Why Ethiopian Businesses Need to Take Social Media Engagement Seriously

It is fair to say, a few years ago, not a lot of people dared or even thought to mention Social Media and Business in the same sentence. At least, not many created a connection between the two.


Unless they talked about the business of social media. 


Seriously though! 


There was nothing serious about social media! 


For the average enlightened adult, it might have been a simple platform to reconnect and share contents with old acquaintances and long-lost relatives around the world.  For teenagers, it created the opening to interact and chat with random people from their neighborhood to the other side of the globe.


The business applications of the platform, however, were not so obvious to everyone, in part because of its pronounced carnal nature. We’ve all heard stories of how someone found a soulmate through Facebook. 


That was as serious as it could get!


But after a few global and domestic political revolutions, Mark Zuckerberg’s awkward hearing at the congress, a picture of a dress that went unnecessarily viral, and Donald Trump, everyone is finally paying attention. 


We have reached a stage where for some of us it’s becoming almost impossible to get parents to put away their phones and go to bed at night. (Someone suggested changing the Wi-fi’s password but what to do about Mobile Data?)  Social media has become too important to ignore. 


Still, our businesses are struggling to catch up. Yes, these days many companies have a page on at least one of the major social media platforms i.e. Facebook, LinkedIn & Twitter. Some even have YouTube and Instagram accounts. But a brief examination of these pages and accounts testifies that only few companies use them to strategically and consistently engage their customers and the general public.


Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE), Marie Stope Ethiopia, Habesha Brewery, EthioTelecom and the Prime Minister’s Office can be taken as examples of Ethiopian organizations that are pioneering the proper use of the platforms.

These organizations use their pages to update customers and stakeholders on the latest news and updates, notify followers about new products and services and offer customer service among other activities. 


But the majority of companies’ accounts or pages are characterized by incomplete information, irregular posts, poor graphics design and the occasional, embarrassing language blunders. The aforementioned descriptions are symptoms of unorganized, goal-less, half-hearted efforts to tame the online beast.


The possible reasons for this reality are plenty and I will discuss them below as the challenges. But now, it suffices to say that, it’s obvious many take social media engagement as a luxury and not as an important component of their organization’s business strategy. Moreover, there are others that even though they recognize the benefits and advantages of social media, have not put in place the structure or capability to enable consistent and committed engagement. 


In the Ethiopian context, the data shows that there is a big opportunity that businesses can take advantage of. We have a largely youth dominated population that is increasingly getting urbanized with each passing year. Though the country’s internet penetration is still only the meager 16%, that is computed to 17.87 million potential market for businesses to engage with.


According to Hootsuite, the total number of active social media users in Ethiopia was numbered to 6.10 million by January 2019. Out of that, roughly 92% use their phones to access the platforms. Considering that the number of total mobile connections is standing at 41 million and smartphones are replacing traditional phones at a ferocious rate, it’s logical to predict that the penetration numbers will surge real soon. 


Another point to consider is the annual active social media user growth which is reportedly around 61%. This translated into 2 million new social media users in Ethiopia from January 2018 – January 2019 ( And almost all used their mobile phones).


This shows target audiences that can be reached through Social Media are increasing rapidly and our businesses, institutions and even non-profits ought to learn how to cash in. 


Forget the numbers! Businesses need to communicate to their clients, governments need to communicate with citizens and non-governments need to communicate with their stakeholders and the general public. The best organizations are in the business of people. They need to be where people are. That is the ultimate motivation for businesses to be on Social Media and learn to use it well. 


The web and social media have made it easy for organizations to communicate with their public in so many ways. For starters, opposed to the monologue property of traditional marketing, Social Media is a multilogue platform where you are not the only party talking but so are your clients and prospective clients. That is to your advantage, because now you can directly listen to your audience’s feedback and work on bettering your products and services. 


Other ways in which Social media marketing triumphs over traditional marketing schemes, such as TV advertising and print advertising, are speed and price. Since Social media operates in real-time, companies can post any notification or update and instantly reach their customers. They can also do that repeatedly without worrying about cost ramifications.


Booking a two minutes ad on one of our television stations sets back a company tens of thousands of birr. Similarly, publishing a black and white ¼ page ad on one of the most read newspapers in town can cost 3450 birr. For the most part, Social media is free, unless you decide to use paid advertising features to target a larger audience. Even that can be done with as low as a dollar a day, so it’s significantly cheaper than traditional media .  


Furthermore, with social media, organizations have the opportunity to target their audience based on location, age, gender, interests and other attributes. That considerably increases the accuracy and effectiveness of the advertisement. Likewise, after targeted advertising, marketers can calculate the return on their investment by employing the different insight tools of either the platforms themselves or other third party websites such as HootSuite, Hubspot and Buffer.


Last but not least, companies can diversify their contents by using rich media channels such as videos, audios and images beyond articles. For these and other numerous reasons, we can agree organizations can only benefit by stepping up their social media game. 


Because of the several features and perks of Social Media, now companies can use the platforms for different purposes.


First and foremost, companies can use social media to create brand awareness.  Through social media, institutions can engage with their community in a way that showcases and strengthens their brand identity.


Second, companies can employ social media for customer service through open and faster communication, reputation and crisis management and boosting customer engagement.   


Companies can also generate leads and improve sales by utilizing the different advertising and marketing tools the platforms make available. The other not so obvious function of social media is R&D. Companies can learn more about their audience, crowdsource new ideas, gauge customer sentiment and stay on top of industry news.


In addition, the ability to closely track your competitors and leverage other people’s audience for competitive analysis are advantages of social media that should not be taken for granted. The last tip for those who have a web presence ( who doesn’t these days?), it’s possible to integrate your social media and website to increase traffic and assist in your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) efforts.  


In some of my discussions with representatives of big corporations, I have gathered that the main reason many of them lack consistent Social Media presence is that, top management still doesn’t consider Social Media as a tool to use to reach their business goals.


In other words, they don’t take it seriously. Consequently, social media is not part of their marketing/advertising strategy. This opens the door for employees or any unconcerned individual to start Facebook pages in the name of the company. That puts the company in a precarious situation whereas anyone can post anything that is misleading and misrepresenting the company. That is why if you search the name of an Ethiopian bank on your Facebook, it is likely that you find multiple pages with different amount of followers. 


The other challenge is the lack of technical knowledge among employees. Yes, we all know how to send a friend request to one another or scroll through our feeds and timelines to pass the time.


Optimizing and running a business page, however, is not as straightforward. Besides, some companies want to focus on delivering their core business and outsource such activities. The dearth of independent social media/marketing agencies that can handle such tasks expounds on their concerns. 


Another important point raised is the lack of research on whether Ethiopians make purchasing decisions based on advertisements on social media. Though studies in the rest of the world are on the positive, managers want to be certain there is a return on their money and time investment. 


Conclusion


In conclusion, there are four main rationales why businesses need a strong social media presence:


First, all their clients and their prospective clients are using social media. Second, their competitors are either on it now or will be on it soon.


Third, the traditional “interruption” marketing is in a permanent decline. Without participating in social media, your company simply cannot master the new skills of customer contact. 


Fourth, in the social media world, what’s more important than selling is listening to your customers and communicating your brand directly and personally.


The most exciting promise about social media for your business is that it will strengthen your bond with your best customers and spread the word about your company across a wide network more powerfully interlinked than ever before. 


Kenawak Tadele is a digital marketing expert and an associate consultant at The i-Capital Africa Institute.

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