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The Africanisation of social platforms: virtual connections & peer-to-peer services

Connection. Could there be a more basic need?

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Africans, like everyone else, crave interaction with others. Yet, as the West promotes individualism and the ‘unique identity’ as the mantra du jour, many Africans continue to perceive their identities in the context of a tribe or community. This sense of community — be it for profitable, practical, or even social purposes, has long been heralded as a pinnacle of African culture.

Perhaps we can even call this quintessentially African; a thriving desire for togetherness and connection with others, an analogue precursor to the now global and digitalized peer-to-peer/sharing economy. Cue the ‘Africanisation’ of online social and peer-to-peer platforms.

Collaborative consumption and the digital manifestation of connected Africans is in overdrive, and showing no signs of slowing down.

Mobile connectivity and the online world has expanded both the scope and scale of Africans’ networks across the continent and beyond, making it easier to connect with both friends, strangers and brands, in both the real and virtual realms. These connections may be old news in the West in 2014, but the constant, timely, relevant, social, practical and personal interactions are still in their infancy in Africa and their potential to solve African problems is undeniable.

Africonnection is sweeping across the continent

These connections are niche, community-focused and often leverage existing networks.
Here are three strands of “Africaconnection”:

1. Me-2-We

Connecting peers around shared interests and niche concerns.

There’s power in numbers. A plethora of Africans can’t get enough of platforms that segment, fragment and highlight very specific concerns and interests.

In Africa, mainstream global social platforms are being adopted at a significant rate, proving that like everyone else, Africans enjoy connecting with others.

Yet unlike in other parts of the world, where social networks are frequently used to address niche issues, niche topics within Africa have often been forgotten. Note how the now viral ‘ice bucket challenge’ used Facebook as a podium to raise awareness about the previously unknown ALS disease.

Now, African consumers are demanding that online social connection offers more than a one-size-fits-all approach: they’re looking for platforms that address their niche interests and concerns. Meanwhile, African brands are realizing that niche platforms, campaigns and solutions that facilitate Me-2-We connections between these often fragmented, overlooked consumers can generate rewarding and lasting benefits (both within the group and beyond).

Rwandan-based Sokkaa is a great example. This online community for East African English Premier Football League fans launched in 2013 and rebranded in 2014. With almost 200,000 fans, the site predominantly reports on the English Premier League from Kigali in a variety of East African languages such as Swahili and Kinyarwanda. The platform facilitates open discussions, and its fans can also chat with each other about players/teams and matches.

Asuqu out of Nigeria is another great example. Launched in April 2014, Asuqu is a networking platform for creative professionals. The Nigerian website provides content creators (such as designers, photographers, animators, architects, make-up artists, etc) with a medium to collaborate, job hunt, discover, showcase and promote their work across the continent.

2. Together We Stand(ards)

Connecting people to serve community needs.

It takes a village to raise a child…

The global ‘sharing economy’ taps into this quintessential African ethos. Connecting with others to share resources and responsibilities is an idea embedded deep in African culture. What’s more, the resilience of communities, whether in the form of tribes, regions or demographics, demonstrates that Africans are not as easily seduced by ‘individualism’ as their Western counterparts.

One way this is evolving in 2014? The intrinsically African zeal to support and share with the community is synchronising with emerging, tech-fueled collaborative consumption models and platforms.

Community-focused platforms, schemes and tools are seamlessly updating the manner in which Africans share resources. With converging macro-economic, political and technological forces at play in 2014, there’s no stopping the deluge of these Together We Stand(ards) innovations overtaking the continent.

For instance, the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) announced in August 2014, a first of its kind programme in the Nigerian Akwa Ibom state, for a community based health insurance. The initiative aims to provide affordable healthcare to as many Nigerians as possible in order to meet the 2015 30% national health insurance coverage target.

May 2014 also saw the launch of OurHood, an online notice board for local communities in South Africa. The private neighbourhood-specific social network allows residents to connect and engage in various topics relevant to their community, as well as share resources, trade/sell goods and report crime

3. By-Product Practices

Leveraging existing connections, platforms and services for alternative purposes.

2014’s Africa is “Glocalised” …and its connections are equally as paradoxical: global and local; universal and niche at the same time.

There’s no doubt that many (mainly young) Africans today are enjoying a variety of options that allow them to directly connect with brands and other people. And despite the growing number of new, more local/niche innovations on offer, the ubiquity, reliability and network effect of mainstream and global online platforms (Whatsapp, Instagram, Airbnb, etc.), means that rather than one type replacing the other, most consumers will engage different platforms for different purposes. This phenomenon has implications for brands that want to tap into Africonnection without necessarily reinventing the wheel.

Facilitating connections is not the only way…

Maximising, repurposing and piggybacking off pre-established connections works too! Successful By-Product Practices are those that leverage existing platforms and services to serve often completely different purposes. Just as the edutainment industry showed that consumers don’t mind learning if they’re having fun too, Africans will welcome and be increasingly excited by unexpected (or spin-off) outcomes from typical service providers and media channels.

When Uber collaborated with frozen yogurt brand Filo, to offer its customers dessert on-demand in cities across South Africa, they truly took advantage of this trend. Customers that used the additional service also qualified for a scarf to keep them warm whilst eating the cold dessert during South Africa’s winter season. Customers were billed automatically for orders made via the Uber mobile app.

This past June, the Kenyan Tourist Board also announced a Twitter-based campaign using the hashtag #WHYILOVEKENYA. The campaign was launched after al-Shabaab’s bomb attacks devastated Nairobi and tourism to the country dwindled. On the surface, the campaign is a celebration of Kenya, however the Tourist Board has since rallied celebrities, tourists and corporate bodies to participate in showcasing the “uniqueness” of the country on the popular social network.

So as a brand or organisation, which connection or platform do you leverage?

That’s up to you. When you think about it, even the most mundane transactions/customer interactions are opportunities for novel, unpredictable and surprising connections. So what are you waiting for? Get going with new By-Product Practices.

Lola Pedro will be doing a keynote at Social Media Week Johannesburg. See all the details here.

Image by Riccardo Cuppini via Flickr.

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