Interview: Communicating Effectively in the African Digital Space

Authenticity is always a choice in my opinion, which can be altered by societal and audience expectations. At the end of the day, I wish to witness more social media personalities using their influence as a force for good.

NAIROBI, Kenya, July 10, 2020/-- The way we communicate online as organizations or individuals has never been more important than during the COVID-19 pandemic. As economies across Africa gradually reopen we sought the advice of a communication expert to address the "new normal".

In this interview, Wawira provides insight on proper online engagement in Africa, communication strategies for social media, the circular economy and more.

Let Kikao begin...

[Question 1] Wawira great to have you on Kikao. Tell us more about yourself.

Josephine is an avid communications expert with demonstrable experience in the sustainability field. I have also been involved in various other industries including eCommerce, tourism, hospitality, and travel across Africa. In my earlier career days, I had a 5 years stint in mainstream media, working as a news reporter at a local media house.

Currently, I am the Communications and Marketing Officer at Sustainable Inclusive Business Kenya (SIB-K), a project under the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) Foundation and supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The main thematic areas that Sustainable Inclusive Business focuses on are Circular Economy, Climate Change, Redefining Business Values and People Power. I am very passionate about leveraging public and media relations to drive conversations that influence social change in Kenya and beyond.

[Question 2] There are over half-a-billion active internet users in Africa that is more access than North America and Middle East combined. What possibilities lie in engaging these netizens?

For decades, humanity was divided by geographical limitations but then came a new region; the internet dominated by netizens. The positive impacts have been laudable. For instance, ecommerce has been on the rise in Kenya and across the world. While penetration is still low at approximately 1% in Africa as compared to about 20% in China, the internet presents huge possibilities for ecommerce to grow in the continent. This has in return enhanced cross-border trade, translating to economic growth.

Communication is now unlimited, with target audiences spread across various online platforms including social media. Therefore, brands that engage netizens in their communication and marketing campaigns have higher chances of reaching a larger customer base and higher conversion rates, as opposed to those that only engage conventional target groups.

Furthermore, while the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about a myriad of challenges and negative outcomes, one of the lessons we can all take to the bank is the role of internet in our daily lives. We have remained connected while away from loved ones. Businesses have continued to operate as we work online from home. Students with access to internet are studying via e-learning platforms. Activists across the world, from environmental to human rights continue to campaign online. The possibilities are endless.

[Question 3] Social media has shaped most of what Africans know of the internet. How would one set out to build a brand engagement in this “cluttered” digital landscape?

You’re right. Sometimes the noise can be too loud in the digital space and it is possible to drown in the efforts to maintain a strong narrative. The challenge is always managing to distinguish your brand from a pool of others offering similar products or services. There are over 216 million social media users in Africa, translating to about 17% of the population. This growing penetration means the demand for content is equally high, and so is the need for brands to remain relevant to the content consumers and their change in consumption behavior. For any brand therefore, navigating the rough digital terrain is key; and a few tips can help:

1. Understand your brand so well as to sell it with the simplest words or visuals. If you’re struggling to tell and sell your narrative, then the consumers will struggle and the sooner they’ll cross over to competition.

2. Social Media has become our way of life and therefore, by all means appreciate that beyond your product or service, consumers are seeking a connection. We want to share values and believe in your brand’s journey towards a common goal. This could be for example, eradicating plastic pollution by providing alternative solutions/products, or empowering women and youth through community-based projects, or reforesting to curb climate chang, it could be any CSR that has a positive impact on people and not only on your brand’s profits. If I can simply put it; invest in people and people will invest back in your brand.

3. The other way a brand can increase its engagement is by ensuring use of the right creatives. Keep the content “short and sweet”, visuals that will keep consumers deeply engrossed, messages that will drive conversations and conversions. Ensure your social media managers and/or campaign influencers understand that no matter how good a campaign is, if the targeted consumer is not glued, then what use is it?

