This week I’ve been doing work for a client and have somewhat reversed my scepticism on companies putting effort into their “online presence”.

This post then circles round to how I’m seeing people in East Africa use social media, and how it’s being used here.

Where did this come from?

My default setting is to be quite reserved when it comes to posting on social media.

The Twitter profile I have is essentially auto-tweeting about the podcast interviews I do, and Instagram will be a pretty sight I see to provide a one:many update on what I’m up to.

From a business perspective, I’ve been on the receiving end of talks by “social media gurus” nodding intently that one needs to invest in a dedicated Social Media Manager to boost business (“Oh, and by the way, these are our rates…”).

Whilst I saw some logic, for me it was always on the nice-to-have pile of things that a business needs unless, of course, it’s a consumable good or something.

Anyway, when I was doing a research report for a client who wanted to know “Should I use Company A or Company B?” I had a change of heart.

This is my life

When confronting the brief of evaluating these two companies for what would be a bespoke project, I naturally took to Google and browsed around their websites.

More than the testimonials from past customers which, would you believe it, were all positive, to I wanted to get a feel for an external perspective of the business.

I sought out blog posts for tidbits of information, and the most fruitful “search engine” for these ended up being the company social media channels, and the links from it.

In the process I must have scanned through hundreds of Instagram photos scouring for mentions of partners they’d worked with.

This meant that I got to see what the companies, or rather the person in the company in charge of Instagram, was posting about.

For Company A: this was lots of glossy, well-crafted pictures of their product.

For Company B: it was him and his daughter out on a bike ride.

It felt bizarre and kind of creepy knowing what concerts he’d been to, and where the company went for their Xmas Dinner 2016, but by the end of the few hours working on this I had the strange phenomenon of “knowing” the MD of Company B.

The benefits of staying private?

There are countless arguments about the importance of being careful about what you share online. Such as this one.

The gist of it is that some snoopy person could use the information that you’ve put up in the world, and then use it against you.

Perhaps not to the extreme mentioned in that particular article, I’d always sided with the notion of sharing less, and yet upon doing the research, I was finding a real benefit in understanding this particular company precisely because they had shared so openly.

The dissonance I felt with was around

“I find it weird that anyone could know about what I’m posting online”

“I’d recommend Company B because I feel I know them and that they’d do a good job”

Which was an interesting conflict to have.

Middle ground

There is, no doubt, a sensible compromise between showing a side to you/ your company that you are happy with sharing, and unconsciously sharing sensitive information that could be used against you.

In fact my former company do a good job of this with #LifeatTutorfair.

Social Media in East Africa

Anyway, all this talk of social media got me reflecting on the usage that I’ve seen out here.

The most popular tool that everyone (with a smartphone) seems to use is Whatsapp.

This article writes a bit about other internet usage trends, though mobile companies have cottoned on to the idea that, with data still being expensive, the way for them to grow their user base is to design apps that work with with less intense data downloads.

As far as Mark Zuckerberg is concerned, Facebook is the default way that people communicate online (in part because it is free to use on data plans) and the younger generation are really getting into using Instagram.

From a business perspective, I’ve yet to see an East African company absolutely nail their social media presence, though that’s likely because a) I’ve never actively searched and b) I’m not the target market but compared to some stories from elsewhere it’s quite quiet.

As an aside, I once saw a guy who runs this Kenyan company speak about the tools they build to help businesses manage social messaging platforms to engage customers.

Conclusion

I always find it interesting when I end up changing my mind on something, or at least understanding a perspective better than what I had previously.

Though I’m still unsure quite what my final thoughts are on the matter, it’s certainly got me thinking about how there are benefits to opening up a little online, even if the true costs are unclear right now.

From an East Africa perspective, as more and more people migrate to sharing online, it’ll likely be an area that develops further in the coming years.