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Digital Marketing Trends for South African Businesses to Watch in 2009

I hate that end of year trend rush. Not enough thought usually goes into the "trend prediction" posts - people hash something together just to grab some traffic, while their minds are on the beach. At least mine was. So I didn't play. I much preferred the trend of bloggers going through their most popular posts of 2008. More value.

However, that doesn't mean I didn't have my 2c to add. Or that I might have just been too lazy to join the rush. What you're about to read has been carefully considered, thrashed around, rehashed and eventually published in February. Enjoy! My advice for South African Business in the digital marketing arena...

Happy to discuss the relevance and why I picked these five. Hit me on Twitter (@followandyh) or leave a comment...


1. The race to own the social profile

Companies, brands and startups are waking up to the fact that there's a really easy way to disintermediate service providers. Own the social profile, not the mother brand. Look what Mint.com is doing in the US financial industry as a good starting point.

With FaceBook Connect and Google Friend Connect, we've witnessed two very early and very important moves in this space. This trend questions the whole existence of registration forms. Why should I fill in your long-winded form if I have one-click access to your service using my FaceBook account. That's one social profile I have to keep updated. One username. One password. There are some issues to consider, but watch this space.

FaceBook Connect is already making inroads thanks to some extremely clever integrations that add value to Facebook's community and vastly decrease barriers to entry on service provider sites. Read this Mashable article for a list of these great examples.

EXPECT: Other social networks, communities and services to follow suit. There'll be a period of wariness as business owners "suss" out the value of who owns their userbase and how to segment users who don't fill in a segementation form! But as they say... Where does the big elephant sleep? Wherever the hell the big elephant wants to!

A couple of hundred million users is a fair headstart to FaceBook (currently 1.17 million South Africans are on FaceBook). Wouldn't you like to tap that audience?

ALSO EXPECT: Huge functionality upgrades from Google and FaceBook - the services are still fairly shallow. Scratch that. FaceBook Connect has promise. Google Friend Connect is rubbish. I don't see the value yet. But never bet against Google...



2. Measuring the Social Conversation Becomes More Important than Ever

The SEACOM cable landing on South African shores in June 2009 is going to herald an explosion in connectivity. The actual time period in which this will take place is up for debate. Are bandwidth providers going to keep costs at the same level but increase the amount of bandwidth available? Or is the entry of Telkom into the 3G market and the predicted arrival of SME ISP's going to force a price war?

Whatever happens. As bandwidth becomes cheaper and more accessible - so will social networking. This idea of social networking as a concept, not a site, will start to become a reality. People will be engaging and starting conversations online, without having to label themselves as "social networkers".

EXPECT: Conversation will remain inane. 90% crap. 10% value. There's an adoption curve here. The Americans are much more "experienced" in the online engagement sphere - and they still sprout a lot of rubbish. It's human nature. But there's value to be had if you look hard enough.

WHICH MEANS: Brands will start allocating more money to "social" or community based campaigns - because marketing budgets have been slashed in the recession - low cost online engagement (better word than social media!) is now a very viable alternative.

HOWEVER: These brands will battle to measure the value of the conversations going on, and thus won't be able to equate it to business ROI. This need, even with a small bit of budget, is going to drive innovation. You'll see "measurement" organisations springing up, offering this service and inventing algorithms and services that allow us to get a better grip on the value.



3. Retreat to niche

With continued interest and growth in social networking / online engagement, it's going to become extremely difficult to listen to or get heard inside the noise. Thus... people will as people are. They'll retreat to niche communities or groups centered around more focused topics that are valuable to them. They'll embrace the noise, and then hide from it.

THE BONUS: This is where advertisers and sponsors will find real value and a much "cleaner" conversation.


4. CrowdSourcing

South African business will start to leverage the power of communities and crowds. It just makes sense. Many minds are better than a couple.

A local Internet audience of around 6 million people (estimates vary) and a considerably large mobile penetration means a LOT of potential minds to tap. What the social networking phenomenon has shown, is that people are willing to contribute to a conversation for very little incentive.

EXPECT TO SEE: Incentivised (prizes or even straight cash and fame) crowdsourcing ventures will tap into this trend. A good personal example of success achieved here is our recent foray into IdeaBounty.


5. Recession cleans out the dead wood

This trend speaks more to the US industry than our local burgeoning digital arena. However, I think South African techies draw much inspiration from our US counterparts. Even much funding in certain cases!

Because we haven't seen as many IPO's since the last tech bubble got blown up - we're probably not going to see a burst like we did before. There's private money being lost, for sure... But not public money in the form of publicly held shares. That causes more panic than a series of companies built of precious little value.

It may sound harsh, but recession is usually where great companies build great value. Especially in the tech industry. A recession clears out the dead wood. It paves the way for better, more creative thinking to shine through.

Nothing inspires a good idea like a small budget!

EXPECT TO SEE: Some really innovative stuff coming out this year. Services built around real business and personal value. Perhaps even a slow move away from the US startup model: build an audience, not a business case.

And that ends my predictions and advice for South African Business in the digital marketing arena. If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out the Cowboys & Engines RSS Feed.

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