South Africa Dominates African Twitterverse

By Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large | @ChiefK.Masimba | April 14, 2014

Africa’s richest country, South Africa, dominated conversation on the social networking platform, Twitter, while football was the most discussed topic in the last quarter of 2013 according to a recent study.

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Google+ Google’s Golden Goose

By Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large | @ChiefKMasimba | February 17, 2014

Google Plus, the social networking and identity service operated by Google Inc, pales in significance compared to Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter but there’s more to it than meets the eye – all in favor of Google. Through Google+ (pronounced and sometimes written as Google Plus /ˈɡɡəl plʌs/) which has approximately 540 million monthly active users, Google harvests critical information about users’ online behavior.

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According to the New York Times, though Google+, which has 29 million unique monthly users on its website and 41 million on smartphones,  is not much of a competitor to Facebook, the platform is central to Google’s future because it provides a way to understand users’ digital lives. It’s a collection basket of user data, so to speak. Continue reading

Why Taming Social Media Makes Sense

By Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large | January 03, 2013 | @ChiefKMasimba

Social media, in its gazillion manifestations, is eating up one of the most precious resources that we have in our lives: time. I think social media tools are great, they’re making the world flatter thus facilitating a faster exchange of information and ideas. That’s the ideal. The reality is most users  wallow in social media spaces killing precious amounts of time which they could devote to other things to advance their lives.

The amount of time being wasted is growing dynamically in tandem with the rapid growth in hyper-connected, hand-held devices. Sadly there is no accountability for all these huge amounts of wasted time: call it an investment into a digital vacuum, a dark hole with no echo. If anything, most people act all busy frittering their lives away all in the name of wanting to stay connected to the world round them – all much ado about nothing.

Indeed we use social media platforms  for a number of things: production, marketing, leisure and connection. But the latter two dominate the space. This time-wasting is a real problem with terrible consequences for productivity at personal and national levels especially in countries that are experiencing widespread connectivity for the first time in the age of social networks. Use of social media for education or meaningful content creation is miniscule.

It’s not being anti-technology to say that people – especially young people – need to be more conscientious of how much time they spend on social platforms. Putting oneself on a social media diet is the best thing that you can ever do for yourself. Maybe it’s time for an application that measures the worth of social media engagement.

In our hyper-connected social media addicted universe, digital literacy is becoming critically important. Most of us dabble in the social media space without any jot of awareness of how much it takes away from our lives. Something that we can never redeem. By squandering time that we have in the present, we’ll never be able to unearth the opportunities that technology promises. It’s critical to give people, particularly young people, tools and know how to handle social media.

As Benjamin Franklin put it, lost time is never found again. Time is the coin of life and time is what our over-obsession with social media squanders with an insatiable ferocity.

A Question of Social Media Etiquette

By Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor-At-Large | January 01, 2013 | @ChiefKMasimba

Many a time I find myself thoroughly outraged by social media. My blood boils. I cringe, gritting my teeth. My frustration is not at the technology itself but the way some users post half-formed, uninformed, misogynistic, racist, homophobic, narcissistic, splenetic comments. Even if you try to comment, what I have realized is that many of these postings have little engagement value or quickly degenerate into rants.

To save myself, I breathe in and out – slowly. Thank God, social media’s ephemerality helps to calm my nerves.  I don’t mean to be censorious. It’s just that I find myself scouring the social web for discussions of value, spending precious amounts of time, to only come up with zilch. As a firm believer in freedom of expression, I am aware of the deep and sweeping vista of opportunity to free expression opened up by social media.

In fact, the power of social media has been evident in dislodging dictatorships and giving goose bumps to those cloistered in corridors of power. With social media information is moving at a faster pace making the world flatter. It’s a great connector. It has helped me to connect with friends and relatives, some of whom had fallen by the wayside.

Maybe social media’s global capacity to connect everyone is also its source of banality. As New York Times’ columnist, Frank Bruni, puts it, “it feels at times as if contemplation has given way to expectoration with speed overtaking sense and nuance exiting the equation.” He even suggests reading fiction as a counter to the rit-tat-tat nature of social media conversations.

Lack of civility and decorum in many social media conversations is certainly undermining the medium’s value as a connector, town crier or public square. Instead of serving the common good, social media has fast become a poster for a rapid succession of inconsequential conversations, escapism, pandering to the base and vulgar. At  worst, it provides a false sense of participation – a voyeuristic fetish – in causes that more often than not need foot soldiering.

Even the role of social media in the Arab spring was not merely in relentless postings and rants but in people taking to the streets to fight for a new political order, risking life and limb. Everything happens too quickly on social media, maybe a tad too quick for sensibility which is essential for engagement.

As long as its used a megaphone for self-centeredness, rants and diatribes, social media’s full potential will never see the light of day. That is why its important to have a sense of decorum next time you make a posting social media. A bit of etiquette on your part can help to build a social media universe that advances humanity.

How to Be A Social Media Superstar in 2014

By Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor-At-Large | December 30, 2013

Social media is not going away anytime soon whether you like it or not. It’s now the staple food of the Net, multiplying on a daily basis. While it’s virtually impossible to jump on every social media junket out there fact is you can ignore the phenomenon at your own peril especially if you’re in trying to reach huge volumes of people at the lowest cost possible.

The caveat though is with social media platforms getting clogged by the day, it’s becoming harder to be noticed or get your voice heard. To rise above the fray requires astuteness, creativity, hard work, playfulness, consistency and user sensitivity.

Ultimately, the content you produce is the currency that will define your success in the social media universe. Content is the lynchpin to cut through the noise. To help with framing your content, remember the principle of Five Ws and one H. But you need to add a B. to that, that is, short for budget.

