The social media revolution has produced arguably the most far reaching impact since the invention of the television as it has transformed human interactions in an unprecedented manner. Actually, its pervasive influence has left its fingerprints on every area of human endeavour. Over a billion people use social media worldwide with Facebook membership alone being 80 times the population of Zimbabwe.
Big corporates like Dell sold over US$3 billion worth of merchandise via Twitter in just a few months of joining the micro blogging site. Likewise, President Barack Obama's victories in the two elections are attributed to his effective use of social media channels. Tonnes more of other success stories exist that showcase the potency of social media as a business enabler.
It is an intriguing paradox then that social media has received a cold reception by Zimbabwean companies despite the irrefutable evidence of its efficacy in facilitating the achievement of set goals.
The answer to that aberration is exposed by the ubiquitous feedback I received when I was invited by the Marketers Association of Zimbabwe to speak at their fourth annual convention on social media and business. The marketers' verdict was that the country is not yet ready for social media but I beg to differ. Zimbabwe has been ready for social media since time immemorial and here is the proof.
Social media is all about people having conversations and less about technology even though the latter is an important factor in the mix. People didn't start to chat or share pictures because Facebook or Twitter came along. Communication is as old as humanity itself. Even word of mouth marketing, the cornerstone of social media marketing, has always been utilised long before Mark Zuckerberg dreamt of Facebook.
My point then is, if social media marketing involves leveraging these online conversations to create brand awareness, facilitate customer engagement and widen the market penetration of a product or service then Zimbabwe in more than ready. Statistics exonerate my assertion.
According to one leading speaker at the just ended Mobile Web Africa 2012 conference that was held in South Africa, Zimbabwe has over two million active users who access the internet via their mobile phones. Additionally, Opera Mini, the most widely used mobile internet browser in the world, disclosed in their latest research that Zimbabwe has over 195 percent growth rate in mobile internet usage.
The Opera Mini research also shows that social networking is the leading online activity with Facebook, Twitter and Eskimi being the most popular social media sites in the country.
Given that operators like Econet are now extensively rolling out mobile internet services at a fast rate, it becomes apparent that the number of people with access to the internet is set to increase exponentially thus allowing the growth of the social media audience. This then invalidates the claim that the country is not ready for social media.
Additionally, it is important to note that users of social networking sites also share their online experiences with their offline communities. Therefore, if there are about two million users in the country who engage with a brand online and get to share information with an average of about 3 of their colleagues who are offline, it means that about 6 million people get to know about what a company is offering.
The sharing cycle is then extended further and further beyond the original people who first viewed it without the company's intervention. This is the concept of virality of content.
It is a scandalous paradox that the country has such a high usage of social media but the businesses that would benefit the most from it are not aware of these facts and figures. Could it be that the reason lies in the lack of knowledge on how to utilise social media for business?
If that is the case then it is high time companies invested in the training of their staff to enable them to be social media savvy. There are a lot of workshops that offer short courses in social media marketing. The gains that businesses can enjoy from having personnel that is social media literate provide a compelling return on the investment.
The other reason might be ignorance of these self-same gains that social media brings to an organisation or business. I shall proceed to explore these.
However, I must quickly point out that many people mistakenly assume that social media simply denotes Facebook. This is far from the truth. Facebook is merely one type of social media channel classified under social networking sites. Several other types are in existence and this includes sites for video sharing, picture sharing, blogging, online reputation management and micro blogging, to mention but a few. The trick is to find out which social media channel best matches the industry in which a particular company falls under and the platform on which most of its customers spend their time. This way, the company or organisation can derive maximum benefits from its social media campaigns.
Social media can be used to build brand awareness at a fraction of the cost compared to other traditional channels.
Finally, for most companies, the goal of marketing is to build brand awareness and positive perception to help sell a product or service. More and more companies are harnessing social media to generate leads and establish a sales channel. It is worth noting that companies or organisations that do not have a vibrant presence on social media channels are actually doing themselves a great disservice. Social media is not a passing fad but a living reality that marketers in general and senior management in particular should learn to utilise.