited sexually or at work, of refugees or of those suffering from hunger. We must react, each one of us to the best of our abilities. It is not just a matter of looking at what government is doing – Federico Mayor, former UNESCO Director-General

Human rights are often misunderstood and can sometimes be seen as abstract ideals with not much practical relevance for real people. And there is no doubt that the rampant abuse of human rights in Africa only serves to worsen the inequalities and vulnerabilities of individuals and communities.

The promotion of social justice and the culture of peace in Africa is of paramount importance but doing the job can be quite a risky business. And, of course, not so many people are willing to put their lives on the line. It’s understandable.

There are many stories of people who have disappeared in the night never to be seen again, of daylight murders, of state impunity that fill the majority of the citizens of the continent with terror. Continue reading

Beauty of citizen journalism

As a citizen journalist I don’t have to peddle to the economic, ideological or political interests of the proprietors of the enterprise. My primary obligation is to tell the story like it is: that is, to be honest to the truth of the matter.

I believe in the fundamental human right to express myself, but I also strive to be fully accountable and responsible for the way that I express myself. Therefore, I make sure that I put a lot of work into background research and analysis into my work; and always try to look for the untold stories and marginalized voices within the community. With care and excellence, I tell the story to the world, using new technologies, in the process, expanding the scope of what it means to be a citizen.

Obviously, I am aware that truth is negotiable, and arriving at it can be as complicated as trying to walk through a labyrinth. But the shape of the truth always changes depending on the pedestal on which you are located – a pedestal may be coloured by race, culture, sex, class, etc. Overall, mainstream media institutions usually have pre-defined notions of objectivity; therefore they miss telling the story or ignore stories because they are not interesting enough for their pre-conceived readerships.

As a citizen journalist, I feel I do not have many layers of pedestals that I have to think through to present the truth. In other words, I am not aligned to any political, ideological or economic interests that define my perspective. Neither am I constrained by any hegemonic views that dominate today’s media or society. I always make conscious effort that my work does not promote the empowerment of certain values to the submersion of others.

The technology that allows for this to happen is critical, and must always undergo transformation to enhance the level and quality of conversation. But equally important are the people that utilize the technology with integrity, passion, and a willingness to share and engage in expanding the scope of what it means to be a citizen.

I guess the experience of living in a context where freedom of both expression and the press is restricted to the political and economic elite makes me highly appreciate the concept of citizen journalism. The citizen’s ability to express themselves is the single, most important defining element of a functional democracy. Today’s virtual world offers me a chance to exercise that freedom like never before in the history of human beings.

Suffice to state that when a citizen is denied the right to express themselves for political, economic, ideological, race, class or any other reason, the democratic project begins a cancerous march toward collapse. In many societies, violence and civil war is a direct offshoot of a repression of citizens’ voices.

However, a citizen’s right to express themselves also comes with a responsibility to the rest of society. Given the fact that a citizen does not exist as an island in a vacuum, they have an obligation to express themselves in a way that does not jeopardize society. This is not to mean that they must sacrifice the truth.

Where the truth may jeopardise a given society, it’s better to have it in the open rather than sweep it under the carpet where it will gain venomous powers. Simply said, citizen journalism gives me both power and responsibilities, which help me to define and construct my sense of citizenship. However, my sense of citizenship has been broadened because I am not really confined by the physical, political, legal and economic boundaries that the powers-that-be use to restrain freedom of expression in the physical space.

Furthermore, I am free of the dominant ideology in my society. In my writing, I seek the views that spontaneously express themselves but receive little attention from the mainstream media. These are usually the things that happen around me and my community, and the world at large. They maybe commonplace yet they play a critical role in helping me to gain a sense of identity as a citizen of a new world.

Therefore, new information tools not only provide alternative channels of communication, but also open channels to engage in open and frank discussions that promote a new sense of identity and citizenship.

So for me, citizen journalism is all about people joining a dialogue and sharing with the rest of the world about what it means to be a citizen in a world that in many ways seeks to restrict the inalienable human right of freedom of expression.