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A reflection on social media and its impact on Nigeria

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Obi Asika PHOTO: Kene Nwatu

Obi Asika PHOTO: Kene Nwatu

When I was asked to write this piece I actually took a step back to reflect on the nature and power of social media, of how the world has changed and how we have all had to adapt to this new phenomenon. The truth is nobody could have predicted the pervasive nature of social media or the latent desire within all humans to share and like content. I still recall as a teenager being amazed the first time my father showed me a fax machine and what happened when he sent a fax from London to Tokyo, receiving a confirmed receipt within a few seconds. I still recall getting my first email address twenty years ago and then the era of dial up and waiting for some terrible internet connection. At no time did I think any of those actions were social, but oh, how I was so wrong.

Today we hardly make calls and have all types of incredible platforms that enable all sorts of things from the mundane to the amazing. I mean who can imagine a world without Google or Wikipedia? But as a Nigerian can you imagine telling your parents that you were abandoning your post-graduate studies to be an entrepreneur and your focus was something called search. We all know the answer would have been not just a shriek and call for prayers for this madness that had afflicted you, but also this might have been followed up by a hot slap for daring to disgrace the family name by even suggesting dropping out of school. By culture and by nature, Nigerians were raised to conform, to follow authority, tradition, family and respect. Growing up, most Nigerians had no voice when elders were speaking. After all, what did they know about life? I remain convinced that some of this culture has held back some of our best minds from disrupting society, from breaking convention because of an invisible hand holding them back. The great fortunes are built on either great crime or incredible innovation. In Nigeria I know we have many great minds and as we begin to embrace our truly disruptive nature and find our own natural culture, I am confident we will produce many more of our own success stories who will enable our people and our environment in many positive ways.

Social Media has changed so much about Nigeria and for those who understand social media and how to use it, their audiences and relevance have grown exponentially. This has happened across all segments of society and levels of engagement. As in all countries the news on Nigerian social media is driven primarily by Sports and Music, because those are the main two areas that engage people globally. However, it appears that Nigerians are viral by disposition. The first signs of this were in the early CNN days, when on any call-in show anywhere in the world, there would be a Nigerian calling in making his point. Those were the early indicators of the size and power of our diaspora. Today our diaspora is enormously powerful and influential and is now the largest source of our Forex, in fact remittances from US based diaspora exceeded FDI or grants from international agencies for the very first time in 2014.

In Nigeria some people still fool themselves about the power of social, believing it’s all about popular bloggers or about the amount of shouting one can achieve on twitter. As in life, the increase of access reduces the visible quality on display, however you will always find that the true value and talent rises above the cacophony of noise that surrounds all conversation. There are so many clever and informed commentators that the discerning observer can quickly get the pulse of public opinion on any particular hot topic. Whether you want to use social media to campaign or for brands, marketing or politics, there are a legion of tools and techniques but regardless of the platform, if you do not have an engaging narrative that connects emotionally to your audience you are dead on arrival. You will hear many times that content is king, this is true but now more so than ever with the proliferation of media choices and platforms, a 24-7 news cycle and a world that is always on and always connected. This alone has changed all industries and has enormous implications for public officials, governments and regulators all over the world. What this invariably means is that if you don’t understand the basics or importance of communication then you will always remain on the defensive and continue to play catch up in terms of public or peer mind share as pertains to your brand and its values. The negative side about Social Media is that it is virtually impossible to deflect the truth in this new age, the age of controlled media is now gone, the one way communication of yesterday is done. Today, before the opposition even has time to comment, engaged citizens have moved on issues that affect them and the leaders have no option but to react. Nobody in Nigeria can afford to take the people for granted anymore because the people have now shown their voice severally through the power of social.

Any brand, public figure, or product which is seeking to engage consumers, citizens or even markets in 2016, has no choice but to embrace social media. In doing so, you can drive focus groups, do research, utilize data to map your audience and potential consumers, which also enables your direct marketing and other efforts. The truth is that these tools are available and if you decide not to use them then you cannot blame your team if you fail. There are professional ways to measure media spend and metrics, there are tangible ways to influence the audience which rely on more than intuition. The real power of social is shown when you apply new media and technology with culture, this is what I consider to be social media, because from our actions and conversation we show who we are and this empowers and enables us to drive our priorities. The way you drive a conversation for a marketing campaign in Lagos may be different from in Onitsha; this may be based on demographics, language, sophistication and exposure, however what this means in reality is that just having the tools and platforms is not enough. You must work with professionals who understand how to interpret the data, what the power of earned media as against bought media is and where you or your brand want to sit in the conversation.