That content needs to be on target and to the point. It does not magically come out of thin air, you need budget for it and devote time to producing it. Attention spans are short-lived in the social media space. Only highly-engaging, interesting, funny, thought-provoking content will attract audiences and provoke interaction with a brand, issue or cause. But it’s always to say it. Often times, sharing on social media is self-serving; after all, social media platforms tend to promote narcissism.

If you want to get more value out of the medium especially for marketing or promoting a cause, you’ll have to be adopt a more nuanced approach. You’ve to cut all the narcissistic crap and put your audience first: informative, engaging, and shareable content that is relevant to a user’s location will be a winner. Understanding user location will drive greater ROI in social media efforts. That’s why it’s important for your content to speak directly to a specific target audience.

“Understanding customers’ location patterns will help companies better predict the behavior of their users, thus a chance to market to them in the right place at the right time,” says Kevin Alansky, CMO at SocialRadar.

Micro videos have great engagement power if executed properly. People like video. But it has to tell a good story. Other visual tools such as images and infographics have potential to increase engagement.

Because of the ephemeral nature of social media, it’s important to adopt a constant and consistent strategy. This will help to build rapport with target audiences. Otherwise you risk becoming a victim of out of sight, out of mind. In the social media world, for you to matter, you’ve to keep showing up.  Real engagement takes time and attention on a daily basis. Most important, don’t forget to measure and report on your efforts: it’s what will tell you whether your are succeeding or not.

Social Media Not Everything for Zimbabwe’s Democracy

ImageA MONTH prior to the recently held elections in Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe’s social media space went through an upsurge of activity.  In fact, there was such a hullabaloo around social media with political, civic organisations and mostly Zimbabwean urbanites turning to the medium as if it were also casting votes.

Countless pages cropped up on Facebook focused on the Zimbabwean elections. Baba Jukwa, undoubtedly emerged as the poster child of Zimbabwe-elections related social media activity garnering over 300,000 followers within two months leading up to the plebiscite.

Political parties and civil society also jumped onto the social media bandwagon generating some conversation about their respective agendas. Much of the social media activity related to the Zimbabwean elections occurred within a month of the actual vote. So, in a way, many of the social media actors in Zimbabwe came too late to the table.

Without a doubt, the just-finished elections were the most watched since Zimbabwe won its independence from colonial rule in 1980. Social media played a significant in ensuring the flow of information and keep citizens aware.

However, a key lesson from the just ended elections is it is important not to overstate social media’s potential for transforming governance in Zimbabwe. While it is true that social media websites offer a low-cost and relatively low-risk way for citizens to engage in conversation about democratic governance, Zimbabwe’s technological infrastructure is not sufficiently developed to enable social media with a wide reach, enabling activists to mobilize a mass public.

From a technological standpoint, Zimbabwe is currently estimated to be five years behind other countries in the region. According to estimates, only around 4,1 million Zimbabweans mainly in urban areas or 30 percent of the population can claim they have some kind of internet access. Internet literacy is limited, as is web content that relates specifically to Zimbabwe. Despite a significant rise in the number of website that were established to focus on the elections, access is still limited.

Affordable access to communications networks is a basic requirement for the effective functioning of governance, civil society as well as for economic development.

Social media’s impact in that sense has been largely to expose the Zimbabwe electoral process to the outside world. Among Zimbabweans, social media has had an impact especially on urbanites and the diaspora. Lack of connectivity continues to hamper access to information for many people in rural areas.

In terms of implementation of social media, many of the political and civil society institutions came too late to the table. To make matters worse, efforts to mobilise voters especially were rather disjointed. There was somewhat a knee-jerk approach to the way that social media was utilized. Overall though, the Zimbabwe elections 2013 were by far the most hyper-connected. More youths could have been captured and encouraged to participate in the process if a more holistic approach had been employed.

Suffice to state that, there are about 1.1 million Zimbabweans on Facebook, with most accessing the platform via mobile internet which is still exorbitant.

With regards to content management, most of the social media activities were like shooting in the dark. Take, for example, no one knows how many Zimbabweans are on Twitter despite its huge potential. There was very little measurement of metrics to assist in determining messages to establish a conversation with the electorate. Instead, much of the social media activity was much like a conversation among the converted.

To emphasize, social media did bring a spotlight to the elections but mostly for the benefit of those in urban areas and outside Zimbabwe. Many of the young people still had to rely on traditional methods. There was a need in social media efforts to integrate online and offline efforts. This was certainly not the case. The process of involving more youth in the next electoral process via social media should begin now.

Mobile internet access is growing exponentially. In recent years, there has been significant growth in this sector. Nonetheless, in a country with exponential unemployment, the cost of hand-held devices and web access remains an obstacle to greater growth. The more an individual is income-less the more the probability to be excluded digitally. Digital poverty is more prevalent in rural areas where the majority of the population – approximately 62 per cent of the population – resides than in urban areas.

Many experts believe that democracy in the 21st century will increasingly depend on access to the Internet and technology. But in Zimbabwe, the potential of new technology to influence political governance in still a factor for the future trajectory of politics in the country.

In the future, the internet, and thus social media, is likely to play a greater role in Zimbabwe’s politics and culture. Zimbabwe is being connected to the undersea cable. Fiber-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.

What social media has shown in the Zimbabwean elections is that sometime in the not too distant future, social media tools like Facebook could facilitate spaces for people to openly express themselves in defiance of censorship, circumventing both state-owned and privately owned media. The tech-savvy younger generation could play a leading role.

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.