4. I could go on and on to crisis management and paid campaigns among others, but brand engagement should be a topic entirely on its own. Before you ask the next question however, allow me to add that it’s extremely crucial to make use of available data. Go through and understand metrics and analytics that will influence your decisions in your social media campaigns. For instance, what times do you see the highest engagements? Then you can schedule your posts at/or around those time frames. What devices do your users mostly use? Which age bracket is more invested in your brand? What type of content has the most traction? Etc. There exists numerous tools that will help you track this data, and trust me, it’ll go a long way in improving your brand engagement, one post at a time.

[Question 4] In the age of “Direct” or “Authentic” publicity without mediation, how effectively are personalities communicating with their audiences?

Just like the brands, social media personalities are also seeking a platform to find their voice. This is a broad perspective, given that there are those who have made brands from their social engagements, and have gone a step further to monetize them either through clicks or endorsements. Others have gained popularity from their social interactions with their audiences. Authenticity is always a choice in my opinion, which can be altered by societal and audience expectations. At the end of the day, I wish to witness more social media personalities using their influence as a force for good. I hope I correctly answered the question.

[Question 5] You also have expertise in Circular Economy. How does it work for Africa?

Thank you for this question. Kenya is one of the countries in the world making major strides to shift from the current linear to a more sustainable circular economy. Unfortunately, a very small percentage of Kenyans both in the public and private sectors understand the difference or the importance of circularity. So, to break it down as simply as I can, we are currently almost entirely focused on taking natural resources, making products out of them, which we then use and dispose of; some after a single use. This is a linear economy. And because we are fixated on the mentality that these resources are infinite, the linear model only focuses on short-term profits and does not pay any attention to restoration, reforestation, or re-wilding. As a result, we continue losing resources at our own detriment. We have filled our landfills and water sources with waste that we irresponsibly dispose of. Ultimately, marine life die, pollution rises and causes health problems to those living around dumpsites, microplastics end up in our food chains and drinking water.

But is there a way we can reverse this? Yes. By shifting to a circular economy. In this model, unlike linear economy, waste is considered part of the system. It is a resource or material in itself that is re-used, re-cycled and is reintroduced into the cycle to regenerate other products. The outcome therefore is that we reduce the amount of waste and especially plastics into the environment. By re-introducing these processes, we also create job opportunities by formalizing the waste management sector and empowering waste collectors. The focus shifts from short-term to long-term profits as well as positive impacts on the planet and its people.

Sustainable Inclusive Business has been at the forefront championing for the shift to circular economy in Kenya. The 2017 ban on carrier bags and the recent ban on single-use plastics in all protected areas are therefore a win for all like-minded organizations and individuals advocating for responsible waste management practices among Kenyans. To understand more about the ban this Sustainable Inclusive Business trend report and crash course will be of big help. We are also in the process of developing a similar report on circular economy, to create more awareness on the topic.

[Question 6] Would you mind to share with us your travel wish list?

I can’t wait for this pandemic to finally end. I have an entire list of destinations I wish to sample, but top on the list in Kenya is the Aberdares and for the love of off the beaten adventures, am eyeing Chalbi Desert. I also urge Kenyans to embrace domestic travel particularly during these times, to help the tourism industry recover faster from the effects of the Corona virus pandemic.

Across the region, I would one day want to visit Madagascar and not just for the Lemurs (although I wouldn’t mind meeting King Julien hahaha); it’s also because I find it eccentric. Unfortunately, parts of the island have continuously faced extinction from poaching for bushmeat, deforestation and overfishing. Its natural resources are fast depleting, and hopefully conservation measures will rescue the island before it’s too late. I hope to get there while the exquisiteness still holds.

[Question 7] We are in the middle of 2020, what are your plans for this decade?

If asked this last year, I would probably present an A-Z plan list. But we’re in 2020! My most important plan is to stay safe and remain sane. Perhaps we can revisit the question post-Covid.

The written interview was compiled by Phineahs Munene – Co-founder of Wazo Moja for Josephine Wawira – of Sustainable Inclusive Business

Distributed by Wazo Moja on behalf of Sustainable Inclusive Business Kenya


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