Social Media Week Lagos remains a unique platform which year on year inspires and motivates all attendees because of the enormous information share, the knowledge on display and the feeling of community. I recall some snobbishness against social media and some still talk down about certain blogs, but the truth is a couple of blogs in Nigeria have more readers than all the national dailies combined. If an advertiser is seeking a national audience, that audience is mobile and digital, that audience is hardly in print. The power of social also means the power of disruption. I recall in 2013 at the first Social Media Week Lagos, we hosted Errol Barnet of CNN’s Inside Africa fame and he ran a number of major reports from Lagos, showcasing the burgeoning tech scene and the impact of digital. Digital is often disruptive, killing legacy businesses or even an entire industry. Instagram, i like to say, killed Kodak which was a 100 year old legacy business in 200 countries and when Instagram became massive i am not even sure they had 50 staff, therefore disruption is also dangerous because it takes jobs away that it may never bring back.

I was fortunate to be born to parents who encouraged disruption, in that they encouraged conversation and valued my opinions. I was also fortunate to attend schools where independent thought was celebrated, not your ability to repeat what the teacher told you but your ability to question and debate that lesson. All of this has led to a lifetime of disruption, of a firm belief that our most important talent as humans remains our intellectual property, our personal and collective narrative. I am a firm believer in the power of narrative and the dominance of content, but it must also have context and the truth now is that technology and social media have created a global leveling of the playing field. In many fields of human endeavor the key to success is access; phone companies will not make money on voice for much longer so their business model has already changed, they are principally distribution companies and all must find unique content to engage and feed their clients. In this regard what this means is that without content then the distribution platform remains flat and so to expand this idea, the iTunes store is the distribution but it is the content within that leads to the commercial engagement and the billions of downloads. Apple provides the distribution and the ecosystem for the transactions to occur and while it may not strictly be social media, it is converged media.

As Nigeria moves forward increasingly the new Kings & Queens of Nigeria will emerge from the innovators and creators, from the thinkers and doers, from those who are able to converge their power of social with the capacity offered by technology. It is already happening around us everyday, the data is real, the numbers are real, the future is upon us already. I am not a prophet but I am clear in my mind that those who own the future of Nigeria will be able to utilize the variety of tools that new media offers us to offer convenience, content and new narratives to that enormous connected audience we have within our own land. There is little doubt that our demographics mean that Nigerians do not need to leave these shores to go global or find success, if you can provide a service which alleviates a problem or delivers a solution which achieves scale you will find a ready market. For me these are still early days but the warning shots are easy to see; we know the blogs have almost displaced the traditional newspapers, we know that developers are working across the fields of data, retail, e-commerce, distribution, payments & so many more to drive new opportunities.

The single most important thing that social media offers Nigeria, Africa and the world is the access it promises, the opportunity to be heard and to be seen, the tools to share our narratives and history. This is priceless and offers an opportunity that we have never had prior to this time. We do not have media with the same power as the major media powers of the world; we do not have those budgets or their reach, but we have an incredible shared heritage and history, amazing cuisine and fashion, our art & culture is without parallel and our music provides the soundtrack to Africa. When you add our huge youth-skewed population loaded with energy and attitude, the global conversation about us will increasingly focus on our talents and creativity, not on the negative narrative of the past. Social media allows this huge melting pot of Nigerians to express themselves in many ways from memes, to blogs, videos to social media posts, from public affairs commentators to private citizens, everybody has a voice but of course many still need help to shape that voice, to curate their content and to learn how best to bring it to their audience. Nobody should for one second imagine that social media is all free or is all easy. As with anything in life, if you underestimate it, you can get badly hurt; but be respectful, treat it well and it will generally be able to help to support what ever it is that you want to do, and so with all of that said, get social and follow me below.



1 Comment
  • 8Wells

    Brilliantly prosaic as usual! There is so much about this new world that is misunderstood. I suspect that it will always be this way and in a sense that is the new reality – that we who have been chasing the wind, must now ride it struggling with some desperation to stay aboard its swirling ever-seeking and shape-shifting currents.