Why The Future of African Business is Social

SBA Co-founders alae ismail and kiran yoliswa 

SBA Co-founders alae ismail and kiran yoliswa 

“Mobile is the future of Africa.” explained Briant Biggs, Roc Nation’s Head of Digital to us in Lagos last month on why their entry strategy into Africa has to be mobile first. The marketing and monetisation of the music industry is being revolutionised globally by mobile strategy- from Beyonce’s epic surprise drop of the ‘Beyonce’ album with a single Instagram post that really did nearly break the internet, to Jay Z pre-releasing his album through Samsung’s mobile app.

So the fact that Roc Nation have turned their eyes to Africa, where mobile internet use is growing at double the rate of growth than the rest of the world, is unsurprising, nor are they the only ones. 

We spent the last two weeks of February in Nigeria for the Lagos edition of Social Media Week- the first African city to host the global new media franchise. As the largest tech, new media business conference in Africa, SMW Lagos is aiming to be the digital epicentre of Africa, or Africa’s SXSW. What it is, is the most exciting place to have this conversation in the world right now where mobile media is allowing companies in Africa to leapfrog to the edge of industry innovation.  

Driving this growth is social media. People are buying mobile data so that they can connect with friends on Facebook, browse newsfeeds on Twitter, watch DBanj’s latest video on Youtube, and Whatsapp selfies to their latest squeeze. Nigeria alone is estimated to have over 50 million internet users, and that’s at only 30% internet penetration. Without social media Styled By Africa wouldn’t exist. As a start up with literally no marketing budget, we’ve relied on it to grow a community of readers and customers for our online boutique of African brands. For us and anyone doing any kind of business in Africa, a solid social media strategy is getting even more important as each day passes.

social media week panelists

social media week panelists

African Brands Go Digital

SMW Lagos showed that more African brands recognise just how central digital is to their business, using social media to increase their customer base, manage their reputation within the community and lead the conversation about their industry. Nigerian oil & gas company Oando are visibly trying to embrace innovative digital media strategies to carve out thought leader market share from the international brands also playing locally such as BP and Chevron. Nigerian airline Arik Air regularly give away flights and air miles on their Instagram page, as well as posting inspirational travel images around the region to highlight the competitive advantage over international players of their inter-Africa connectivity. Even former CEO of Ecobank, Arnold Ekpe, who over 25 years turned the bank into the pan-African institution it is today, told the audience of Africa 2.0’s ‘Start Up Africa London’ event in September 2014 that if he was starting out again today he would build an entirely digital only bank.

At the SMW Lagos Beat FM music day Nigerian rapper M.I confessed that it was easier to make money from Youtube, although he still prioritises releasing his music on regional TV platforms such as Sound City and MTV Base Africa because they have a better effect on his overall brand. He did add however that “At some point all our content will probably come from mobile and we’ll just flick it to our TV screens so it’s bigger. The screens will be interchangeable but the source will be mobile.”  

Incoming Internationals  

The socially savvy international brands are also embracing social media to penetrate new markets. With Africa’s largest population and economy, Nigeria is the prime target market for a growing number of international brands that are looking for new growth markets. Facebook’s Head of Public Policy for Africa, Ebele Okobi, used SMWLagos to encourage people to use Facebook to help build their political career or on the flipside, to help hold politicians accountable. According to General Manager of Uber Lagos, Ebi Atawodi, Uber doesn’t pay for any traditional advertising instead relying entirely on social media for their marketing efforts to connect to potential travellers.

SBA Co-Founders with mtv base africa presenter stephanie coker

SBA Co-Founders with mtv base africa presenter stephanie coker

Everyone’s a Celebrity

It’s not just about the big corporates, individuals are using social media to build personal brands to help them get jobs or to win fans. More African CEOs and executives are becoming visible on social media, particularly Twitter, which makes networking your way into an opportunity easier than ever. In the creative industries, musicians and actresses are building huge social media followings that make it easier to monetise their work. Yagazie Emezi has leveraged her 38.9k Instagram followers to become a ‘visual curator’ for brands like UBA Bank and Lagos Fashion and Design Week. Journalist Tolu Ogunlesi has amassed a Twitter following of over 108k readers to tweet his articles to. In the run up to Nigeria’s presidential elections, even President Goodluck Jonathan has conceded to the power of social media, appointing Obi Asika (Co-Founder of Social Media Week Lagos) as Senior Special Assistant to the President on Social Media, the first appointment at cabinet level in Africa for the sector.

 

Getting Online

The future may be online, but accessing it is still harder than it should be. The irony of the fact that we couldn’t get wifi for longer than a couple of minutes at a time at a social media conference would have been amusing if it wasn’t so frustrating. Turns out the Lagosians didn’t seem to mind as most of them roll with the small mobile routers that they use at home which they pop in their handbag while on the go. It was these people that we were begging for 5 minutes of internet so we could upload to Instagram, hoping they would get distracted for an extra minute and we could scroll fiendishly until they noticed and quickly shut off our wifi crack supply.

Although data is still expensive and tricky to access, the power players that we spoke to are perfecting their social game now so that they are ready to reap the long term benefits in the years to come. At some point this market too will saturate and it will be harder and harder to stand out from the crowd once Africa’s one billion people are all online. More people are purchasing smart phones and companies are competing to be first to open up 4G broadband access to the continent. Even our taxi driver had a better smartphone than me, showing off family photos on the latest Samsung smartphone while I trailed shamefully behind with my iPhone “not even a 6” 4.

Nigerian hustle in action- lekki/ikoyi bridge

Nigerian hustle in action- lekki/ikoyi bridge

The energy we felt at the conference was the same all over Lagos- an overwhelming sense that we’re riding an historical wave of opportunity.  Obi Asika recalled a time to us when previous governments in Nigeria controlled everything, including freedom of speech, and worries about a return to such a time. If you’ve ever been out to dinner with a group of Nigerians, you know how loud things can get when they have something to say. With millions more turning to social media to raise those voices, we can’t imagine they could turn back now.

Thank you to Arik Air for sponsoring our trip to SMWLagos. Arik fly direct from London to Lagos daily. 

Author: @KiranYoliswa Co-Founder SBA